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I'm an undergraduate Honors student in a STEM major, and in the upcoming years I will have the option to complete an Honors thesis in my field, either as a research/data analysis or a literature review sort of thing. Because of other circumstances I can graduate "with Honors" with or without it, so it would purely be adding to my major, not so much my overall graduation status.

Either way I will have some volunteer experience in labs in my field, and a decent GPA, etc. Would an undergraduate thesis in my field greatly help my graduate program applications? Does it matter if the thesis is based on original research or literature review?

  • It might also help you to get some scholarships or to get contacts if you work a topic that is priority on your university as you'll most likely have a director on your thesis. It also depends, what kind of graduate program are you thinking to apply on? – Omar A. N. Íñiguez Sep 11 '17 at 6:56
  • Hi Omar, thanks for your comment. To answer your question I'm thinking about applying to Masters (and eventually PhD) Neuroscience programs, preferably in Europe. Does that make a difference? – ArtemisPondering Sep 12 '17 at 4:17
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    I think it makes a big difference, specially because there's a lot of weight on research in Europe, specially in that field, this is your chance to shape your career towards it. It will help you to get scholarships, and more benefits, as you'll be able to back up that you're able to work in an independent project of a considerable size. – Omar A. N. Íñiguez Sep 13 '17 at 6:15
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The part of an undergraduate thesis that helps you with graduate admissions is that it is a form of research experience. It's not so much the finished product, the thesis, but the process of getting there and putting the work in. Even if it isn't complete before your applications are due, just that you are working towards a thesis is useful if it will get you into a lab and learn among other people doing research.

In my personal opinion, a literature review isn't nearly as useful for building the skills that make you a good grad school applicant, it's a lot more like the rest of the (upper-level) coursework you do as an undergraduate.

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There are, of course, individual factors that will heavily influence this answer, but in general, as someone who both did this, and now as someone admitting students, I'd say the answer is yes. My thoughts on the subject:

  • A research thesis would be vastly more useful than a review thesis, as a large bulk of graduate admissions is based on trying to estimate your potential as a researcher.
  • While you do have some research experience, in my mind one of the nice parts of a thesis is that rather than just volunteering in a lab, you are in some ways taking charge of a coherent project you can talk about as a project.
  • A thesis lends itself well to papers or presentations, either internally or externally (my undergrad thesis resulted in two papers and two conference presentations) which are extremely helpful.
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An honors thesis will probably not make much of a difference for your admissions case unless it is completed in time to show up on your transcript. If you're doing it only in your last semester, then it wouldn't show up if you apply in the fall semester of your senior year.

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  • Hi, thanks for your answer! I will have opportunity to schedule things so that I'd finish my thesis in my penultimate semester if that helps, thank you for pointing that out. – ArtemisPondering Sep 4 '17 at 22:30
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    I disagree. A research project should be a key point of your personal statement. – Jessica B Sep 5 '17 at 8:11
  • The OP has already stated that she's engaging in research. The question is whether or not registering for an Honors thesis will help. – aeismail Sep 5 '17 at 14:58
  • @aeismail As I note in my answer, "some volunteer experience in labs in my field" and taking control of a distinct segment of a project in thesis form can be very different things. – Fomite Sep 5 '17 at 16:20

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