The BA Thesis Seminar is for students who are interested in pursuing independent study and deepening their research skills. This seminar is well suited for students who plan to pursue graduate degrees.

The BA Thesis Seminar guides students engaged in research design, data collection and analysis, and thesis writing. For students pursuing the thesis capstone option, registration for the BA Thesis Seminar PBPL 29800 is required in Autumn Quarter of the final year of study in the major, though the thesis process continues through Spring Quarter.

Successful completion of the BA Thesis capstone option involves passing PBPL 29800, while also meeting related thesis requirements, including participation in the BA Thesis Symposium in February, and the timely submission of an acceptable polished draft in March and final BA paper in April.

Only students who successfully complete a BA thesis are eligible for honors.

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BA Thesis Process, 2023-2024

Enroll in the BA Seminar: Public Policy (PBPL 29800) for credit in autumn. Although you only register in the autumn quarter of your final year, the seminar meets once per week throughout Autumn, and then in small group meetings with a preceptor, and/or one-on-one in winter and spring quarters. Grades for the course will be calculated on the basis of performance and progress through Autumn, Winter, and Spring, and will be assigned in the Spring, following the submission of the BA Thesis.


  • Double majors, joint students, and students on extended status can opt out of their Autumn BA seminar registration with a waiver approved by the PBPL department (non-enrolled students will be paired with a Public Policy preceptor). To substitute for the PBPL Thesis Track, students must submit the waiver, a policy-relevant thesis and earn a full credit and a quality grade in a thesis seminar, There are no substitutes for the PBPL Project Track.
  • Double majors writing one BA for two majors should also submit the Single Bachelor's Paper for Two Majors petition and obtain the signature of both majors' directors
  • Consider recruiting a Second Reader from UChicago faculty for the Public Policy BA Thesis as additional support; other experts can be approved as Second Reader on a case-by-case basis

Important Deadlines 

Autumn 2023

Early fall: Submit IRB protocols for human subjects research (please see IRB handout for details about the process and about human subjects research). In order to collect data with human subjects, it is highly recommended you submit this protocol as early as you can.

Mid-December: BA Thesis Long Write-Up, formerly Autumn Draft, due (about 15 pages).

The College Center for Research and Fellowships provides opportunities for research funding and other supports. Please, visit their webpage for additional information.

Winter 2024

Students do not register for the BA Seminar in the Winter quarter, but continue to meet with their preceptors on a regular basis. Students on extended status must inform the Public Policy Administrator about their change of status and must continue to meet regularly with their preceptors and submit assignments. 

Important Deadlines

Early February: Annual Senior BA Symposium

  • This is a required academic conference at which students will present their research to faculty and peers in 10 min presentations followed by Q&A

Early March: Polished Draft and Second Reader Forms due to preceptor

  • Polished Drafts (and final theses) tend to range between 35-60 pages

Around 1-2 weeks after submission: Preceptors will provide feedback on Polished Drafts 

Spring 2024

Important Deadlines

Mid-April: Final Draft of BA Thesis due

  • BA theses need title page, including name of preceptor (& second reader if you have one), date of submission, and abstract, and are submitted electronically
  • Following thesis submission, determinations are made for honors & the Taub Thesis Prizes
  • In order to receive honors, student must have an overall GPA of 3.4 or higher, and receive honors recommendation on the BA Thesis
  • The preceptor and second reader can both make nominations for honors and the Taub prize; the Public Policy faculty committee then makes the final determinations
  • The thesis evaluation is based on extent and originality of research, argumentation, writing quality, etc.

Mid-May: Celebration! Senior Public Policy Dinner, Speaker Presentations, & Capstone Prizes

Note: If you are planning to graduate prior to Spring quarter please contact the Public Policy Administrator for your BA draft due dates.   

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Expectations for the BA Thesis

BA theses should be more comprehensive in both information gathering and analysis than a term paper. As distinct from a term paper, the BA thesis requires primary data collection and analysis. We emphasize developing a good policy question, settling on an appropriate methodology and utilizing analytical tools to answer the question.

Honors Papers & Honors Eligibility

To be eligible for honors, students must satisfy two requirements:

  • Have an overall GPA of 3.4 or higher to be considered eligible for honors initially
  • Receive honors recommendation from the Public Policy faculty committee

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The Albert C. Svoboda Fellowship

The Albert C. Svoboda Fellowship provides summer research fellowships for rising fourth-year College students majoring in Public Policy to engage in faculty-guided research in the Chicago area on Chicago-based topics.

Awards are for various amounts, typically between $1,000 and $4,000, based on the research proposal and proposed budget. Svoboda Fellows are responsible for submitting a post-research report at the end of the summer.

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BA Thesis FAQ

Can I use a previous paper I've written?

Your thesis can build upon work you have done elsewhere. However, the BA thesis should be an original paper.

You cannot double count a paper you have written for another course (this also means that you cannot just extend a paper written for another course). Whatever is being used from previous work should be disclosed and cited as such in the thesis. Please note that failure to do so will be considered a violation of academic integrity (i.e., plagiarism). It should be clear that the BA thesis develops new insights that are distinct from those developed in previous work.

Keep in mind that the BA thesis should be structured around the analysis of primary research. Given that most of the papers you have written are based on secondary data, it is likely that papers you have written for other courses would be primarily useful for background, and for helping to develop your research question. If you are considering building on work done for another class, please consult your preceptor.

Am I required to link my area of specialization to my BA thesis topic?

Public Policy majors writing a BA thesis are strongly encouraged to link their specialization with their BA thesis, though such a link is not formally required.

Are second readers required for Public Policy honors BA theses?

No. A second reader/faculty adviser is beneficial for providing additional support for your BA thesis work, but they are not required to receive honors for your BA paper.

Note: All Public Policy BA papers are eligible for honors whether or not students work with a second reader.  Students have successfully graduated with honors in Public Policy without having a 2nd reader/faculty adviser. 

Students having second readers are required to complete the Second Reader Information and Confirmation form

Who can serve as a second reader/faculty reader for the Public Policy BA paper?
  1. All University of Chicago Faculty
  2. Harper-Schmidt Collegiate Assistant Professors
  3. University of Chicago Lecturers
  4. University of Chicago Graduate Students (approved on a case by case basis)
  5. Faculty from other colleges or universities (approved on a case by case basis)
Who evaluates my BA thesis?

Your BA thesis is read by your preceptor and your second reader/faculty adviser who evaluates your paper as 1) acceptable; 2) not acceptable: or 3) acceptable with an honors recommendation.

What happens if I enroll in the BA Thesis Seminar but decide that writing a thesis is not for me?

A student who satisfactorily completes the BA Thesis Seminar (autumn and winter) but does not complete a BA thesis receives 100 course credit, but is not eligible to graduate unless the student completes the BA Project Seminar (PBPL 29500).

Learn more about the BA Project Seminar.

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