Honors Program in Psychology

Honors Program in Psychology at Penn (Application deadline: March 25, 2024)


The Honors Program has been developed to recognize excellence in psychology among Penn undergraduates and to enhance skills related to psychological research. There are two primary components to the Honors Program: (1) a substantial, year-long independent empirical research project (PSYC 4999), and (2) a complementary Honors Seminar (PSYC 4997). Students will be selected to be part of the Honors Program in the Spring of their junior year (see Application Process below). Upon successful completion of all requirements (see Requirements below),and upon graduation the student will be awarded a degree in Psychology with Honors. (On your transcript it will read: "With Distinction in Psychology").

Honors Program in Psychology at Penn 

Departmental Honors are available to majors who have strong academic records. The honors program involves (a) completing a year-long empirical research project in your senior year under the supervision of a faculty member (for a letter grade); this recieves 2 cu's total (b) completing a second term of statistics (for a letter grade) before graduation, (c) participating in a year-long seminar, PSYC 4997 (for a letter grade), designed especially for Psychology Honors majors; this receives a total of 1 cu; and (d) participating in the Undergraduate Psychology Research Fair in the Spring semester, at which honors students present a poster and give a 15-minute talk about their research. Finally, (e) a total of 15 cu's in psychology is required, please note: the honors seminar (1 cu total) and the second stats course (1 cu) bring the total in the major to 15 cu.  The application is due (via email or drop off in-person to Claire Ingulli) by March 25, 2024.  The application for the Honors Program can be found with other forms on the Psychology Dept web page (go to Undergraduate Program and click on "Forms") . The application is due by March 25, 2024.

Mentored Research:

Students who wish to graduate with Honors in Psychology must complete two semesters of enrollment in mentored research (PSYC 4999) with the same professor during senior year. The expectation is that students will work closely with a faculty advisor to develop an independent research project that includes the collection and analysis of data or the analysis of secondary data. As with all two-semester research projects, honors students must submit a final research paper at the end of their senior year describing their empirical investigation. At the end of their senior year, honors students must also present a poster and give a 15-minute talk to faculty and students in the psychology department at the Undergraduate Research Fair in the Spring.

Honors Seminar:

All honors students must attend the weekly Senior Honors Seminar: PSYC 4997 (0.5 cu per semester). The Honors Seminar is a 0.5 cu course that meets for two semesters (two hours per week on Monday afternoons); students earn 1.0 cu total.

The primary function of the Honors Seminar is to develop the scientific and professional skills of psychology students in conjunction with their mentored research project. Thus, a primary focus of the seminar is the development of skills in critical reading, writing, and public speaking. Other functions of the Honors Seminar include education/career planning, and training in ethical practices, research methods, and statistics. Students in the seminar will attend Psychology Department colloquia, followed by a class discussion, to expose them to the variety of excellent research in psychology and to illustrate effective presentation techniques. Finally, another important function of the Honors Seminar is to increase Esprit de Corps among our Honors students, who by spending time together will be able to support and advise one another throughout their senior year.

Requirements for Honors in Psychology

1. Application to (and acceptance into) the Honors Program during Advance Registration in the spring semester of the junior year (see Application Process, below).

2. Satisfactory completion of two semesters of a PSYC 4999 or PSYC 4999-equivalent in senior year, culminating in a paper, a poster, and a talk in the spring of the senior year.

3. Satisfactory completion of two semesters (total of 1 cu) of the Senior Honors Seminar in Psychology: PSYC 4997.

4. Satisfactory completion of two semesters of statistics, both of which must be taken for a letter grade.

Application Process for the Honors Program

The application for the Honors Program can be found with other forms on the Psychology Dept web page (go to Undergraduate Program and click on "Forms") . The application is due (via email or in-person drop off to Claire Ingulli) by March 2024, TBA
In addition to this form, students applying for the Honors Program must submit a brief statement (2-3 pages) of research interests (see FAQ #8 below); a brief description of the statistical analysis they will use for their research project; and a current, unofficial transcript. In addition, students must request a letter of support from the intended research supervisor, to be sent directly to the Director of the Honors Program for 2024-2025, Dr. Liz Brannon, dus@psych.upenn.edu

Students will be notified of their acceptance into the Honors Program during the Advanced Registration period.

Admission into the Honors Program will be based on evidence for enthusiasm for psychological research and likelihood of accomplishment in research, which may be reflected in prior research experience, good grades in challenging courses, excellence in statistics, and an outstanding statement of research interests.

Although there is no formal GPA requirement for acceptance into the Honors Program, it is expected that students will demonstrate good grades across a challenging curriculum. Most successful applicants will have a GPA within psychology courses of approximately 3.5.

If you are planning on applying to the Honors Program, it is imperative that you identify a research supervisor as soon as possible. No applications will be considered without an identified research supervisor (and a letter of support from that person). If you have questions about how to identify a supervisor, see the FAQ on this topic, below.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Whom do I contact with questions about the Honors Program?

Questions about the Honors Program can be directed to Dr. Liz Brannon, dus@psych.upenn.edu, or Dr. Coren Apicella.

2. How do I find a supervisor for independent study research?

There are several options - try all of them! (1) Meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Director of the Honors Program to discuss your research interests and identify candidate supervisors; then, contact those people to discuss research opportunities; (2) If you have taken a course in psychology that fascinates you, speak to the professor about research opportunities in his or her lab, or in related labs at Penn; (3) Attend one of the spring Research Fairs, where you will have a chance to meet current students conducting research and to hear from faculty about their research programs. (4) Peruse the Psychology Dept web page. There are descriptions of research interests for each faculty, so you can get an idea of whom you might like to work with.

3. Is the honors research requirement in addition to the research requirement for all majors?

All honors students must complete a two-semester research project in their senior year (culminating in the research paper and the poster), in addition to the other Psych major requirements. One semester (1 cu) of this year-long senior project can fillfil the research requirement for the Psychology major. Many honors students will complete more than two semesters of research; however, only two semesters of 4999 can be counted towards a major in psychology with honors. Any remaining semesters of 4999 can be counted as “free electives” in the general requirement for graduation.

4. Does participation in the Honors Program increase my overall graduation requirement from 33 to 35 cu’s since honors students need 15 psych course instead of 13?

No. The two additional 2 credtis (i.e., honors seminar and a second statistics course, both of which must be taken for a letter grade) are treated by the college as “free electives” (rather than a part of your major, per se) so the total course requirement for graduation remains 33.

5. Can I take statistics through the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS) to satisfy the two-course statistics requirement for the Honors Program?


6. I received a 5 on the Statistics AP Exam, so I skipped STAT 1110 and went directly to STAT 1120. Do I need to take another statistics course? 

Yes. Once you determine who your thesis advisor will be, you should discuss with them what appropriate advanced statistics course you should take, for a letter grade. There are a number of options at Penn. In the past, some students have received permission to take the graduate statistics course (PSYC 611, offered in the fall). Other students have taken specialized courses relevant to their subfield. Any course that lists STAT 1120 as a prerequisite might be appropriate for your needs. However, based on discussions with your thesis advisor, you can petition to substitute a non-statistics course to complete the 15 cu requirement for honors in psychology.

7. I don’t understand what the terms “4999-equivalent” and “4000 level” on the honors web page mean.

Psychology courses at the 4000 level are research experience courses. You can construct a year-long research experience (at the 4000 level) with a single professor in a number of ways: (i) most honors students develop an independent research proposal with a faculty member, and register for PSYC 4999 (Individual Empirical Research, aka Independent Study) in both the fall and spring semesters; (ii) some students enroll in one of the few year-long research experience courses (e.g. PSYC 4462), which are designated as such on the course listings available during advanced registration (not all students in these courses are part of the Honors Program); (iii) very occasionally a student makes advanced arrangements to enroll in a one-semester research experience course in the fall semester (if offered) and to continue and complete a research project with the instructor of that course in the spring semester. In all of these cases, the arrangements must be clearly specified at the time of the application to the Honors Program.

8. What should I include in the statement of research interests that accompanies my application to the Honors Program?

Your statement should include a summary of your research experiences to date that have shaped your interest in conducting an honors thesis in psychology, as well as a description of your planned senior thesis research, and a brief description of the statistical analysis you will use for your research project. The amount of detail in the thesis plan varies a lot from application to application, but in all cases there should be a scholarly discussion of the general research question and some statement of the hypothesis or hypotheses you would like to test.

9. My advisor has suggested that I conduct my senior thesis with a research partner, but that person is a junior and so is not eligible to apply for the Honors Program. Does that mean I cannot apply?

Not at all. Every year, several projects are carried out jointly by an undergraduate research team of 2-4 students. In some cases, none of these students is in the Honors Program, in other cases, all of them are, and in other cases, their status in the honors program is divided. Sometimes this happens because one person is not eligible to apply; sometimes a student decided not to apply because of other commitments; and, sometimes one or more members of the team is not accepted. Even in the cases of joint projects, applications to the Honors Program are made (and are evaluated) individually.

10. I am going to be abroad in the Spring of my junior year. Can I still apply to the Honors Program?

Definitely! The entire application can be submitted by email if you are out of the country (if you are not, we prefer the paper submission). However, you should start planning well in advance of the application deadline so you can identify a thesis advisor before you leave.

11. I will have enough credits to graduate in December next year. However, I have been working with a psychology professor all year, and will continue to do so in my final (Fall) semester at Penn. Can I still apply to the Honors Program, for that one semester?

No. Unfortunately the Honors Seminar is structured around one-year projects that begin in September and end in May of the senior year. While we commend both your extensive involvement in research and your ability to graduate in fewer than four years, we will not be able to offer you a spot in the Honors Program. That said, you are still eligible to give a presentation at the May research fair and (if you do) you are also eligible for the departmental prize for outstanding research. You could do this in the Spring of your junior year (if you have already completed one full year of independent research) or you could return in the Spring of your senior year to present your independent research project.

12. Is it possible for me to do research with a professor not in the psychology department as part of the research component of the honors program?

Yes. The faculty of many departments and schools outside of the psychology department conduct research that is relevant to the discipline of psychology. Past students have found research supervisors in the Medical School, the School of Education, Wharton, Children's Hospital, and other SAS departments (e.g., linguistics). If you look at the list of members of the psychology graduate group (http://www.psych.upenn.edu/people/gradgroup), you will see the names of candidate faculty in other departments, but note that even this long list is not exhaustive. If you identify a research supervisor in another department, please note the following rule for PSYC 4999 advising, which applies here as well: All Psyc 3999 and 4999 projects must be overseen by a faculty member in the Penn Psychology Department. However, it is frequently appropriate for the immediate (day-to-day) supervisor to be a graduate student in Psychology, or a faculty member in another department at Penn. The Director of the Honors Program is typically willing to serve as the nominal faculty advisor in cases where the immediate supervisor is in another department. Both must listed on your application form, but your letter of support should be written by your immediate supervisor.

13. Do I have to take STAT 1110 and STAT 1120 to fulfill the major and honors statistics requirements, or may I take other courses to satisfy the statistics requirements?

Each psychology major must complete one semester of Statistics. Honors students are required to take a second semester of statistics (for a letter grade) before they graduate; the most appropriate courses are: Stat 1120 or Stat 1020 or BIOL 5510; in addition CRIM 1200 will count as a second stats course for honors.  Students who have taken the Statistics AP test will not receive credit for the statistics requirement in the psych major. The following courses currently satisfy the major stats requirement: Biol 2510, Stat 1110, Stat 1120, Soci 2010, Anth 3454, Econ 2300, Nurs 2300, CRIM 1200, ENM 3750, Stat 1010 and Stat 1020. The first three courses use examples that are especially appropriate for psychology majors. The evaluation of scientific findings requires the kind of expertise in the analysis and interpretation of primary data that comes from the study of statistics. For this reason, students are strongly advised to complete statistics relatively early in their education, if possible in their sophomore year. Students may fulfill the statistics requirement in the major by taking STAT 1110 offered by the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS) in the summer, but not STAT 1110-601 offered by LPS during the academic year. Students who expect to pursue graduate work in psychology or a related discipline are strongly encouraged to take a second term of statistics. Honors students are required to take a second semester of statistics (for a letter grade) before they graduate; the most appropriate courses are: Stat 1120, Stat 1020, or BIOL 5510.