Upper School Thesis Project

When many USJ graduates are asked to write a thesis paper in college, they'll know what to do with confidence. They have already researched and written a 30-plus-page thesis as part of their Advanced Placement English Literature class.

“We want to ensure students are prepared for what they will face in college and even in graduate school,” says Bridget Clark, English Department head who teaches AP English to seniors. “Each student is producing a product that is well written, well developed, and based on documented proof.”

AP students begin the project as juniors in AP English Language as they choose a topic and prepare an annotated bibliography. Each student has a thesis committee that meets regularly as the project unfolds. When the thesis projects are complete, students discuss and defend their papers in front of teachers, parents, classmates, and others at a special ceremony.

Scroll to bottom of page for links to thesis papers written by students.


Senior AP English students write, defend 30-page thesis

Hannah Russell, center, discusses her thesis with her committee, including from left, Shannon Whisenant, Bridget Clark, and Brad Little.

Senior AP English students have a daunting challenge — a 30-page thesis paper that they must write and publicly defend. It’s a process that begins in January of their junior year and ends in April of the following year.

“Each student writes an analysis paper using at least four primary literary sources,” said USJ English Department Chair Bridget Clark, who teaches AP English. “The process is a testament to the students and their willingness to work and be creative and disciplined at the same time.”

Class of 2013 graduate Jourdan Redden, who completed a thesis titled “Consumerism vs. Simplicity,” said the project was overwhelming at first. But, he learned to properly budget his time to complete the task at hand.

“I looked forward to being able to express myself through writing, and I learned a lot about myself and my viewpoints,” said Jourdan, who is now a freshman at Sewanee.

It’s a journey, Clark said.

Juniors who want to take AP English their senior year must commit to a thesis in January or February. They write an annotated list of works cited and develop a general topic and a list of primary sources.

Clark meets with students to review their topics and offer guidance. Then, students begin their research.

In August, at the beginning of their senior year, committees are established to assist each student through the remainder of the project. Committee members, which include Clark and faculty and non-faculty volunteers, read the students’ work and offer guidance. Students chair their own committee.

“We are there to serve them,” Clark said. “We’re not telling them what to do; we’re not telling them what to write. We help them work through the creative process.”

In mid-September, students reach their first deadline and must submit a draft of their first chapter. This can be the most difficult chapter to write, Clark said. But, dividing the project into chapters — usually five — helps students break it down into manageable pieces.

Clark tells the students to look at their thesis as a compilation of several essays.
For the remainder of the project, the deadlines vary. But generally, students complete successive portions in October and December.

By mid to late March, students begin revising the whole of the document and piecing the chapters together. The deadline for the thesis is in mid-April — one week before the defense. During the defense, students explain and defend their conclusions before parents, committee members, and others from the community. They also talk about why they chose the topics and what they learned during the process.

The students are often nervous about the defense, said Clark, but it’s rewarding to listen to them discuss their topics. “I love talking about literature, and I love hearing the conclusions that students reach.”

After the defense, everyone goes to lunch. A published copy of each thesis goes to the Upper School and Lower School libraries. Each year several of the students allow their papers to be on the USJ website.

Students at USJ have been completing thesis papers for about eight years. Clark said the projects help them prepare for the AP exam as well as future thesis projects they will complete after high school. Many USJ graduates go on to earn master’s degrees and doctorates, where they are also required to complete a thesis.

“If they are capable of doing that, then I think we need to offer it to them,” Clark said.

Incoming senior Hannah Russell is nearing the first mid-September deadline. Her thesis is tentatively titled “Subjugating the Self: Distinguishing Joy from Happiness.” She said she’s thankful to have this experience now, with the support of teachers at USJ.

“It’s kind of scary when you think about doing it because it’s really long and intense,” Hannah said. “I know it’s a lot of work, but I’m up to the challenge. I know I’m going to have to do stuff like this in college.”

Hannah is one of 14 AP English students who will write a thesis this year. Beyond learning to manage their time, view important works of literature from a new perspective, and complete an enormous academic task, Clark said they would learn something else about themselves.

“I think they discover their voices in writing,” she said.


2015 Thesis Project

Fifteen members of the Class of 2015 completed a thesis. For a look at their topics and some of the projects, click here ...

2014 Thesis Project

Fourteen members of the Class of 2014 completed a thesis. For a look at their topics and some of the projects, click here ...

2013 Thesis Proejct

Eleven members of the Class of 2013 completed a thesis. For a look at their topics and some of the projects, click here ...

2012 Thesis Project

Nineteen members of the Class of 2012 completed a thesis. For a look at their topics and some of the projects, click here ...