Right before the last year of college, every undergraduate at NYU is given the chance to compose a senior honors thesis. The opportunity is usually optional, and application requirements vary by department and school.
The prospect of writing a thesis is pretty daunting and many reject the option in favor of a more relaxing senior year. It is indeed true that a thesis will absorb the vast majority of your free time, particularly during second semester.
A thesis demands immense dedication, an enormous amount of independent research, late night writing when you’d rather be sleeping, and weekend work when you’d rather be drinking. There were many nights when I, and most of my fellow thesis writers, desperately regretted writing one. My thesis was, without a doubt, the most challenging assignment of my academic career. Regardless of school or major, a thesis requires a lot of independent decision-making without much guidance. Advisers offer some help, but the biggest decisions are up to you.
Ideally, you create your own question and argument, find your own primary and secondary sources, synthesize your own findings in a coherent way, and pull it all together to bring new research to the field. It seems that most thesis writers accomplish this much, which is an enormous achievement in itself.
However, what I find to be the greatest reward isn’t the finished project. It’s the aftermath of the final result.
On the day of the defense, you present your finished thesis in front of a handful of well-accomplished, fantastically brilliant professors who are decades ahead of you in both experience and knowledge. There is no greater sense of accomplishment than striding into that room, showing them that you know more about the subject than they do, and brushing the dirt off your shoulder like it ain’t no thang.
I’ve seen my fellow thesis writers grow into these powerhouses of information, ready to spew knowledge the moment someone brings up their topic. That kind of ability only comes with the persistence and passion of dedicating yourself entirely to a subject close to your heart, be it a sport, an instrument, or an academic focus.
Writing a thesis means caring about something so ferociously that you’re willing to dedicate your senior year to it, invariably sacrificing other things. You’re willing to spend a Saturday night absorbed in books instead of out with friends. You’re willing to discuss the subject at parties instead of regular bar talk. You’re willing to spend parts of your Thanksgiving/winter/spring breaks working instead of relaxing. And it’s all okay because you care so vehemently about the subject matter that it doesn’t matter what you give up–it’s all in exchange for something else you’re enthusiastic about.
And this is why we all attend college, right? We go to school to make friends, experience new places, and gain work experience. Yet, the primary reason for going to college will always be to pursue academic passions. A thesis is an opportunity to take everything you’ve learned over the course of your academic career and apply it to one grand project. The final result is the summation of four years of skills and knowledge acquired at NYU.
Writing a thesis isn’t for everyone. But for those willing to try, I hope that the final feeling of finishing will far outweigh all the difficulties of the process. You complete college, not only with a 70-page manuscript, but also with the sense that your college education was a bit more worth the $200,000 tab.