The History of the Princeton University Senior Thesis

The senior thesis has been a requirement of all undergraduate students at Princeton University since 1926.

Senior Theses lined up for exhibit. Historical Photograph Collection, AC112, MP012, Image 765

Senior Theses lined up for exhibit. Historical Photograph Collection, AC112, MP012, Image 765, 1942.

During a Faculty Meeting on February 19th, 1923, the Committee on the Course of Study submitted a report for a new study plan known as the “Four Course Plan.” The four course plan called for an extensive reading program for the student in his department under the supervision of an adviser, with the goal that students gain a better command of a subject during independent work. “The plan was instituted in 1924 for the degree of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science and put into operation for the Class of 1923 as juniors.” (Luther Pfahler Eisenhart, Dean of the Faculty)

By 1926, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree requirements included a senior thesis and a comprehensive examination, an innovation that soon became a hallmark of a Princeton education.
Continue reading

Most used Princeton theses

Dear Mr. Mudd, I was wondering what is the most popular/most requested senior thesis in the University Archives collection?

This is a perennial question and the short answer is that with the exception of celebrity alumni theses, there are few theses that are pulled with any regularity, yet the collection as a whole (totaling over 60,000 theses) is our most used collection within the University Archives. Last year over 1,000 theses were viewed by visitors–mostly Princeton undergraduates–to the Mudd Library, which accounted for about 1/4 of all Archives materials circulated.


Wendy Kopp’s thesis is always among those requested by remote researchers–that is, those who do not visit the library in person, and whenever a Princetonian makes news or is on a hit show, their thesis is often requested.

In the past, this included Wentworth Miller III (when Prison Break was a hit), David Duchovny (for the X Files) and Dean Cain (Adventures of Lois and Clark), as well as all three now sitting Supreme Court Justices: Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor.

The entire theses collection can be searched via this database, and Archives staff are working to make future senior theses available online to the Princeton community starting in 2013.