Economics is consistently one of the most popular majors at the University of Michigan and attracts a diverse group of students with a broad range of interests. The honors program allows economics majors that want to write a senior thesis the opportunity to identify and explore their research interests in depth. Honors students use the skills they develop through coursework to design, research, and write a paper on an economics topic of their own choosing. The thesis provides students with the opportunity to tackle larger and more ambitious topics than would typically be assigned in an undergraduate economics course. Applied topics are the most common, and many make use of econometric techniques. Students are expected to develop a carefully reasoned exposition that critically analyzes a problem using basic principles of economics.


Students of promise and ability are encouraged to consider an Honors concentration in Economics. The standards for admission are a cumulative grade point average of at least A- and evidence of outstanding ability in economics. Application to the Honors Program is made in early November during the first semester of a student’s junior year. At the same time, students normally apply separately to a Winter Semester ECON 495. ECON 495 is an advanced seminar where students develop a work of original scholarship in the field of economics.

On track for the Honors Program usually means that a student will have completed at least ECON 401, 402, and 451 or 453 by the end of the fall semester of their junior year. Students who are judged not to be on track to complete these courses along with a thesis before they graduate will not be admitted to the program. The decision to admit a fall applicant to the honors program is sometimes deferred until the admissions committee can review the student’s final grades in fall classes.

An informational meeting is held in October to introduce students to the Honors Program faculty and the topics for the Winter Semester ECON 495 seminars. The meeting will be announced on the undergraduate Economics e-mail list. Attendance is strongly recommended for students intending to apply, and students are encouraged to ask questions about the Honors Program. Application materials will normally be due on the first Monday in November.

Admission to honors is not a requirement, nor a prerequisite, for admission to an ECON 495 seminar. All 495 applicants must apply to the faculty running the given 495 seminar. Honors concentrators are given priority admission to ECON 495 seminars, but non-honors students are welcome if there is space.

Honors Requirements

Honors concentrators are required to complete the requirements for a regular concentration in Economics. An Honors concentration plan must include a two-course Econ Statistics and Econometrics sequence, either ECON 451 (or STATS 426) and 452, or ECON 453 and 454. Econ 453 and 454 are not required for the honors program. In addition, Honors concentrators must complete a senior Honors thesis.

The senior Honors thesis must include original work (not merely a survey of the work of others) completed by the student under the direction of a faculty advisor and may be an extension of an ECON 495 seminar paper or a paper in concentration coursework. The student’s ECON 495 professor usually serves as the student’s thesis advisor, guiding the student through the thesis-writing process.

To graduate with honors at the end of the Winter Semester, the student must turn in the Honors thesis on the first Friday after the Mid-Winter Recess. This gives sufficient time for the thesis to be read carefully and for the student to receive comments from the Honors Director. The Honors Director will include with his comments written suggestions from the thesis advisor. Students then revise and resubmit the thesis shortly before the end of the Winter Semester. Accompanying this resubmission should be a cover letter detailing where suggested changes were implemented, which suggestions (if any) were not adopted, and why.

Writing an Honors Thesis in Economics

An Honors thesis in Economics must constitute original research (theoretical, empirical, or a combination) and must discuss the relation of the contribution of the student’s research to the relevant literature. There are two general paths to completing the honors thesis.

Option I: Recommended Path. Students enroll in an ECON 495 seminar in winter term of their junior year. ECON 495 provides students with supervision to conduct their research project and culminates in a seminar paper. The honors student then revises, extends and polishes the paper under the direction of a faculty member, usually the ECON 495 professor.

For a student accepted into in the Honors Program, their schedule of courses typically follows this recommended path:


Non-honors courses

Honors courses

Honors deadlines

Fall of junior year (or earlier)

Econ 401
Econ 402

Econ 451 or 453


Apply to program, 1st week of November

Winter of junior year

Econ 452 or 454
Econ 409*

Econ 495


Fall of senior year


 Econ 495**

Develop draft of thesis by the end third week of December

Winter of senior year



Submit revised final draft of thesis, first Friday after Mid-Winter Recess

*Highly recommended for those intending on a thesis related to economic theory.
**If students are unable to take Econ 495 in the winter term of their junior year.

In addition to the courses set out in the table, Honors and other majors will be enrolled in other, elective courses to complete the requirements for the major and to provide a deeper knowledge of economics.

ECON 495 seminars are also offered in the Fall Semester. Honors students may choose to take their first ECON 495 seminar in the Fall, or, in the unusual circumstance when they decide that their first ECON 495 seminar paper cannot be made into a thesis, as a second ECON 495. In either case, students should recognize the challenge in completing an ECON 495 seminar paper in December of their senior year and then turning in a polished extension a few months later (March – the first Friday after Mid-Winter Recess). Students who cannot finish their thesis by the March submission deadline but nonetheless seek to graduate with honors may delay graduation and complete the thesis during the summer in order to graduate in August.

Option II: A students may write the Honors thesis without guidance of an ECON 495 seminar instructor. In such cases, the student must work under the supervision of a UM faculty economist (perhaps from another department) acting as a thesis adviser. The student may enroll in ECON 498 to receive credit towards the completion of their Economics concentration plan. In pursuing Option II, the student must contact the Honors advisor in order to coordinate the arrangement with the faculty advisor.

Under either Option I or Option II, co‐authorship with faculty is not permitted.

Papers in ECON 495 seminars are often coauthored by two or more students. A student may extend their co-authored ECON 495 papers into a solo-authored honors submission. To do so, the student must (1) identify a part of the co-authored paper for which he/she was principally responsible and must (2) extend that part under the supervision of a faculty member or ECON 495 instructor. When submitting a solo-authored Honors thesis which originated as a co-authored ECON 495 paper, the student should submit both pieces of work and should explain in a cover letter what part of the coauthored paper reflects his/her own work and how that work has been extended in the solo-authored submission.

Research Support

Students enrolled in Economics 495 and carrying out related Honors research activity can apply for a grant from MITRE to support their research. These awards require a letter of recommendation from a supervising faculty member indicating the role of such support in completing a research project. MITRE Undergraduate Research Grants can be used to cover research-related expenses such as travel and purchases of data, software, and supplies.

Application Information for Honors Concentration in Economics

495 Application

Examples of a Good Thesis

How Free are Free Trade Agreements?

Do Behaviors and Attitudes Affect Whether a Child is Arrested? A Consideration of Evidence From the Panel Study of Income Dynamics

An Analysis of the Effect of Insurance on American Children

Planning For The Future

Outcome-Independent Payoffs in Strategic Voting