Honors Program

group of SIS honors graduate students in their commencement regalia

The School of International Service (SIS) Honors program is designed for a small group of academically curious SIS juniors and seniors seeking intellectual community and challenge. Honors students take a 12-credit set of courses together, including two Honors colloquia and a 6-credit Senior Honors Project in which they undertake a year-long independent scholarly research project. All Honors courses count toward SIS degree requirements; participating in the program does not increase the total number of credits required to graduate. Students graduate with SIS Honors (a notation of "Honors in SIS" will appear on the diploma and transcript) upon successful completion of degree and program requirements, as well as a cumulative and a major GPA of 3.50 or higher.


Students apply to the program during the second semester of their sophomore year. The following students are eligible to apply:

  • Students who desire to undertake a significant year-long independent scholarly research project during their senior year
  • Students who have declared an SIS major 
  • Students with both a major and cumulative GPA of 3.50 or above
  • Students with second-semester sophomore standing (at least 45 earned credit hours)
  • Those who have successfully completed SISU-206 (Introduction to International Studies Research)


Students participating in other Honors and Scholars programs on campus who meet the above criteria can also apply to SIS Honors. Transfer students who meet the above criteria are eligible to apply after they have earned 15 credit hours at AU.

The SIS Honors curriculum combines intellectual community and challenge, providing the faculty mentorship and peer support necessary for a successful Senior Honors Project experience. The 12-credit curriculum includes two honors colloquia and a year-long senior honors project.

Honors colloquia

Honors colloquia are small format courses designed specifically for Honors students. These courses are taken during junior and/or senior year depending on student study abroad plans. Students take two courses for a total of 6 credits, which count toward upper-division thematic area and/or regional requirements. Sample colloquia include:

  • Race and the World Political Economy
  • Colonialism and Its Legacies
  • Fascism Communism, and Capitalism: Shaping the Modern World
  • Technologies and Human-Centric Development 

If necessary, in light of their course schedules, and with permission from the SIS Honors faculty director and the relevant faculty member, students may take a different 300-level SIS course in lieu of an Honors colloquium through an Honors course supplement. Supplements involve extra work that counts toward the final grade for the class. Students may do only one Honors supplement.

To apply for the supplement please email sishonors@american.edu.

Senior Honors Project I and II

The Senior Honors Project is the cornerstone of the SIS Honors program. The project is a serious scholarly endeavor in which students are expected to reflect upon and make an original contribution to the state of knowledge on a particular topic in international studies.

The project will typically be in the form of a research paper, or thesis, of approximately 50–100 pages in length. Students also may pursue projects in other formats, such as a documentary film, novella, multi-media exhibit, or community service project, as long as those formats include a scholarly justification for the project.

Students complete their projects through a sequence of two courses, Senior Honors Project I and II, taken during the senior year for a total of 6 credits. These courses are designed to give students the faculty mentorship and peer support necessary for a successful project experience. In Senior Honors Project I, students select a research topic and question, review relevant  scholarly literatures, and explore possible methodologies and research designs. In Senior Honors Project II, students complete their projects under close supervision by a faculty member with complementary methodological and/or substantive interests. Senior Honors Project I counts toward upper-division thematic area or regional requirements, while Senior Honors Project II counts toward the BA in International Studies capstone requirement.

The application deadline for Fall 2024 is Monday, March 18, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. EST. All application materials must be submitted by the deadline to be considered for the program.

Before applying, please review the eligibility criteria to ensure you are eligible to apply.

Applications to the SIS Honors Program must include:

  • Letter of recommendation from an SIS faculty member, to be emailed directly by the faculty member to sishonors@american.edu
  • An unofficial transcript that includes the grade received for SISU-206
  • Your responses to the three prompts below. The responses should be presented in a single document and together total no more than 700 words.
  1. What is the most thought-provoking book (whether non-fiction or fiction) that you have read (whether for a class or for your personal interest or pleasure) since starting college? Identify the book and reflect on your response to it.
  2. What is the biggest academic challenge you have faced (in college or high school) and what lesson/s did you draw from that experience?
  3. What academic experience/s in your SIS classes so far inform why you want to pursue a year-long senior honors research project (rather than a one-semester capstone) and how you might focus that project?

Submit your unofficial transcript and prompt responses together as attachments to a single email to sishonors@american.edu that includes your full name in the email's subject line. In text of the email provide your AU ID#, AU email address, and the name of your recommendation letter writer.

Applications are reviewed by a committee of SIS Honors Program faculty. Students are notified of the committee's decision by the end of their sophomore year.

Gaining new perspectives

Melanie MacKenzie, SIS/BA ’18

Through internships, I’ve learned about non-profit citizen diplomacy programs.

I’m very interested in citizen and public diplomacy and am concentrating in Global Governance and International Organizations, as well as Foreign Policy and National Security in Latin America. I recently studied abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I took classes about Brazilian foreign policy and politics, and focused on improving my Portuguese. That was a great opportunity to learn about Latin American and Brazilian affairs from a new perspective.