Undergraduate Honors: Pre Spring 2021

New Honors Requirements

Requirements for honors and distinctions were updated and approved Fall 2020.  The new requirements will apply to any of the following students:

  • Students entering Fall 2020 or after.
  • Students graduating in with a Major in Mathematical Sciences
  • Students graduating in with a Major in Applied Mathematics
  • Students graduating in with a Major in Statistics
  • Students graduating in with a Major in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Below are the honors/distinction requirements for a majors in mathematics for students entering Wash U before Fall 2021.  All other majors need to follow the new requirements.

Distinction in Mathematics Awards

The mathematics department awards three levels of of Distinction in Mathematics to majors who fulfill the requirements: Distinction, High Distinction, and Highest Distinction. All mathematics majors are eligible. Courses taken for the mathematics major also count toward requirements for distinction.

Coursework Core: Required for all levels of Distinction

Every level of Distinction Award requires at minimum the following: 

  1. At least 3.65 GPA over all upper level mathematics (L24) courses, and
  2. Completion with grades of B or better (not B-) of
    1. one of the course sequences  4111-4121, 429-430, 493-494, 449-450, and
    2. three additional 400-500 level mathematics department courses (not an independent study or cross-listed from other departments)

Note: courses transferred to WashU or courses taken abroad in a mathematics or statistics department as part of a WashU-approved overseas study program will count toward the mathematics courses required, provided they are transferred as 400-level mathematics courses and the transcript indicates a level of performance comparable to a "B" or better at Washington University. However, the grades for such courses will not be included in calculations for the GPA requirements.

Distinction: Additional Requirements

Awarded for Coursework Core, plus:

  1. Completion of one additional regularly scheduled mathematics course at the 400-500 level with grade at least B (not B-), or
  2. Passing the first actuarial exam (P) from Society of Actuaries. The exam must be taken early enough so that we can get official notification of a passing score in time to certify award recipients. For May graduates, the certification happens at the end of March.

High Distinction: Additional Requirements

Awarded for Coursework Core plus satisfactory completion of an honors thesis. 

Highest Distinction: Additional Requirements

Awarded to students who earn High Distinction and whose

  1. Coursework includes completion of at least one of the graduate level sequences 5021-5022, 5031-5032, 5041-5042 (or 5043), 5051-5052, 5061-5062 and passing the graduate qualifying exam for that course sequence, or
  2. Coursework includes all the requirements for the Honors Program in Statistics with grades of B or better (not B-) in all required 400-level courses

Latin Honors

At the time of graduation, the mathematics department will recommend that a candidate receive Latin Honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude) if she or he has completed the department's requirements for High Distinction or Highest Distinction in Mathematics, each of which requires an Honors Thesis. The College will then approve the recommendation if the student's final cumulative overall GPA is at least 3.65. 

The Honors Thesis

Arts & Sciences mathematics majors who want to be candidates for Latin Honors, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction must complete an honors thesis. Writing an honors thesis involves a considerable amount of independent work, reading, creating mathematics, writing a paper that meets acceptable professional standards, and making an oral presentation of results.

Types of Projects

An honors thesis can take three forms: 

  1. A thesis that presents significant work by the student on one or more nontrivial mathematics problems.
  2. A project in mathematical or applied statistics that involves an in-depth analysis of a large data set. To do an honors thesis involving data analysis, it is usually necessary to have completed 3200-493-494 by the end of the junior year, and to have an ability to work with statistical software such as SAS (as taught in Math 475) or R.
  3. A substantial expository paper that follows independent study on an advanced topic under the guidance of a department faculty member. Such a report would involve careful presentation of ideas and synthesis of materials from several sources.

Process and Suggested Timeline

Junior Year, Spring Semester:

  1. Talk with a faculty advisor about possible projects.
  2. Complete the Proposal for Admission to Candidacy for Honors and submit it to Blake Thornton.

Senior Year: 

  1. By the end of January, give your advisor a draft abstract and outline of the paper.
  2. A rough draft, including an abstract, should be given to the advisor by the end of February.
  3. You and your advisor should agree on when you will complete your writing, and on a date/time for the oral presentation in mid-March. (Deadline is March 31.)

Departmental Prizes

Each year the department considers graduating majors for three departmental prizes. Recipients are recognized at an annual awards ceremony in April, where they each receive a certificate and a set of honors cords to be worn as part of the academic dress at Commencement. Awards are noted on the student's permanent university record. 

Ross Middlemiss Prize

The Ross Middlemiss Prize is awarded to a graduating math major with an outstanding record. The award was established by former Professor Ross Middlemiss, who taught at Washington University for forty years. From 1936 through the 1960s, Middlemiss authored several books, including a widely popular calculus text that was used in University College courses until the late 1970s.

Putnam Exam Prize

The Putnam Exam Prize is awarded to a graduating senior who has participated regularly in the Putnam Exam Competitionand done exceptionally well throughout his/her time at Washington University.

Martin Silverstein Award

The Martin Silverstein Award was established in memory of Professor Martin Silverstein who, until his death in 2004, was a pioneer in work at the interface of probability theory and harmonic analysis. Each year the department considers for this award students in any major track, but especially those with strengths in probability or statistics.

Brian Blank Award

The Brian Blank Award was established in memory of Professor Brian Blank who passed away in 2018. Each year the Mathematics Department will select distinguished junior(s), majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Honors Program in Statistics

The Honors Program in Statistics consists of a challenging four-year curriculum and an honors thesis. It is designed to give individual highly motivated students an especially strong foundation in modern statistical reasoning. The sooner one embarks on the program, the better; otherwise it will be difficult or impossible to complete all the required coursework. Students who successfully complete the program should be in a strong position to continue into graduate work in the field or to find jobs.


The department can assist students in the program with finding an opportunity for a practicum, which consists of hands-on field work under the supervision of a professional mentor - either a faculty mentor or a mathematical scientist in industry or at a government research facility. For example, students can undertake a practicum with Washington University faculty in the mathematics department, at the medical school, or in other Arts & Sciences departments such as biology, economics or psychology. The practicum can be a major asset in job hunting or graduate school applications.

Program Requirements

To complete the Honors in Statistics Program, a student must complete a math major, including the following:

  • Math 3200
  • Math 309
  • Math 322
  • Math 318
  • Math 310
  • Math 493
  • Math 494
  • Math 429
  • Math 4111
  • Math 4121
  • Math 475
  • Three additional upper level electives, two of which are in probability/statistics.
  • An honors thesis

Small modifications in the above program may be approved in consultation with the student's advisor and with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics.