Research, Thesis & Directed Studies

Below are brief explanations for undergraduate students regarding research, directed/independent studies, and writing a thesis within the Department of Economics. Scrolling to the bottom you’ll see a short list of FAQ’s that undergraduate students ask. 

Please review this online information before meeting with Economics Academic Advisors.
Please meet with an Economics Academic Advisor before talking to your Professor or TA about research, directed studies, or thesis in Economics.  

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Opportunities to research with accomplished professors, fellow classmates, and established research centers drive students to perform academically at a high level. Research at UW with the Economics Department can be pursued in various ways. One way is a student working on their own research inquiry with professor oversight. Another more elite track would be working with a professor on their research. A third way is through the Honors in the Major route within Economics. More information about Honors can be found below. Regardless of the path chosen, achieving top marks in advanced classes will help to obtain on-campus, competitive research opportunities. 

Bear in mind that, while research opportunities are incredible experiences that students successfully pursue, research is considered a supplementary benefit to an undergraduate education from UW-Madison. Research is not required, nor is it expected of any undergraduate graduating with an economics major.


This worksheet is designed to be a guideline for students to gauge their interest in research. Complete this worksheet and bring it to an advising appointment to discuss research with an advisor.

Is Economics Research for Me?

Directed Study, sometimes called Independent Study, as described in the undergraduate catalog, “offers the student an opportunity to work with a faculty member on an individual study program. A student who is stimulated by a particular concept or problem encountered in a course can pursue and develop that interest in depth through a directed study project. Such individualized study can make a valuable contribution to a student’s educational experience. Directed study courses are made available by departments on the basis of a student’s preparation and motivation and a faculty member’s willingness to accept the student in such an endeavor.”

Directed Study allows advanced students to explore in-depth topics that are not covered in the regular economics course offerings. Your course may be structured to award one to three credits and, in most cases, will require writing a paper on your research and findings. These parameters will be established together with a supervising faculty member. 

Directed Study enrollment class options are: 

  • Economics 698: credit/no credit grading (no GPA associated) 
  • Economics 699: graded basis using A-F scale (included in GPA)

If you wish to pursue Directed Study or Thesis  in Economics, you must:

  • Be a junior or senior student majoring in Economics.
  • Complete the intermediate courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics.
  • Prepare a research proposal and/or reading list, to use in discussion with an Economics Faculty member 
  • Obtain approval from a member of the Economics faculty to supervise your project. Ideally, this will be a faculty member with whom you are familiar and who has expertise related to your desired area of study.
  • Have a GPA of 3.0 in Economics coursework completed to date.
  • Complete the department’s Directed Study form. Once the form is completed and signed by the instructor, return it to the Economics Undergraduate Office. The staff will create the course for you, allowing you then to enroll via standard university procedures.

Senior thesis or senior honors thesis students must follow these same enrollment instructions. However, your class enrollment options are: 

  • Econ 691-692: full year thesis for non-Econ-honors students 
  • Econ 581: one semester senior honors thesis. For EconME Honors students only 
  • Econ 681-682: full year senior honors thesis. For EconME Honors students only

If you want to write a one semester thesis as a non-Econ-honors student, you will enroll in a Directed Study, 698 or 699. 

By participating in a directed study or senior thesis course, students consent to having their finished paper or project archived by the Economics Department and made available on request. Upon completion of the course, students must email a copy of their finished paper or project to for this purpose.

Please note that these class options are intended to allow advanced academic exploration by independently motivated students. Directed Studies or Theses are not intended as a means to bolster deficiencies in credits or GPA, and it does not count toward fulfilling the department’s Core Econ Electives requirement.

All questions and inquiries should go to or set up an appointment via Starfish with an Economics Academic Advisor. 

Directed Study or Senior Thesis

Part of the Honors in the Economics Major curriculum will be a requirement for you to complete a senior honors thesis, prepared by a research tutorial economics class, your senior year. If you are interested in pursuing Economics with the Math Emphasis, have potential PhD in Economics ambitions, are interested in delving into research- Honors in the Major could be right for you! Please see our Curriculum, Courses, and Requirements page for class details. 

Curriculum, Courses & Requirements

Students can earn the Honors designation for the major in Economics. This is called Honors in the Major (HoM). 

To do so, all of the follow criteria must be met:

  1. Take the honors versions of the intermediate economic theory courses: Economics 311, Intermediate Microeconomic Theory-Advanced Treatment and Economics 312, Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory-Advanced Treatment.
    If you are a transfer student with credit already for Econ 301 and 302, or were otherwise prevented from taking Econ 311/312, please see an Economics Academic Advisor promptly. 
  2. Select and fulfill the requirements of the Economics with Mathematical Emphasis option. 
  3. Attain a cumulative GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0 in all courses in the major and an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW-Madison at the time of graduation.
  4. Complete Economics 580: Tutorial in Research Project Design. This is offered only in the spring semester.
  5. Execute a capstone experience. Complete either (a) or (b):

Capstone Option A: Find an economics professor mentor and enroll in either Economics 581, Honors Thesis (one semester), or Economics 681 and Economics 682, Honors Thesis (two semesters).
Note: Economics 580 must be taken prior to writing the Senior Honors Thesis.

Capstone Option B: Alternative thesis work, to be discussed with an economics academic advisor. If you would like to talk to an academic advisor about pursuing honors in the major, you can learn more about how to talk to one of our academic advisors here!