Senior Thesis

The senior thesis is a scholarly paper focused on the policy issue in public or international affairs that is of greatest interest to the student. It is based on extended research and is the major project of the senior year.

Each student must complete a senior thesis that addresses a specific policy question and either draws out policy implications or offers policy recommendations (or both).

The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs awards several scholarships each year for travel and living expenses related to senior thesis research.

The University’s requirement for a senior comprehensive examination is satisfied in the School by an oral defense of the thesis. Students prepare a response to written evaluations from their thesis advisor and a second reader, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Getting Started in Data Analysis: Topic Selection and Crafting of a Research Question - Independent research projects start with the selection of a topic and the crafting of a feasible research question. This video maps the initial steps to help...

Guide to Senior Independent Work - For more detailed information

Class of 2022 Senior Thesis Timeline

Library Resource Guide A guide for seniors who are conducting thesis research

Senior Thesis Advising: The Senior Thesis Advisor Selection Guide - Students should use this to identify thesis advisors who match their interests and possible thesis topics. This tool is organized by faculty issue and regional expertise.

SPIA Thesis Funding - Students can apply for funding by accessing the online application in the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE)

SPIA Prize Theses Sample Prize theses from 2017 to 2021

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library Senior Thesis Catalog - is a catalog of theses written by seniors at Princeton University from 1926 to 2020

In addition to your consultations with your thesis advisor, we strongly recommended that you meet regularly with the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs Writing Advisor,  for assistance in conceptualizing and organizing your thesis, developing your arguments, and reviewing your writing. He can best help you if you meet with him early in (as well as throughout) the process. 

An excellent senior thesis can be 75 pages or less. No thesis should be longer than 115 pages. Any page after 115 may or may not be read by the second reader. A thesis longer than 115 pages will not be considered for a SPIA thesis prize.

The 115-page limit includes:

  1. the abstract
  2. the table of contents
  3. ancillary material such as tables and charts
  4. all footnotes

The page limit does not include:

  1. the title page
  2. the dedication
  3. the honor code statement
  4. the bibliography

Include the Honor Pledge, and your signature on the last page.

Use a 1-inch margin on the left, right, top and bottom.

Double-space all text (except long quotations, footnotes and bibliography).

Number your pages.

Make sure the thesis is single sided.

Use a 12‑point size type and a readable font. Avoid the use of multiple fonts and type sizes(other than footnotes, which may be in a smaller font).

Indent paragraphs and avoid paragraphs longer than a page.

Within chapters, use only two levels of headings, either in bold or underlined and placed at the left margin or centered. The primary heading is all caps, the secondary is caps and lower case:

Number your pages.

Pages should be organized as follows:

Title page (see format on next page)

Second page: Dedications (optional)

Third page: Acknowledgements

Fourth page: Table of Contents

Fifth page: Abstract

Last page: The last page must contain the following: This thesis represents my own work in accordance with University Regulations. Your signature

The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs will grant extensions only for severe personal illness, accident, or family emergency. The request for an extension must be made in writing. Extensions to a date no later than the University’s deadline for submitting senior independent work may be granted by the Associate Dean of the Program, Paul Lipton, paul.lipton@princeton.edu. After this deadline, extensions may be granted only by the Dean of your residential college.

Under no circumstances will extensions be granted for any reason connected with computer problems. Students should therefore save, backup, print their work in a manner designed to prevent last-minute crises.

One-third of the thesis final grade will be deducted for each four days (or fraction of four days) that the thesis is late. Please see the Guide to Independent Work for more information.

Submit one electronic copy in PDF format to the SPIA undergraduate office, gharriso@princeton.edu, by the 12:00 (noon) Deadline. Must also upload a PDF of your thesis, for archiving at MUDD library, via a centralized University Senior Thesis Submission Site.

The thesis is graded by the thesis advisor, who is the first reader of the senior thesis, and by a second reader assigned by the Undergraduate Program Office. The grade is calculated as follows:

  • If the readers' grades are identical, that is the final grade.
  • If the readers' grades differ by one full grade (e.g., A to B) or less, the average grade is the final grade.
  • If the readers’ grades differ by more than one full letter grade, the two readers consult to determine the final grade; if they are unable to agree, the Faculty Chairman of the Undergraduate Program determines the grade.

The Undergraduate Program office will determine any penalty for lateness, which will be included in the grade reported to the Registrar.

The University’s requirement for a senior comprehensive examination is satisfied in the School by an oral defense of the thesis. Students prepare a response to written evaluations from their thesis advisor and a second reader, followed by a question-and-answer period.

A thesis that receives a grade of A or higher and a statement of support from both readers (and is within the page limit) may be considered for a Princeton School of Public and International Affairs thesis prize. Prizes are awarded by a specially appointed School faculty committee that weighs the relative merits of all theses under consideration. Prizes are presented at the Class Day ceremony.