Honors Contracts


To graduate with Honors, a student must complete 3 Honors Contracts  by the end of their 4th year, using each as an opportunity to explore more deeply a course or capstone project that contributes to their major or career interests.



Honors Contracts enable students to develop, under the guidance of a professor, an enriched curriculum from upper-division courses in which the student is enrolled.



Writer holding a piece of paper in the Writing Center.

What is an Honors Contract?

Honors Contracts are an essential part of an Honors education. They are intended to enrich upper division coursework and prepare students for graduate school, challenging students to pursue some topics in greater depth while establishing close working relationships with faculty. Students design their own Contracts with input from faculty and peer mentors.

Honors Contracts demand that students achieve “greater depth and rigor” than what is required of their classmates. Think of it as a personal challenge and a primer for graduate study.

“Greater depth and rigor” may be achieved by: 

  1. Integrating a more challenging and sophisticated content matter into the existing course curriculum 
  2. Integrating an allied emphasis into the existing course curriculum 
  3. Integrating a social justice or artistic emphasis into the existing course curriculum

Honors Contracts are done in upper division full-credit courses in which a student is enrolled. All Contracts must be completed in separate courses, and no contracts are allowed in January Term. Graduate level courses will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Proposals are due at noon on the second Friday of the semester.

Students in the Biotech lab.


To graduate from the Honors Program, students must complete 3 Honors Contracts, or 2 Honors Contracts plus a senior thesis. Transfer students and those joining after in their first year should consult us about how many contracts they need. The different categories of Contract can include:

  • Course Contract 
    • Complete an Honors contract alongside an upper division, full-credit course--major, non-major, or elective courses are accepted.
    • This Contract will allow you to explore more deeply a particular aspect(s) of the associated course and will be assessed by the course instructor.
    • You must complete at least 1 Course Contract.
  • Independent Study Contract
    • Complete an Honors Contract alongside an independent study that you and a professor have arranged outside of a regular course.
    • This Contract will allow you to explore a topic in more depth while also earning academic credit for the independent study.
  • Free-Floating Contract
    • Complete an Honors Contract unaffiliated with a regular course or independent study but which you and a professor have arranged.
    • This Contract will allow you to explore a topic in more depth without earning academic credit beyond the Honors Contract itself.
  • Senior Thesis/Capstone Contract 
    • Complete an Honors Contract with a senior thesis or capstone project in your major.
    • You can only fulfill 1 Honors Contract with a capstone project.

All Contracts must be completed in separate courses, and students cannot complete 2 Contracts with the same course. No Contracts can be completed in the January Term, and graduate-level courses will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Students must have completed at least 1 Honors Contract by the beginning of their 4th year.  Except by special permission, only one Honors contract may be pursued at a time.




Successful Contract Proposals articulate a carefully chosen focus, substantial enough to explore in great depth over the course of one semester.


Benchmarks for achieving “greater depth and rigor” will be determined by the course professor and the Honors Advisory Board, and must be clearly articulated by the student in the Honors Contract Proposal Form.


Professors will judge student performance and will award honors course credit on a pass/fail basis at the end of the semester. The student’s grade in the course in which they are enrolled remains independent of the honors course distinction.



Students studying in the library


Contracts must be the equivalent of at least 2 hours of work per week (at least 30 hours per semester) in addition to regular coursework. In the humanities and social sciences this roughly translates into a 12-to-15-page research paper.

There is great flexibility when it comes to genre and format, but all Honors Contracts should result in a tangible product which the student submits at the end of the semester (an oral presentation will not suffice). Past examples included research papers, posters, podcasts, creative writing, community service projects, portfolios, lit reviews, artwork, visual presentations, pedagogical tools, etc.

Honors Contracts should be done in addition to the regular coursework. It is not enough to add a few pages to an existing assignment on the syllabus. Instead, the Contract should be an independent product (though it can treat a related topic or build on an existing assignment). 

Students have to attend a Contract Mentoring session and submit a Contract Proposal Form before they can begin working on a Contract. Please follow the timeline below.

For Contract ideas and examples, contact honors@stmarys-ca.edu or the Academic Commissioner.


Begin brainstorming contract ideas. If you are unfamiliar with the contract process, review our Honors Contract presentation, which outlines the process in greater detail!

Approach the professor in whose class you wish to create an Honors Contract and politely solicit their help. Be sure to educate your professor on the requirements and commitment of such an undertaking. Submit a request to create an honors contract to the course professor.

In collaboration with your professor, develop the contract, then write and submit a proposal. Attend a Contract Mentoring Workshop to receive feedback on your proposal. Proposals (including course syllabus) are due at noon the Friday of the second week. Upon submission of your proposal, a copy of your contract will be emailed to your professor for their approval.

Contract Proposals are reviewed to determine whether the objectives, outcomes, and methods necessary to achieve greater depth and rigor have been clearly articulated. By the end of the third week, the Director notifies each student whether their proposal has been accepted, rejected, or whether they recommend revisions. Revisions are due by the date specified by the Director. If you need to modify your contract in the course of the semester, notify the Honors Director immediately.

Students work independently on their contracts. The proposal form asks how often the student plans to check in with their professor, and students should follow that plan.

Contracts are due by the Friday of Finals week, though students are welcome to submit them early. Email your research product to the honors email so we can archive it. If the Honors Contract requirements are met to the satisfaction of the professor, the professor should notify the Honors Program and the Registrar via email, and the student receives honors course credit on their transcript.