Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

BA Thesis / BA Capstone

Starting in AY 2022/23, all students majoring in ENST will complete either a BA Thesis or BA Capstone in their 4th year. Either option will provide students with a rigorous application of concepts, theories and methods taught throughout the major program. The two alternatives, while distinct in scope and approach, are intended as a culmination of environmental and urban studies and preparation for future academic, career and life endeavors.

The BA Thesis is required for any student pursuing honors in the major, while all other students must complete either the BA Thesis or BA Capstone.

For information about events connected to the Thesis and Capstone projects in the Environmental and Urban Studies major, please see the student events page or take a look at the recording↗ or slides↗ from our Winter 2023 info session.

BA Thesis

The thesis gives students a valuable opportunity to conduct extended research, writing, and analysis on a topic of particular significance to them. Frequently, undergraduates who write and reason well are nevertheless unaccustomed to directing their own academic inquiry from within by formulating and conducting a research project from start to finish. The Program therefore offers significant guidance and support from faculty and preceptors in these independent projects. For this purpose, students choose expert advisors from across the University, receive mentorship from Program faculty, and participate in a two-quarter BA Colloquium course sequence in their 4th year.

Some theses are not only self-styled but may take students to far-off places, both geographically and intellectually. The results are often remarkable in their scope and creativity.

For questions about the BA Thesis, please contact the program director Sabina Shaikh.

Thesis Application and Timeline

Any student majoring in ENST may choose to complete a thesis, but is required by those pursuing honors in the major. The thesis is an extended piece of research, conducted independently by the student under advisement by a UChicago faculty member. While a long research paper (40-60 pages) is the traditional approach to the thesis, other formats involving alternative media or design will be considered if accompanied by a written text and are approved at the proposal stage by the PGE faculty.

Starting in 2022-23, in Spring quarter of the 3rd year, students will attend a BA information session, brainstorming workshop and meet with a graduate student preceptor. Students wishing to complete a BA Thesis must submit a BA Thesis application with endorsement by a faculty adviser in Spring quarter of their 3rd year. If approved, students will attend Spring quarter workshops to prepare a reading list and thesis plan.

Students must enroll in ENST 29801: BA Colloquium I in Autumn and ENST 29802: BA Colloquium II in Winter of their 4th year. The final thesis is due in 3rd week in Spring quarter of the 4th year and a final presentation symposium is held at the end of Spring quarter.

BA Thesis Expectations

Students are expected to address, with data, a research question that builds on what they’ve learned as an Environmental and Urban Studies major throughout their time at UChicago. You might wonder, what constitutes data? or, how do I formulate a tractable and novel research question, based on my interests?, or, who can act as my faculty advisor? or, what is the role of the faculty advisor, preceptor, or reader? These are important questions to consider as you are developing your topic and we address them below.

  • Students are encouraged to be creative in their approach, using evidence to support their claims and analysis.
  • Evidencecan consist of quantitative or qualitative materials, whether survey data sets, census data, GIS layers; and qualitative data like interviews, ethnography, texts or media, or combinations of such materials.  With guidance from faculty advisers and program preceptors, students gather the evidence themselves. This can involve tailoring a corpus from existing databases and archives, or designing research instruments such as surveys or interviews in the field to generate novel materials for analysis.
  • An appropriate research question for a BA thesis will be one that has a narrow enough scope to be addressed fully in a relatively short amount of time but broad enough that your findings have scholarly relevance beyond your own work. Developing the appropriate scope is a skill that can take years to learn. You are encouraged to refine your topic and research questions with the help of preceptors and your faculty adviser.
  • You are required to have a faculty adviser for the BA thesis. Advisers vary greatly in their mentoring style and you will want to ask them about their expectations for your interactions and let them know yours as well. Both you and your faculty adviser should expect to work closely, particularly in Winter quarter of your 4th year.
Important Dates for the BA Thesis, 2022–23


  • In the past, students who are double majoring and writing one thesis for two majors have been allowed to substitute a thesis colloquium course for ENST 29801. Starting in AY 2022–23, students completing the BA Thesis must enroll in ENST 29801 and ENST 29802.
  • Current 3rd year students must register and attend the BA Thesis and Capstone Session on February 8th. The thesis application form for 2022-23 will be posted here in late Winter quarter.


Third Year, Winter Quarter:

  • Third Week: Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 3:30–5:00pm CT: BA Thesis Chat (optional, in person)
  • Sixth Week: Wednesday, February 8, 2023, 12:00pm CT: BA Thesis and Capstone Project Information Session (required, hybrid)
  • Seventh Week: Wednesday, February 15, 2023, 12:00pm CT: BA Thesis Brainstorm Session with CEGU Research Mentors (optional, hybrid)
  • Eighth Week: Friday, February 24th, 2023, 12:30–1:30pm CT: BA Thesis Chat with Alumni Panel (optional, in-person, lunch provided)

Third Year, Spring Quarter:

  • Second Week: Friday, March 31, 2023: Deadline for Faculty-approved BA Thesis Application
  • Fourth Week: Friday, April 14, 2023: Students are notified whether they are approved to proceed with the BA Thesis
  • Seventh Week: Wednesday, May 3, 2023, 5:00pm CT: BA Thesis Workshop led by CEGU research mentors (optional)
  • Finals Week: Friday, June 2, 2023: Deadline for BA Thesis reading list, plan, and timeline for review by CEGU research mentors and faculty advisor

Fourth Year, Winter Quarter:

  • Students are required to enroll in ENST 29802: BA Colloquium II
  • Third Week: Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 3:30–5:00pm CT: BA Thesis Chat (optional)
  • Eighth Week: Friday, February 24, 2023, 12:30–1:30pm CT: BA Thesis Chat with Alumni Panel (optional)

Fourth Year, Spring Quarter:

  • Third Week: BA Thesis First Draft Due by Friday at NOON
  • Fifth Week: Friday, April 21, 2023: Faculty advisors and second readers provide comments and suggested revisions
  • Seventh Week: BA Thesis Final Draft Due
  • Ninth Week: BA Thesis Symposium (Tuesday, May 23, 2023)
In addition to a minimum GPA 3.25 overall and 3.7 in the major, students must complete the BA Thesis track and receive a grade of A in ENST 29802 BA Colloquium II , which includes the overall BA Thesis grade.

BA Capstone

In some cases, student may prefer to complete a BA Capstone project within the framework of a designated course taken in their 4th year. This option allows for structured creativity using skills developed throughout the major program, culminating in an engaged project showcasing knowledge and experience in environmental and urban studies.

The BA Capstone option is open to all students in the major but does not qualify any student for honors. In this track, students must complete one individual BA Capstone project as required within a designated BA Capstone course. While certain Capstone courses can be taken prior to the 4th year, it will only count towards the Capstone requirement if taken in the 4th year. The course-based Capstone project will be designed by the instructor for all students in the course, regardless of major or track. The project may be an extended research or policy paper (15-20 pages), a series of writings for art or media (several 6-10 page articles), a design project in a studio-course, a creative project (e.g. short film, artwork, creative writing, or podcast) or other type of project designed by the instructor. The Capstone project will be evaluated by the instructor and contribute to the final grade in the chosen Capstone course.

Students must present their BA Capstone project in the final symposium held at the end of Spring quarter of their 4th year.

For questions about the BA Capstone, please contact Professor Evan Carver.

For a list of courses that fulfill the 4th year BA Capstone requirement, please see the full list of approved ENST capstone courses.