Honors program

Information on the Economics Honors Thesis Program

The honors program in economics provides an opportunity for motivated and qualified senior majors to conduct sustained, independent research on a topic of interest to them. To receive honors in economics, you need to do a piece of original and independent research using economic tools and to write an honors thesis reporting the research. The key here is “original and independent,” but those words do not necessarily imply “theoretical” or “mathematical” or “econometric.” Most theses do involve econometric analysis of data. Theoretical economic modeling, simulations matching mathematical economic models to data, and experimental economics are also popular approaches. But many successful honors graduates have worked on case studies, historical analyses, economic philosophy, or topics in the history of economic thought.

We encourage all majors who have at least a 3.5 GPA in economics courses to consider honors. (We have occasionally approved an application from a major who has an economics GPA a bit below 3.5 if the application is particularly well thought out, if the student has shown he or she can work well in independent research, and if she or he has the strong support of a faculty member.)

There are three possible routes to honors in economics: the “senior full-year thesis,” the “senior fall one-semester thesis,” and the “senior spring one-semester thesis.” Students interested in a full-year thesis or a fall one-semester thesis, should begin preparing as juniors for the application deadline in the spring of junior year. Students interested in a spring one-semester thesis, need to take no action until the fall of senior year; the Honors Coordinator will send additional information then.

The Carl Van Duyne Prize in Economics

Carl Van Duyne, Associate Professor of Economics at Williams, died in 1983 at the age of 36. Carl worked especially well with honors students and others doing independent work, so it is fitting that a prize in his memory encourages independent research by students. The prize is awarded to a student who has “exhibited not only excellence in economics but also the inquisitive mind and motivation of a true scholar” during the first three years of study and who proposes a full-year honors thesis that shows unusual promise. The prize includes a stipend of about $4,000 in the summer before the senior year if the recipient works on the thesis during that summer. In general, the work must be done in Williamstown, in close contact with the thesis adviser. (The recipient is also eligible for the subsidized housing the College makes available to research assistants and other student employees during the summer.) The prize also includes a stipend of approximately $500 in the fall of the senior year, and another $500 the following spring. Each of these stipends is conditional on continued satisfactory progress on the thesis during that term. Another stipend of about $900 in the first year of graduate study will be made available if the recipient completes an honors thesis and then goes on to do graduate work in economics.

We invite all applicants for the yearlong route to apply for the Van Duyne Prize. Simply include in your application for the yearlong route a statement indicating that you are applying for the prize and that if you receive it you will work on your honors thesis during the summer.

For Further Information

Contact the Economics Department Research Director with any questions about the honors program, for descriptions of successful honors theses in the past, and recommendations for department members as potential advisors on a particular topic.  For the 2021-2022 academic year, the Research Director is Prof. Tara Watson.