International Studies Program
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Honors Program

The Honors Program in International Studies is for outstanding and engaged majors who wish to take on the challenge of actively researching and writing about a topic in international studies. Participants in the Honors Program are required to have a deeper level of language competence than the IS adjunct major itself.  Students accepted to the program enroll in a three-part seminar through which they plan, research and write their thesis. Honors students who want to take on the unique challenge of primary research are strongly encouraged to apply for University research support and conduct research either during study abroad or in the summer after junior year, though this is not required for honors.

Applying for the Honors Program

Admission to the honors program is competitive. Outstanding International Studies majors must apply in early March of their junior year, but may apply in their sophomore year if they plan on spending their junior year abroad. Acceptance into the program is based on strength of the proposed research, demonstrated background in relevant courses and research methods for the proposed research and the studentís demonstrated ability as an independent and critical thinker. Students are also required to maintain a cumulative GPA above 3.5 in the major and overall throughout the program. 

Applications for the International Studies Honors Program must include the following:

  • A thesis topic proposal which includes a research question, a description of how your background (study abroad experience, coursework and research methods) prepares you for this particular research, and a letter of support from your thesis advisor.
  • Applicants must also submit a transcript including a calculation of their major and overall GPA.

Galya Ruffer, the Director of International Studies and the director of honors, is available to meet with students as they work to develop their proposals.  Students should also seek advice from other faculty at Northwestern.  All applicants must schedule an interview with the Honors Director in the early part of February. *Please note, for the 2014-2015 academic year, Professor Galya Ruffer is on leave. Professor Ian Hurd is the interim director for International Studies and the Honors Program. If you have questions about applying for the 2015-2016 Honors Program, please contact Professor Ian Hurd at


The deadline to apply for the Honors Program is:
Monday, March 16, 2015

Application to IS Honors Program 2015


Language requirement

Students in the honors program must demonstrate the ability to work in a foreign language. One way for a student to fulfill this requirement is to study abroad in a relevant country for at least one term.  The honors program director may certify that a student has completed the language requirement in other ways. Examples of alternative ways to fulfill this requirement include taking 300-level courses on campus at NU in a foreign language, showing that the student has advanced competency in a language or inclusion of significant foreign-language source work in the thesis project.

Three-Part Honors Seminar:  INT 398-1,2, 3. 

INT_ST 398-1 (Seminar): In the Spring Quarter of the sophomore (for those studying Junior year abroad) or junior year students focus on refining thesis proposals, developing a bibliography, an annotated research proposal, and a plan for research. Honors students will be encouraged to apply for University funding and use the summer after the first seminar to conduct research.

INT_ST 398-2 (Seminar). During the Fall Quarter of their senior year, the honors seminar challenges students to consider theoretical approaches and to make adjustments in the research design. Students begin to draft their thesis, and identify areas where follow-up research is needed.  The winter break provides a chance, should it be needed, for follow up research.

INT_ST 398-3 (Independent Study). A thesis requires multiple drafts.  In Winter Quarter students work with their faculty advisor to write and refine the argument and analysis and are required to turn in the completed draft at the end of the quarter.

What does a thesis look like?

A thesis is a scholarly (i.e., critical and independent) analysis in which students are encouraged, but not required, to use primary materials to investigate an issue of specific or general relevance. Since International Studies is an interdisciplinary program, there is an expectation that students will bring in a variety of perspectives and approaches to address the question. There is no set length requirement, though most theses range from 50 to 100 pages in length.

Helpful Forms

2015 Honors Application


Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I apply and enroll in the Seminar if I’m Studying Abroad?
International Studies encourages students to spend a full year abroad. We will work with motivated students who are abroad during their junior year and would like to participate in the Honors Program. Students in this position can already apply in their sophomore year, take the first part of the seminar in the spring quarter of their sophomore year and complete the sequence when they return from study abroad.  Juniors already abroad may apply, but they must follow the normal application procedures, submitting a written proposal in January of their junior year. Since juniors applying from abroad will not be on campus for the first part of the seminar, they will be responsible for completing their bibliography and annotated research proposal independently (with advice from the IS Honors Director).

If I apply in my sophomore year and am rejected can I apply again as a junior?
Yes you may.  Chances are a weak proposal or limited background experience contributed to being turned down for the program. Students may strengthen their proposal and gain experience related to their project, and reapply in their junior year.

If International Studies is an interdisciplinary major, does this mean I can’t pursue dual honors?
IS honors students may also pursue dual honors.  Interested students apply to both honors programs, and complete the requirements of both honors programs. For more information students should consult

I need to work in my summers.  Does this mean I can’t pursue honors? We encourage students to conduct field work related to a thesis, but this is not required.  Text based analysis can be conducted in the United States, and even field work need not be conducted abroad, need not consume the entire summer, and need not take place during the summer.  What matters is that the research project be answerable and thus that the student work with the materials they need to answer their question.  The University has funds to pay for undergraduate research; we will help students create competitive funding proposals so that primary research or field work can be funded.

Am I committed to pursuing the project I describe in my application? What if I change my research topic either during my research, or before I actually start the honors program?
In the proposal we are most interested in seeing whether a student can define a researchable project that can sustain a thesis-length investigation. Questions that are factual are unlikely to sustain a year-long investigation.  Questions that are too big are unlikely to be answerable in a year, if ever. Honors theses tend to evolve as students learn more about their topic and begin working with a faculty advisor, and thus we expect that students who are accepted to the program will redefine and reshape their project, sometimes to the point that it no longer resembles the original proposal.


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