4 Steps to Follow When Starting Your Senior Thesis

Step one: drop out and don’t write it.
September 14, 2017
9 mins read

Going back to college as a senior is both exhilarating and sentimental. There is a realization that, in the blink of an eye, four years have passed by and there are new expectations and realities for the big dogs on campus. While high school seniors are known to slack off and develop senioritis, especially after being accepted to the college of their dreams, college seniors do not have that luxury, as more and more schools have a capstone requirement for seniors to complete in order to round out their college education.

This longer writing and research project, often referred to as a senior thesis, can make or break students as the thought of a semester-long commitment is exciting and terrifying. A senior thesis offers students an opportunity to truly take their education into their own hands, as students can write, research and explore anything they are passionate about or find interesting. As I personally find myself trying to navigate the individual responsibility and freedom that coincides with a senior thesis, I find myself paralyzed with fear and anxiety about submitting something intellectually stimulating, philosophically engaging and imaginatively distinguished.

With this in mind, people constantly offer reassurances that a senior thesis should not be the most intimidating part of my college experience. In fact, it should be a piece filled with excitement and pride, as it will serve as proof that I and my fellow seniors have comprehended the coursework that we have been exposed to for the last several years.

In order to prepare for a semester dedicated to a single issue or topic, there are four steps I have been instructed to follow in order to stay devoted to a project that will consume a great deal of time and energy, which I recommend those who are faced with the same daunting task of writing a thesis should follow.

  1. Find something you are passionate about.

A senior thesis might be one of the first times where students are given compete freedom to choose something to work on. There is an incredible amount of autonomy in choosing a topic for this project; however, if the topic is something you are not passionate about, it will be hard to dedicate many hours and days to exploring it in depth.

Seniors will find themselves writing in a relatively unscripted world that converts the process of dreaming into a praxis, allowing students to expand their academic horizons beyond what they have always been accustomed to. The project will provide an outlet to take the imagined world and turn it into something real and tangible that can be read, understood and challenged by a group of peers and mentors. Because of these possibilities, it is necessary to find something that invokes a feeling of zeal and focuses all the work you have put in up to this point in your academic career.

  1. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it.

There are few things more rewarding than crossing off something from a to-do list; when you do, a sense of accomplishment rushes over you and time seems to be at your disposal. With this in mind, it is imperative that you create a schedule or a weekly checklist to coincide with writing your senior thesis.

While procrastination might plague your academic past, it will be essentially impossible to succeed in your capstone project if you get behind from the start of the semester. Creating a schedule for your writing progress will help combat the possibility of getting behind. Writing down when specific due dates are coming is critical. Highlighting when the initial topic should be turned in, when the first draft should be submitted and when the final draft is due helps to visualize when the short and long-term objectives you may have set for yourself are coming closer.

It is also important to set goals that may seem small and tedious. Sometimes finding one or two sources is enough of a daily goal. Writing four to five pages is a lofty goal that you will certainly be proud of achieving, but it does not need to be completed every day. No matter how high your goals or how long your list of objectives may be, with each one that you accomplish, you are one step closer to presenting something awe-inspiring at the end of the semester.

  1. Don’t do it alone.

Alongside a carefully strategized schedule, it will be pertinent to find a friend to help you through this semester. Your advisor will be able to help you find various sources and critique your work as it gets further along in the semester, but you will also need someone to keep you grounded during an otherwise stressful time.

Finding someone who is in your class will keep you on track and stick to the deadlines you have set for yourself, as well as keep you motivated and provide company in the early hours of the morning as you find yourself suffocating in your cubicle.

Many universities also offer other outside resources as well that can make this process easier and more manageable. Writing centers, peer tutors and editors and library research assistants are more often than not willing to help students draft their thesis or find additional outside sources.

There will be nothing more difficult than writing a fifty-page paper alone with no outlets or resources to keep your sanity in check and your schedule balanced. Finding someone with similar aspirations and goals will help you feel more in control over the course of this semester.

Plus, they will always be a good person to grab a cup of coffee with when morale is low.

  1. Keep dreaming about new research possibilities.

The question you posed at the beginning of the semester should not be the end of your research. There may be a great number of tangents that have since developed after you crafted the original question for your thesis.

Don’t feel as if you are limited because your project seemed to be taking a specific path in the beginning of the semester. Explore all the possibilities of your project, which may allow you to envision something completely different from the original thesis you had in mind.

As the semester goes on and the feeling that words are being repeated too often, remind yourself of all the failures you learned from and the successes you saw along the way. No thesis was written overnight, so take your time, enjoy the possibility of research and trust the process that might appear to be taking way too long.

Natalie Washuta, Colgate University 

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Natalie Washuta

Colgate University
English & Educational Studies

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