The Infamous Senior Thesis

March 13, 2020
Andrea Reino

The senior thesis. What is it? Where did it come from? Why do I have to do it?

You might be asking yourself these questions. Maybe you’re waiting to hear back from the Office of Admission and you just read about the thesis online. Maybe you’ve already been admitted, and the thesis is making you question whether or not you want to matriculate. If you only remember one thing from this post, I hope it is this: don’t let the thought of a thesis scare you!

Almost every student at Princeton has to write a senior thesis in order to graduate. It’s basically just a long(er) research paper on a topic of your choice. Since most students have to write one, pretty much everyone will be familiar with the process at some point during their Princeton career. This means that you are never struggling through it alone.

When I was a prospective student, I remember being a little intimidated by the senior thesis. I had never written something so long in my life! I had no idea where to even begin. However, as the semesters started flying by, my interests began solidifying themselves, and it became apparent to me what I wanted to focus on at Princeton: a combination of policy, the criminal-legal system and race/discrimination.

Once you know what you are interested in, choosing a thesis topic becomes much easier. I knew I wanted to go to law school after Princeton and I’ve always been interested in criminal justice reform. So, I made sure to choose a topic that encompassed all of that! I applied for funding from the Woodrow Wilson School⁠—the department I’m majoring in⁠—and planned a trip to Norway. While there, I spent two days at a men’s maximum-security facility in order to learn about their prison system. I conducted interviews, took pictures and observed the individuals who have been incarcerated along with the staff (read this post to learn more about my thesis!). Honestly, it didn’t even feel like work⁠—since it’s a topic I’m genuinely interested in, I really enjoyed the research.

I think that’s the key to conquering your senior thesis: make sure you choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in, and the research won’t feel so much like work. Keeping this in mind, don’t let the senior thesis scare you. As a senior, I feel so much support from my classmates, since I know they’re going through the same process. I’m excited to see the final product of all my hard work and I’m so glad I didn’t let it scare me away from committing to Princeton!