Distinguished Majors

John Parker

Program Director


Distinguished Majors Program Guidebook

Do you have an idea for a project that you would like to pursue at serious length? The Distinguished Majors Program gives you the opportunity to devote a year to advanced literary research and writing under the individual supervision of a member of the English faculty, ultimately developing an argument that will result in a scholarly essay of 40-50 pages, due in March. Choosing to write the thesis isn't for every excellent student; it means less breadth of course work, a lot of grinding away on one's own, and an enormous amount of time, tears, and sweat just when you may prefer to finish your university education by expanding into other fields. But each year a few decide to focus their attention and accomplishments by writing a thesis, and for these students working closely with a faculty mentor is an invaluable and sometimes career-defining opportunity to broaden intellectually and to sharpen critical skills. The Distinguished Majors Program is especially suited to those who feel a desire to research and write at a more sustained pace than is allowed by seminars and to those who are planning to pursue MA or PhD degrees in English.

Admission to the DMP is selective.  There are 18 openings.  Majors who wish to be considered for a degree with distinction, high distinction, or highest distinction in English must have a GPA of 3.700 in the major and 3.600 overall by the spring of the third year, and must submit a formal application to the Director of the Distinguished Majors Program.

In addition to the standard requirements for the English major, candidates for distinction must complete

  • A second 4000-level seminar in literature.
  • The two-semester distinguished majors tutorial (ENGL 4998 and 4999), taken in the fourth year.  Each student in the tutorial produces a long essay (approximately 50 pages).

In awarding distinction, the departmental Honors Committee considers: two faculty evaluations of the thesis essay; the quality of the student’s work in all 4000-level English seminars taken; and the student’s overall performance in the major.

ENGL 4998 (the honors seminar) and ENGL 4999 (independent research)

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, a thesis project is not simply a research paper writ large. The mandatory fall seminar, ENGL 4998, seeks to demystify; it gives you the tools and time to respond to your adviser's recommendations as you work to produce, in the company of your peers, a workable draft of your project. 50% of your grade for ENGL 4998 is based on the classwork and writing you undertake in the seminar toward that goal. The other 50% of your grade for ENGL 4998 will be determined by your individual adviser on the merits of your workable thesis draft as it exists at semester's end. You will then complete ENGL 4999 during the spring semester by working independently toward the final draft of your thesis; your grade for this course will be determined solely by your advisor.

Designation of Honors

Thesis deadline this spring will be April 12, 2019.  One copy is due to the Undergraduate Administrator by email, and two copies should be printed and bound, one of them placed in the Undergraduate Administrator's mailbox and one in the mailbox of the student’s advisor. The finished thesis will be read by the student’s faculty director, by a second reader from the English faculty, and, in some cases, by the Director of the Distinguished Majors Program. Performance in the program is then evaluated by members of an ad hoc Undergraduate Honors Committee, which will consider the quality of the thesis as assessed by its readers; the student’s work in the major, especially in the two or more 4000-level seminars in addition to ENGL 4998; and the student’s overall academic record. If in the view of the committee the student has achieved honors, it will recommend the designation of Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction.

The Application Process


The application consists of four parts: the cover form, your proposal, a research plan, and reference forms filled out by two faculty members who know your work.  One of these faculty references should be the person who has agreed to supervise your work in the program.  You should begin by sketching out some ideas for a project.  Take these to a potential supervisor and solicit her or his responses and advice on constructing a proposal and plan for research.  (For advice on which faculty members to approach, you may consult the Director of the Distinguished Majors Program, Karen Chase) When you have hammered out a strong proposal, fill out the cover form, and take copies of your application together with reference forms to your potential supervisor and another professor who knows you well. They should return the confidential reference forms to the Program Director's mailbox; you should submit the cover form, the proposal, and the research plan to the Program Director's mailbox by the application deadline.  Admissions decisions will be communicated to you by the DMP Director within two weeks after the deadline.  

The cover and reference forms can be accessed via the link above or you can get paper copies in Bryan 236.  Your proposal and research plan should be attached to the cover form when you submit your application.  The proposal normally consists of about 600 words.  It should include the title of the project, an explanation of the topic and its importance, the question to be pursued, and the methods you will use in your research and reasoning.  The research plan normally consists of a substantial reading list that makes clear the seriousness, breadth, and variety of your planned course of study. 

Applications for the 2019-2020 academic year are due by March 1, 2019 to:

Professor John Parker, Program Director
Mailbox in Bryan 229

Contact him with questions at jlp4ca@virginia.edu or in his office, Bryan 404. We strongly recommend that you touch base with the DMP Director for a preliminary conversation before you draft your application.

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at http://records.ureg.virginia.edu/index.php.