Graduation: Graduating with Distinction

The Graduation with Distinction program recognizes students who demonstrate academic excellence through the successful completion of a substantive written project evaluated by a committee of three faculty members. While two candidates for graduation with distinction might, for example, work in the same laboratory and hence on related thesis topics, the thesis project is expected to be the work of each individual and evaluated separately by an appropriate committee of three faculty member. Traditionally, pursuit of graduation with distinction has been undertaken in the student’s major area of study. Indeed, all academic departments and programs offering a major, as well as Program II, have established procedures for conferring graduation with distinction on students who meet their standards and requirements. In Spring 2009, the Arts and Sciences Council approved an expansion of the Graduation with Distinction program beyond Distinction in the major to permit qualified students to undertake a thesis or other substantive project worthy of Distinction in an area outside that of the major (or Program II). 

Henceforth, successful candidates for Distinction will be recognized by earning the right either to:

  • Graduation with Distinction in the Major (or in Program II) or
  • Graduation with Distinction (for a project not associated with the student’s major).

Each is described in detail below. This recognition is separate and distinct from Latin Honors.

Graduation with Distinction in the Major (or in Program II)

In general, qualified students seeking to graduate with Distinction in a major (or in Program II) will participate during their junior and/or senior years in a seminar and/or a directed course of reading, laboratory research, or independent study that results in substantive written work.  Each student's overall achievement in the major or in Program II, including the thesis project, is assessed by a three-member faculty committee.  The Graduation with Distinction program permits the awarding of Distinction at one of three levels: Distinction, High Distinction, and Highest Distinction, though departments and programs vary with respect to the levels of Distinction they recognize.

Requirements of Graduation with Distinction in the Major:

Graduation with Distinction (outside the major)

Beginning in Fall 2009, qualified students seeking to graduate with Distinction on the basis of a thesis or other substantive scholarly project not anchored in a major but rather based upon course work taken in a certificate program, a minor or some other elective field of study may apply for admission to the Graduation with Distinction program. Each student’s overall achievement in the field, and in particular the thesis project, is assessed by a three-member faculty committee. Graduation with Distinction may be awarded at one level only: Distinction.

Graduation with Distinction is not intended to supplant Graduation with Distinction in the Major, and therefore will not be considered for double honors (i.e., Distinction awarded in two units for a single thesis).  Nor will a student be considered an eligible candidate for Graduation with Distinction who is eligible for Graduation with Distinction in the Major based on the same thesis. However, a student could be eligible for Graduation with Distinction in the Major and for Graduation with Distinction based on separate theses. 

For more information and the application for Graduation with Distinction (not in a major), open the following document:

Graduation with Distinction - Double Honors for a Single Thesis Written for Two Separate Departments/Programs

In support of interdisciplinary efforts at Duke, the Curriculum Committee approved in Fall 2002 an option to permit a student to pursue double honors for a single thesis written for two separate departments or programs, an option distinct from that of completing two entirely separate theses and earning honors in each. In doing so, the Committee established certain guidelines that all departments/programs choosing to offer the double honors option must use. Students earning double honors will have both distinctions indicated on their transcript and have their names cited in both departments’/programs’ lists in the Commencement program. Whether or not to include this option as part of their Graduation with Distinction program rests with the individual academic departments and programs. 

In order for a student to pursue double honors, the following guidelines must be met:

  • The student must propose a double-thesis in advance to both departments/programs and seek their approval together. A student may not seek the approval of a second department or program AFTER already proposing a thesis in one department/program and beginning work on it.
  • To qualify as a legitimate double-thesis, it must clearly draw on advising from and work done for both departments/programs. Specifically, the student must formulate two separate committees; only one member may be on both committees (the thesis advisor). The student must take at least one thesis-related course from each department involved, as determined by each department (e.g., thesis seminar or independent study). A double-thesis, therefore, should benefit clearly from its basis in two different departments/ programs, exemplifying a strong cross-disciplinary quality.
  • Evaluation of the honors thesis must be done separately by the two committees.  This means in practice that the committees may evaluate the thesis differently according to their own standards. It would be possible for such a thesis to receive highest honors from one committee and honors from the other; or honors from one, and no honors from the other. This separate evaluation process would insure that the thesis legitimately satisfies the requirements and standards of two separate departments/programs.
  • Students are eligible for double honors for a single thesis only if they are majoring in both departments. Students may not use the Graduation with Distinction outside the major to earn double honors for a single thesis.

Relevant Deadlines

Trinity College sets no common deadline for students to submit their honors theses to their respective honors committee. However, departments and programs are expected to report to the Dean's Office by the last day of classes in the semester in which the thesis is due the names of the students who will graduate with distinction. Accordingly, departments, programs and/or honors committees should set their own deadlines for receipt of thesis projects in final form. Such dates should be early enough to insure that committees have adequate time to read, review, and evaluate the projects and be able to report to the dean's office by the last day of classes the names of students who have earned the right to graduate with distinction.

Why Pursue Distinction?

All qualified students in Trinity College are encouraged to pursue a thesis project leading to either Graduation with Distinction in the Major or Graduation with Distinction in a field unassociated with a major simply for the sake of the rewards that accrue from pursuit of independent academic research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. The opportunity to forge a close personal and working relationship with one or more professors in one's field of intellectual interest is invaluable per se, and the mentor's familiarity with the student's work and potential can also be enormously helpful when the student is applying to post-graduate programs of study.  Distinction, whether in the major or not, is thus not only an honor that is noted on the transcript, but can also represent a high point in the student's academic career and be beneficial to one's subsequent scholarly pursuits.

For more information about the Graduation with Distinction in the Major and the Graduation with Distinction programs contact:

Academic Dean Rachael Murphey
Box 90050, 011 Allen Building
Phone: 919-684-2130
Fax: 919-660-0488


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