A Defining Journey
Students in Arts & Letters often say that working one-on-one with a faculty advisor on a creative endeavor or their original research was the academic culmination of a rewarding undergraduate career.
While exploring a fundamental question, crafting a work of art, or contributing to a scholarly conversation, seniors build skills that will be applicable throughout life — including in graduate or professional school, the business and academic world, and service programs.
The yearlong project can take a variety of forms — a scholarly paper, narrative nonfiction essay, recital, journalistic article, documentary film, or museum exhibition. You design it to reflect your personal interests and goals.
Browse these fascinating summaries to learn about the myriad projects that recent graduates have pursued in Arts and Letters.
For specific advice and information about senior theses and creative projects, check with your department or faculty mentor. And, for details about funding and support from a variety of campus centers and institutes, contact the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.
"Thesis writing was the most rewarding and empowering experience in my four years at Notre Dame. I learned how to engage properly with the research process: Critically evaluating my own position's weaknesses, assessing the strengths of the theories with which I disagree, and continually refining my work."
This would be the first time I would undertake such an extensive research project [researched the Louisiana State Penitentiary to provide a deeper understanding of America’s penal system] and I saw it as an opportunity to grow in my historical writing and analytical skills.”
Plan your thesis
Below is a general timeline for thesis development. For departmental specifics, contact your advisor.
Begin exploring potential topics during your sophomore or junior year.
Take a research methods class or equivalent preparatory class in your discipline during sophomore or junior year — either in your major or where you study abroad. This is separate from the yearlong course during senior year.
Choose an advisor by the end of spring semester junior year and submit a letter of intent to write a thesis to your department.
Submit a proposal during the second semester of your junior year to fund research trips, document retrieval, purchase of equipment/materials for the summer between junior and senior year.
For information about grants and how to apply, contact the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, and Nanovic Institute for European Studies.
Enroll in a yearlong course beginning in the fall semester of senior year — the format varies depending upon the form of presentation and the finished product. Each semester typically encompasses different phases of the process.
In fall, students often:
- collect data or identify a secondary data set
- attend library colloquia
- revise and share proposals in small groups
- conduct a thorough review of the literature
- write an annotated bibliography
- submit a progress report (i.e., your understanding of the project, a plan for research and writing in the next semester, and a tentative outline)
- submit an opening chapter
In spring, students often:
- submit by January a first draft or present a creative work in progress for faculty review
- fill out the survey for the senior thesis/creative project book and sit for a free professional headshot
- continue with analyses
- share drafts in progress
- focus on content and style
Complete the senior thesis project by April 12, 2024, and celebrate at the spring reception.