SIR Honors Program

The Honors Program is designed to provide an opportunity for a structured indepth study of a topic chosen by the student. Under the supervision of a faculty member who is expert in the student's thesis topic, Honors candidates will develop a formal research design, conduct a literature review, apply theories and research methodologies relevant to their study and author a thesis of publishable quality. Graduates of the IR Honors Program have found the experience invaluable in enhancing their writing, research and reasoning skills and preparing them for future graduate work.

This is an excerpt from the title page of the USC Catalogue. The USC Catalogue is the document of authority for all students. The program requirements listed in the USC Catalogue supersede any information which may be contained in any bulletin of any school or department. The university reserves the right to change its policies, rules, regulations, requirements for graduation, course offerings and any other contents of this catalogue at any time.

Either IR 211, Approaches to Research, or IR 212, Historical Approaches to IR, should be completed not later than the junior fall semester. These courses teach you how to design research, which you need in order to write a good proposal for original thesis research, and a proposal a key part of the honors application, due in junior spring. This is why IR 211 is a prerequisite for the honors seminar, IR 494. The faculty may waive this IR 211 prerequisite and admit a student to the honors program and IR 494 if IR 212 has been completed or if the research proposal shows sufficient command of research methods. But a student who has not taken either course would need to find another way to learn about research design before the proposal is due.

It is also recommended, but not required, that you enroll in IR 490, Directed Research, for 2 units during the junior spring.  You would ask a professor specializing in your research topic to guide you, during the first half of that semester, to identify a research question that is promising, including one that is original and yet narrow enough to answer in the time available, and to guide you to possible sources of primary evidence. 

If you are interested in overseas study as well as the honors program, it is recommended that you plan to be in Los Angeles during the junior spring and senior fall semesters.  If you are abroad during the junior spring, you may apply for the honors program that semester, but it is more difficult to develop a proposal that will succeed.  Some have done it.  But refining a successful proposal requires several rounds of advice with your faculty mentor or mentors.  Most of those who have succeeded began work on the proposal with a faculty mentor well before the junior spring and partially completed it before going abroad.  For some students, study abroad has absorbed all the available time, leaving too little time to complete a good proposal as well.  If you are abroad during the senior fall, you will not be able to take IR 494, which is a requirement to graduate with honors.

USC Dornsife offers Summer Undergraduate Research Funds which can finance part of the cost of travel to Washington or another country, if your project would benefit from field work. Research outside Los Angeles is not required for honors, but a number have done it and found it exciting.  If you are interested, ask your faculty advisers whether they can teach you what you need to know to carry out profitable research in the field and whether they can recommend your project to SURF.

Admissions Requirements:

  • Must be a declared IR Major
  • Must complete IR 210: Introductory Analysis and IR 211: Approaches to Research, IR 212: Historical Approaches to International Relations, or IR 213: The Global Economy by the end of Spring of Junior Year
  • Overall GPA of 3.3
  • Major GPA of 3.5
  • In the Spring of Junior Year submit the following to Student Affairs (VKC 301):
    • Application
    • Two Letters of Recommendation
    • Thesis Proposal

Honors Program Requirements:

  • Identify Thesis Supervisor
  • Enroll in IR 494 in Fall of the Senior Year and earn a B+ or better
  • Maintain Major GPA of 3.5 and Overall GPA of 3.3


Please speak to an academic adviser in VKC 301 to learn about this process. In brief, candidates must have earned grades averaging at least 3.5 in IR and at least 3.3 overall. Each Spring the School of International Relations invites IR juniors who have completed IR 210: Introductory Analysis and IR 211: Approaches to Research to apply for International Relations Honors Program. IR 211 is a prerequisite for IR 494, the honors seminar, but IR 212 can be accepted in its place. IR 213 satisfies a graduation requirement for the BA but is not designed to prepare students for the honors program.

They submit an application, two letters of reference and a thesis research proposal. They will also be asked to name a faculty mentor who has agreed to help supervise their research. Students who are admitted conduct original research part time during the summer with faculty help, and enroll in IR 494, the honors thesis seminar, in the senior fall. The thesis is due in December, which concludes the honors program.

IR 494: Honors Thesis Seminar

In the Fall of the Senior year, Honors candidates will enroll in IR 494: Honors Thesis Seminar.

Honors candidates will meet regularly with their thesis supervisor to discuss research progress and to review drafts of the thesis. The thesis supervisor will also serve as thesis editor as the Honors candidate revises the draft of the thesis as if to prepare the manuscript for publication. Throughout the semester, Honors candidates and thesis faculty will participate in a series of seminars in which each candidate will offer a presentation of the outcome of their research.

Achieving Departmental Honors

To complete the IR Honors Program and earn Departmental Honors in International Relations, Honors candidates must earn a B+ or better in IR 494, maintain a major GPA of 3.5 and overall GPA of 3.3.

If the Honors Program is completed successfully, the Honors student's transcript will read "With Honors".

Click here for more detailed tips on how to prepare for this program beginning freshman year, what a thesis research proposal looks like, and examples of successful past proposals and honors theses.


Contact an undergraduate advisor in VKC 301:

(213) 740-6278
  • School of International Relations
  • 3518 Trousdale Parkway
  • Von KleinSmid Center 330
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0043
  • Phone: (213) 740 - 2136