Honors Majors & Minors

Honors Majors & Minors

To be accepted into the External Examination Program in the department, the applicant must have an average grade of B or better in all physics and astronomy courses.

External examinations are based on three of the following preparations, including their prerequisites:
For Physics Majors: PHYS 112, 113, 114, 180 (thesis)
For Astronomy Majors: ASTR 121, 123, 126, 128, 180 (thesis)
For Astrophysics Majors: One seminar from each of the above listed physics and astronomy seminars, plus a third seminar from either program or a thesis.

Minors in physics, astrophysics, and astronomy take an external examination based on one seminar from the previous lists.


Writing a thesis is an optional part of the honors program. Students who choose to do it often find it a very rewarding experience, as it involves a level of depth that goes beyond a typical research project and a typical scientific publication. An honors thesis involves a significant amount of writing about the background and context of the scientific problem the student is investigating. It generally, but not always, involves significant original research. Students typically perform most of the research in the summer before their senior year, planning and carrying out experiments, analyzing data, and/or developing theoretical models. In the fall, they take one credit of thesis writing, and meet regularly with their faculty advisors throughout the semester.

The thesis -- often but not always more than 50 pages in length -- is completed by winter break and sent to an external examiner in the early spring. The student is then examined on their thesis by the external examiner as part of the honors examination process. Many students report that the opportunity to answer questions, talk about, and explain their work to the examiner (who is often an eminent scientist specializing in the field of the thesis project) is one of the highlights of their Swarthmore experience.