Astronomy Concentrators: Honors Policy

Honors candidates can receive a degree recommendation from the department at one of four levels: no honors, honors, high honors, or highest honors. This recommendation is based only on work required by the Department. If the student also meets certain university-wide requirements (as is normally the case), then he or she will receive a degree cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude respectively. A full description is given in the Handbook for Students.

The level of honors awarded by the Astronomy Department is based upon a combination of a student's grades and senior thesis as described below:


Seniors will be allowed to embark on a thesis (Astronomy 99) for honors only if they have achieved a minimum average grade of B- in courses that count toward the concentration. This is intended to avoid anomalies where someone with a very low course performance does an acceptable thesis and is then considered for honors. Students who would like to do a research project, but who are not eligible for an honors thesis, could take Astronomy 91r.


In order to compute averages, "B" is adopted as a standard grade and all the course grades that count for concentration will be assigned as follows: E (-9); D- (-7); D (-6); D+ (-5); C- (-4); C (-3); C+ (-2); B- (-1); B (0); B+ (+1); A- (+2); A (+3). Pass-fail courses are not counted. This is not identical to the University scale. It is identical to but easier to compute than the Physics scale which is exactly 1/3 the scale given here. Furthermore, as is also the case for Physics Honors, the student's lowest grade in a course counting for the concentration, will be dropped before computing the average.


In determining honors, the Astronomy Department weighs all the courses which count toward the concentration which have been completed through the 1st semester of the senior year together with the Astronomy 99 grade. It is awkward to get results from other courses from the 2nd semester in time for the degree recommendation deadline. Astronomy 99, the senior thesis, will count as the equivalent of two (full) courses in computing the average performance for honors determination. Although this emphasis on the senior thesis introduces a difference from the Physics scale, it is consistent with the greater emphasis on undergraduate research in Astronomy.


The following standard of performance is adopted for average grades vs. honors recommendations: B to B+ (0.0 to 1.49 in the scale above) is the minimum standard for honors; B+ to A- (1.50 to 2.49) for high honors; and A- or above (greater than 2.50) for highest honors. The final recommendation results from consultation among the Astronomy 99 Instructor, the Undergraduate Advisor, and the Department Chair.


The recommendation for highest honors will only be made when, in addition to the average as computed in (B), the thesis itself is of unusual merit and originality. The University has its own, rather strict standard for "summa".


Combined concentrators should be aware that the department listed first has only limited flexibility in discussing honors recommendations with the other department. While greater weight is given to the recommendation of the "home" department, students are not ordinarily awarded a level of honors without meeting the criteria of both departments.