Department of English Honours Program

Why do Honours in English?

The overwhelming reason for continuing your study in English should be that you enjoy it. Studying the subject at honours level will give you opportunities both to broaden your engagement with the subject and to specialise in your own particular area of interest in ways that the pass degree doesn’t always allow. Is there something you really enjoyed studying, but that your units of study so far haven’t allowed you to pursue in as much depth as you would like? Do you have a particular period of literature; a particular kind of film; a favourite writer, director, film or book that you would like to spend time working on in more detail? Then it could be that honours in English is for you.

In working on your honours thesis with an expert in a field of your choice, you will develop skills in independent research that will benefit you in a wide range of career paths: anything that requires skills in research, analysis and argumentation. One of those might be further academic study and, for this, an honours degree is an important stepping stone. Alongside the thesis, the three seminar options that you choose will deepen your understanding of the subject of English. The seminar options change every year, but please see below for what is on offer in the coming year. This will give you an idea of the range of topics that we provide.

The skills that you develop in an honours degree include analytical thinking; reading, listening to and analysing complex texts and arguments; proficiency in research methods; independence of thought and the capacity to complete a significant writing project. This makes it is an excellent qualification for many careers in a world beyond academia that increasingly demands these adaptable skills. This includes fields which have an immediate relationship to literary study, such as publishing and other careers in the arts, but also other professions and vocations for which an analytical mind is crucial: the law, public service, advertising and the media, teaching, politics, as well as business and industry.

How do I qualify to do Honours in English?

Academic work at honours level is challenging and demanding. This means that the criteria for qualification are higher than for a major in the subject. In order to qualify for admission into honours in English, you must have an average of 70% across 6 senior units (36 credit points) of English. If more than 6 senior units are taken, the best 6 will be used. If you are keen to apply, but are in any doubt as to whether you meet the pre-requisites, please get in touch with the honours coordinator.

How do I apply?

If you have met the pre-requisites or, in the case of external candidates and returning candidates, have approval to apply from the department, then you should apply online, via Courses Online. Please see the instructions here.

Full-time English honours students enrol in two units in their first semester (ENGL 4101 and 4102) and two units in their second semester (ENGL4103 and 4104). These do not correspond to actual units of study, or to the seminar options you will be taking. They are umbrella unit codes denoting your enrolment in the honours programme. Part-time students, for example, are enrolled in just one of these per semester instead of two. The corresponding Australian literature codes are ASLT 4011, 4012, 4013 and 4014.

Please note that the English department does welcome students applying to start mid-year and, in special cases, students applying to do honours part time. Please contact the honours coordinator for details.

What would I do in English Honours?

As an honours candidate, you write a 15,000 word thesis. This is done under the supervision of a member of the department who has some expertise in the field in which you choose to work. To supplement your supervision, we provide a comprehensive series of seminars on scholarly research and writing throughout the year. These are designed to help you at each stage of your project. Due at the end of the October recess, your thesis is worth 40% of your overall mark.

You will also take three coursework options, usually two in semester one and one in semester two. For each of these, you will attend a weekly 2 hour seminar. For English honours students, one of these can be chosen from amongst the Australian Literature honours options. Each of these is worth 20% of your overall mark. Two of these are normally assessed by means of a long essay, the precise topic of which you develop in conjunction with the option coordinator.

In the March semester, you nominate one of your options to be assessed by your participation in the English honours conference. The conference is an exciting opportunity to be involved with a vibrant academic community. The paper you give at the conference is then written up and the marks divided 50/50 between oral presentation and final write-up.

The seminar options change every year, although we attempt to make sure that there is always a broad historical and generic range of topics available. Past seminars have included Troilus and Cressida, Material Culture in Victorian and Modernist Literature, Reading Whiteness, Old English/Old Norse, Reading Suburbia, Australian Literature and the Canonical Imaginary, Language and Subject, History in English, American Gothic, an dThe Idea of Home: Literature of Exile, Loss and Longing.

Qualifying for Honours in Australian Literature

To qualify for honours in Australian Literature, you need a credit average or above in 48 points of senior Australian Literature units*, including the honours special-entry unit. Currently this is ENGL3655 The Literary in Theory. To enrol in the special-entry unit, you need a credit average in 12 points of senior Australian Literature units.

The requirements for honours in Australian Literature are more demanding than the requirements for a major in Australian Literature, in terms both of the number and kind of units you do, and of the academic merit you need to demonstrate in each of them. If you decide to enter the honours program belatedly, you will normally be expected to fulfil exactly the same requirements as those entering earlier.

* Please note: from 2015 the minimum requirement for entry into Honours will increase to an average of 70% or above across 48 senior credit points in the intended subject area/s.

If you have already graduated with a pass degree in which you qualified, or very nearly qualified, for honours in Australian Literature, you may apply for an Honours Conversion, in order to extend your degree into an honours year, with departmental permission. You can usually do so as a matter of course for several years after you graduate.

If more than several years have elapsed, you may be required to complete some supplementary Australian Literature senior units before enrolling in your honours year.

The University of Sydney offers a substantial number of Honours Scholarships every year, some awarded solely on the basis of academic merit and others awarded on the basis of a combination of academic merit and financial need. You can find out more about these scholarships by consulting the following webpage:

For more information about honours in Australian Literature, you should consult the Honours Coordinator.

The Honours Year in Australian Literature

Once you have gained a credit average in 48 senior points of Australian Literature, including the special-entry unit, you can apply to take a final full year of honours study in Australian Literature. Of course, you must also have satisfied all other requirements for the pass degree in which you are enrolled. If you did all your qualifying units some years ago, you will need to consult the honours coordinator about your plans.

As an honours candidate you write a thesis of 15,000 words, or undertake an editorial or bibliographical project of comparable scope and sophistication, under the supervision of a staff-member of the Australian Literature program who has some expertise in the field you choose to work in. We regard your honours thesis as no less important than a postgraduate thesis, and endeavour to devote as much care and attention to supervising your work as we do to any postgraduate’s. To supplement the work of your supervisor, a series of seminars on scholarly research and writing is offered by the Department of English throughout the year.

You also take three semester-long coursework options, normally two in semester 1 and the third in semester 2. You may, with special permission, substitute an option from another Honours program, such as English. Each of your three options is assessed by way of a 6,000-word essay or its conference option equivalent.

The conference option: For either one of your semester 1 options – whichever one you choose – you present a twenty-minute paper at a combined Australian Literature and English Honours conference in June. After presenting the paper, you answer questions and respond to suggestions about it from your audience. Your conference performance is worth 50% of your mark for the option. Exactly a week after the conference, you submit a 3,000-word essay, largely based on the paper you presented, but thoroughly revised in light of the discussion it generated. This essay is also worth 50% of the mark for the option, and will be assessed in light of how acutely and comprehensively it responds to the questions and suggestions put to you at the conference, or otherwise shows improvement or further development.

The following diagram explains at a glance the structure of the Honours year in Australian Literature:

First Semester

Second Semester

Thesis of 15,000 words, due in October, written under supervision

Conference option
presentation and 3,000 word essay

Third option
6,000 word essay

Second option
6,000 word essay


The honours seminar options change every year, and have included Australian Literature and the Canonical Imaginary; Reading Suburbs; Modern Australian Poetry and Poetics; The Idea of Home; and Undisciplined Histories.

If your interests and achievements are sufficiently multi-disciplinary, you may undertake a Joint Honours program, half of it under the auspices of the Australian Literature program, half under those of another program or department. If you do, your plans will have to be approved in advance by the coordinators of both Honours programs.

The Honours year in Australian Literature prepares you well for any vocation or profession that requires exceptional skill in reading and listening to complex and closely argued discourses and texts, and writing and speaking about them carefully and persuasively. These skills are tested much more rigorously in the Honours year than in earlier years, not least by way of your conference paper and your supervised thesis.

For more information about the Honours year in Australian Literature, you should consult the Honours Coordinator.