Majors, especially seniors, should be thinking about Capstones and Honors Theses.  Here is an explanation of the differences between them:


1. Required by all Macalester students regardless of major.

2. A capstone can be based on summer research (performed under the supervision of a Mac professor OR an off-campus advisor), academic year research (usually undertaken beginning in your senior fall at the latest, and often involves independent study credits),Study Away or January research (begun during Study Away or as part of a departmental January trip), or a peer-review literature-based paper examining a geology-related questions of interest to you.

3. Capstone projects are officially completed as part of the one credit Senior Seminar (GEOL 450), typically taken in your senior spring.  This course is Pass/Fail.  As part of this course, you will write an 8-10 page paper on your capstone topic, and complete a ~15 minute oral presentation as part of the department capstone presentation event. There are several deadlines (research question, annotated bibliography, drafts, presentation draft, etc.) during the semester to help you progress successfully.

4. Some students take additional independent study credits to have sufficient time to complete a research-based capstone project (either in fall or spring semester of their senior year).  This is always done in consultation with a faculty member in the department, regardless of whether the research was supervised by one of us.

5. You should identify a capstone advisor AND a capstone project sometime in fall of your senior year. If you need help with this process or have questions, the department chair or your academic advisor is a good place to start!


1. NOT required

2. Must meet the campus requirements for completion of an honors thesis, including a minimum GPA of 3.30 (see

3. Honors projects are almost always based on research projects begun during the summer PRIOR to your senior year at the latest (many honors students have conducted research over multiple years).

4. The Geology Department requires each student planning on conducting an honors thesis to identify an advisor and write a 2-page summary of their proposed research (including thesis question, motivation, detailed research plan, and (if applicable) preliminary results.  This summary will be written by the student with the support of their departmental thesis advisor and submitted to the Department Chair by the end of September OR by the date set by the Academic Programs Office (see link above).

5. Honors projects typically require more analytic, modeling, and/or field work than acapstone project.  Collection and analysis of your own data is usually expected, and often continues into January of senior year.  Critical analysis of the data, including extensive work in creating figures, background research, and writing drafts is expected. In addition, there is an expectation that you will be able to put your own research into the context of previous work, and understand how your research contributes to the field of study.  Occasionally students will have made sufficient contributions to co-publish research with their research advisor.

6. While no strict guidelines exist, honors theses are typically significantly longer (more writing, more figures, etc.) than capstone projects, and require more critical analysis, than a capstone.

7. In addition to completing all of the requirements for the capstone, there are several other requirements and deadlines for honors theses (see link above), including titles, signed paperwork by your thesis committee demonstrating completion, and final printed copies.

8. Honors students must have not just a Macalester Geology Department honors advisor, they will have a thesis committee comprised of at least three individuals.  Occasionally a committee member external to the College is invited to be a committee member.  The thesis committee is typically responsible for reading and commenting on a near-final draft of the honors thesis, and participates in a final oral examination with the student, among other things.  Once the oral presentation (same as the capstone presentation) and oral exams are successfully completed, the committee will sign the honors paperwork prior to the deadline.

9. Majority of students conducting honors research will take independent study credits with their advisor during their senior year, sometimes both semesters.

10. Completion of an honors project will appear on a student’s final college transcript, and students will be acknowledged in the commencement program and at an end-of-year luncheon.