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Thesis & Independent Study

student project, a model of a house made from clear material with light shining on it with dramatic shadow

Departmental honors in Architecture is earned by the demonstration of excellence in
both coursework and in a self-directed senior thesis. Students have a choice of pursuing
a thesis project in history/theory or pursuing a studio-based project. In either case, the
student will complete two units of independent study/thesis (ARCH 360/370) in the Fall
and Spring of the senior year.
Students interested in pursuing a senior thesis must apply to the co-directors of the
Architecture Program and must have met the following requirements:
1) have achieved a 3.5 GPA in the major,
2) have completed all 100 level requirements, and
3) have completed a minimum of five units in Architectural History, Studio Art, or Design above the 100 level. Four of the five units must be taken in the department (including MIT), and one of the five units must be at the 300 level (a 350 does not count).
Most important, a student applying to pursue a thesis must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the co-directors, the capacity to carry out their proposed thesis project.
NOTE: The first class that will be able to propose architecture thesis projects is the Class of 2023.
History/Theory Track
A history/theory thesis involves substantial, independent, year-long research, normally
resulting in a polished, professional paper of between 50-100 pages in length. For
students who have a clear idea of what they want to investigate, a well-considered plan
of research, and a willingness to accept the responsibility of working independently, a
senior thesis can be a rewarding experience.
Studio Track
A studio-based thesis culminates in a formal public exhibition of the thesis project as
part of the Department’s annual Senior Exhibition along with a 15-20 page paper
documenting the conceptual, visual, and technical development of the project. Students
pursuing a studio-based thesis are encouraged to enroll in ARTS 317 in the Fall of their
senior year and ARTS 318 in the Spring.
Deadlines and Timetable
Because the thesis is a complex and multi-faceted project it requires careful adherence
to deadlines during the student’s junior and senior years. These deadlines allow work to
be evaluated regularly by both the student’s thesis advisor and the co-directors of the
Architecture Program. Deadlines are strictly enforced to ensure fairness to all; any
deviation will need to be approved by the advisor in consultation with the co-directors
and, if necessary, the student’s dean.
Spring semester junior year:  Students should begin to think about a thesis project in
the second semester of their junior year and consult with a faculty member as a
potential thesis advisor. The student and the advisor will determine if the proposed
project is viable, ensure that the student meets the requirements for pursuing a thesis,
and confirm that the student has the appropriate preparation for the project. It is the
student’s responsibility to seek out an advisor. The best advisors are those with whom
the student already has a strong working relationship from previous 200- or 300-level
Before the last day of classes in Spring of the junior year:   Students proposing a
history/theory thesis will submit to their proposed thesis advisor a two- or three-page
thesis proposal outlining the project’s major questions, a preliminary bibliography for
the project, and a copy of their academic transcript. Students proposing a studio thesis
will submit at two- or three-page thesis proposal outlining the major questions and
references guiding their project and discussing their studio practice. They will also
submit a preliminary bibliography, a portfolio or documentation of 10-12 examples of
recent studio projects, and a copy of their academic transcript. The proposed thesis
advisor will forward these materials to the co-directors of the Architecture Program. The
co-directors will review all proposals and assess their viability in light of both the
individual student’s program of study and the resources of the program in a given year.
There are a number of reasons why a proposal may not be accepted. For instance, the
student’s proposed advisor may already have the full number of allowable thesis
students, or the co-directors may believe that the student would benefit from additional
300-level seminars instead of a thesis. Students will be informed by the end of the exam
period whether or not they have been selected to enroll in ARCH 360 for the Fall
Summer:   Once the decision about whether or not the student can pursue a thesis is
made, and before the student leaves campus, the student and advisor must have a
conversation about summer plans.  The student is expected to conduct considerable
independent research or preliminary studio work on the thesis topic over the summer.
By the first day of Fall classes:  History/theory track students will submit a revised
proposal and bibliography to their advisor, taking into account the completed summer
research.  Studio students will submit evidence of progress made to conceptualize their
project. These materials will be reviewed by the co-directors to ensure the student has
made appropriate progress and is ready to undertake the project.  The co-directors will
inform the student of the outcome of their deliberations before the Add/Drop period
During the Fall semester:  Students should plan to meet with their thesis advisor on a
regular basis.  It is up to the student to schedule these meetings, to be prepared to
discuss their research, and to present any questions.
Before the end of Fall Break:  History/theory track students will submit a draft thesis
outline (itemizing chapters) as well as a revised proposal and bibliography, to their
advisor.  At this point the student and advisor will decide which chapter will be written
before the end of the Fall semester. The advisor will report to the co-directors on the
student’s progress.
Mid-semester: Studio track students will participate in a formal thesis review with the
co-directors and other studio faculty to assess the development of the project.
Before the end of Reading Period: History/theory track students will submit a complete,
fully footnoted and illustrated chapter, a detailed outline of all chapters, and a thesis
statement to the advisor, who will forward it to the co-directors for review.  Studio track
students will participate in a second formal thesis review with the co-directors and
other studio faculty.
Based on the reviews of chapters and studio work, the co-directors will determine
whether or not the student will be invited to continue with a unit of ARCH 370 in the
spring semester; if so, the student will earn a grade of TBG (to be graded) for ARCH 360.
If students have any questions or concerns about the future grade at this point they
should initiate a conversation with their advisor.  In some cases, the co-directors will
determine that the project does not qualify for a second semester of thesis work and
the student will earn a graded ARCH 360 credit for advanced independent research for
the Fall semester and will not continue on to a 370 in the Spring.
January:  Students are expected to work full-time and independently on their thesis over
By the first day of Spring classes:  History/theory track students will submit a second
completed, fully footnoted and illustrated chapter to the advisor.
During the Spring semester:  Students should plan to meet with their thesis advisor on a
regular basis.  It is up to the student to schedule these meetings, to be prepared to
discuss the project, and to present any questions.  Students should also continue to
submit new or revised work based on a schedule mutually agreed upon with their
The Registrar's Office will circulate information about the composition of the thesis
committee, the deadlines for forming the committee, and information on finalizing
thesis paperwork. Students and advisors should discuss these logistics and, after
agreeing on potential committee members, the student will ask those faculty members
to participate. Students can ask committee members (if they are willing) for guidance on
the thesis.
By the first day after Spring Break:  History/theory track students will submit a full draft
of the thesis to the advisor, including footnotes, bibliography, and illustrations. Studio
track students will meet with their advisor to present their work in progress and to
provide a schedule for completing the project. The thesis advisor will review the
student’s materials and discuss the thesis with the student as soon as possible, in order
to allow time for revisions.
By the third week of April:  Students must have completed the thesis and must submit it
to the College on the date and in the format proscribed by the College. Studio track
students must have their thesis project installed and ready for public view as part of the
Senior Exhibition on the date established by the College for the submission of theses. Neither the co-directors of Architecture nor the thesis advisor can grant extensions to
this College-wide deadline.
Reading Period:  The thesis advisor and members of the thesis committee will convene
to examine the thesis and pose questions to the student regarding its content and
structure. This committee will discuss the thesis grade and decide whether the project
deserves the distinction of Honors. The decision to award Honors is determined
separately from the final grade. After the examination students may be asked to make
minor changes to the thesis prior to final submission, again by the date and in the
format indicated by the College. Based on the student’s efforts over the course of the
year, the advisor will either submit one grade for ARCH 360/370 or will grade each
semester separately.
The College offers a number of funding opportunities for students pursuing honors
work. A few such examples are detailed here:
The Samuel and Hilda Levitt Fellowship
The Samuel and Hilda Levitt Fellowships are intended to support the thesis work for
nine honors students, three each in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences. Each fellowship consists of $3500 and is awarded in the spring of the recipient's junior year, so that it can facilitate honors work, both during the summer preceding the senior year, if needed, and during the senior year. The fellowship is also intended to recognize students with a commitment to service. For more information, click here.
The Jerome A. Schiff Fellowship
Schiff Fellowships are merit-based awards available to students currently registered in
360 Senior Thesis Research and to students intending to enroll in a 370 in the spring.
Awards range from $2,000 to $3,000 and students from all departments and programs
are eligible to apply. For further information about the application process and deadlines, click here.
Pamela Daniels '59 Fellowship
The Pamela Daniels Fellowship is offered annually in the fall to support an original senior project. One or two fellowships are typically awarded. Seniors in good standing are eligible to apply. Completed fellowship applications are due in early October. Finalists will be interviewed by the Selection Committee in the last week of October (note: a recipient of the Daniels Fellowship is not eligible to also receive a Schiff Fellowship). For more information and specific application deadlines, click here.
The Sober Fellowship
Sober Fellowships are awarded to Art majors working on theses. These fellowships are
awarded on the basis of need and merit; the amount is usually in the range of $500 and
it is meant to cover expenses for research or supplies necessary for the thesis project.
Eligibility is limited to Art Department majors approved for the 360-370 sequence.
Applicants must also apply for both the Daniels and the Schiff Fellowships; if they
receive either, they are not eligible for a Sober Fellowship. For more information and
specific application deadlines, click here.
Student Research Grants
The Office of the Dean of the College administers a number of grants to support student
research and travel. The maximum award is $750. For more information, click here.
October 2021