Honours Program: Frequently Asked Questions
1) Why do Honours English? What are the major advantages of an Honours degree?
Many students with a strong engagement in their English program may find that the 36-credit Major simply isn't enough—just scratching the surface of what could be explored. A 60-credit Honours program allows students to graduate both with a broad, extensive background in most areas of the field and also with a strong, in-depth concentration on a specialized area of interest. In their later years, Honours students also take more small, upper-level seminars, thus developing more personal relationships with a range of professors in the department and with their student cohort, as well as a more advanced knowledge of English studies. In the final year of the Honours program, each student undertakes a 6-credit Honours Essay, working closely with one supervising professor over two semesters to complete this substantial, specialized research project. For many Honours students, the Honours Essay is a key attraction. The chance to conceive of an ambitious research project on a special topic of personal interest, design a reading list and research plan for approaching this topic, and then write up the essay in one-on-one consultation with a supervisor can be a highlight of the undergraduate career.
2) Why would some students reasonably choose not to do Honours?
An Honours program is intended to give the student advanced knowledge in one field or discipline. Students who are more interested in breadth than in specialization might decide to spread their studies over several departments (with a Major and two Minors, for example); students strongly interested in two distinct disciplines might choose a Double Major; and students who want to do fully interdisciplinary work bringing together study in two fields may design a Joint Honours program.
3) Is an Honours degree a prerequisite for admission to graduate school?
No, these days an Honours degree is no longer a specific requirement for most graduate programs. But, even if it is not technically required, an Honours program does still offer by far the best preparation for graduate study, and can be a great advantage for those applying to graduate schools. The Honours degree itself is a strong indicator that the student has earned admission to, and completed the requirements of, an advanced, highly selective program of study and research. An Honours English program gives students both broad coverage in their field and a coherent, in-depth training in their area of specialization. A range of smaller seminars in later years also gives Honours students an impressive amount of advanced training—and contact with several professors who have followed the students' work closely and so can support them with strong, detailed letters of reference. Successful completion of the research and writing for the yearlong, 40-to-50-page Honours Essay is an accomplishment valued by graduate schools in many fields, as well as by future employers outside of academia.
4) When do students apply to the Honours program?
Generally at the end of U1 (the first year in an English Major program)—after the student has completed at least 18 credits (6 courses) in English. But many students also apply at the end of U2. Those who apply at the end of U2 should have carefully planned their course selections in U1 and U2, choosing courses with an eye on the Honours requirements, in consultation with an Honours advisor, even before they have actually submitted their applications to the program.
5) If I do decide to apply to the Honours program later in my McGill career, will I be allowed to stay for an extra term or year at McGill, or to take credits beyond the 120-credit limit?
This is not a decision of the English Department, but of the Student Affairs office. Generally, though, Student Affairs will give a student permission to register for additional terms, and additional course credits, if it can be shown that these specific courses and credits are necessary for completion of the requirements of the student's Honours, major, or minor program.
6) Can I consult with an Honours Advisor before I am admitted to the Honours program?
Yes, students are strongly encouraged to meet with an Honours advisor as soon as they begin considering the option of applying to Honours. It is a good idea to consult with an Honours Advisor even before you apply to the program—to define a "field of inquiry," design a coherent study plan, choose courses, help select a potential Honours Essay supervisor, and so on. This is especially encouraged for students who plan to apply only at the end of U2; things will go much more smoothly if such students have consulted an Honours Advisor about course selection, etc., long before actually applying for admission to the Honours program.
7) Is it possible to combine a semester or year of Study Abroad with an Honours program?
Yes, but this will also require especially careful planning of course selections, both at McGill and at the foreign school.
8) Do I need to have already defined a precise topic for my Honours Essay at the time of applying to Honours?
No. At the time of application (at end of U1 or U2), all that is required is a brief , 250-word statement outlining a general "field of inquiry" or area of concentration—usually defined by an era, a methodology, and/or a set of analytic questions. It can be further defined in relation to a list of authors, texts, or possible case studies. The professor selected as sponsor/supervisor at the time of application should have a special expertise in that "field of inquiry," and can help the student refine the definition of the area of concentration before the application is submitted. A precise subject and argument for the actual Honours Essay does not have to be defined until the beginning of U3, the year in which the Honours Essay is written. The Honours Essay proposal is due in late October of U3. (Students can look over samples of "model" proposals from previous years that are kept on file in the Main English Office.)
9) What if my interests change after I have been admitted to Honours, and I decide I would like to shift the focus of my advanced course work and my Honours Essay to a different "field of inquiry"?
This is not unusual. The student would not be required to re-apply to the Honours Committee, but would simply need to find a new supervisor who agrees to work with the student on the newly-defined Honours Essay. In such cases, the professor who serves as "sponsor" of the application for admission to the program will be different from the essay supervisor (who consults with the student on the project and on related course choices in both terms of U3).
10) Is it possible to do a "creative" Honours Essay—in any of the department's three streams? How would such a project work?
In rare cases, students are allowed to plan a "creative" thesis—usually involving the writing of a collection of poems or short stories; the making of a film; or the writing/production of a play. In such cases, the student should of course have had a great deal of previous experience in such creative work, evidenced through course work, independent study projects, or a strong portfolio of prior creative projects. The student would also have to find a professor who would approve the project and agree to supervise it. All creative projects must also include an analytical component—an accompanying research essay exploring issues related to the creative work done for the project.
11) If I meet the minimum requirements for CGPA and EGPA, am I guaranteed admission into the Honours Program?
No. Meeting the grade requirements is a strong start, but the Honours Committee makes admissions decisions on the basis of the complete application package—including the writing sample, the statement defining a "field of inquiry," and so on.
12) When should I begin preparing my application to the Honours program?
Although completed applications are not due until the end of exam period in each winter term, students are encouraged to begin to prepare for the application process by at least January because the application process requires a good deal of prior thought, planning, legwork, and consultation with a potential faculty sponsor/supervisor. The application process is, in fact, quite simple. But getting the support and signature of the faculty sponsor/supervisor, and agreeing on the definition of the "field of inquiry," can take some time.
13)After I have submitted my application to the Honours program, when can I expect to hear about the Honours Committee's decision?
Normally the Honours Committee meets to make admissions decisions in late May, and students will be contacted about the decision in early June.