Distinguished Majors Program

The Department of Politics offers a Distinguished Majors Program (DMP) as an advanced program for students who major in Government or Foreign Affairs. The program provides qualified majors with the opportunity to pursue in-depth research on issues related to the major. Students in the DMP take one more upper-level course in the Department than other majors and write a thesis under close faculty supervision during the year in which they are graduating (typically their fourth year). Participants in the program meet regularly throughout that year to discuss progress on their theses.

The director of the Distinguished Majors Program is Professor David Waldner.

The standards for admission, program requirements, and the procedure for evaluation are outlined below.

Informational Meeting

Potential applicants are invited but not required to attend an informational meeting, generally held in March. Details will be announced at a later time.

Admission to the Program

Unless they intend to graduate early, students apply to the program in the spring of the third year. Students wishing to join the program should first declare a major in the Department, either in Government or Foreign Affairs. Students seeking admission to the DMP should be on track to graduate with Departmental and University grade point averages of 3.4 or above.

Students are encouraged to complete a Politics research methods course, such as PLAD 2222, PLAP 4300 or PLAD 4500 before the start of the DMP year. However, we are aware that space in these courses is often limited. Moreover, not every student’s thesis project is forwarded by these courses, and many students may find equally useful research methods courses in other departments.

DMP application materials are due in early April (specific date TBA). Application materials should include the following:

  1. An unofficial copy of your most recent transcript.
  2. A statement of up to three-pages (double-spaced) explaining your proposed research topic, as well any relevant abilities that you plan to utilize in conducting that research.  The strongest applications will meet the following criteria:
    1. Does the statement include a clear research question?
    2. Does the statement explain why that research question is of personal and broader scholarly?
    3. Does the statement show preliminary knowledge of relevant literature related to the research question?
    4. Does the statement discuss practicable research methods appropriate for addressing the research question?
  3. A one-page list of works relevant to your proposed research question or topic.
  4. Two confidential letters of recommendation by faculty members submitted directly to the DMP faculty director, David Waldner, [email protected].  At least one of these letters should be from among Politics faculty.  Try to familiarize your recommenders with your proposed research so that they might comment on its significance and on your competence to undertake it.


Declared Politics majors should submit complete application files by Monday, April 8th at 12 pm (noon). There will be an informational meeting held in mid March. Special arrangements may be made for outstanding transfer students on an ad hoc basis. The admissions committee will begin reviewing files immediately, with the hope of notifying students of decisions by within a few weeks.

Academic Requirements

GPA Requirements

Students in the DMP must maintain grade point averages of 3.400 or better, both cumulatively and in the department.

Course Requirements

Students in the DMP are required to take 3 credits in the Department as a prerequisite plus 30 credits in the major. These 30 credits must include: (1) At least l2 credits at the 4000 and 5000 levels including six credits of PLAD 4960. (2) Courses to satisfy general departmental distribution rules for Government or Foreign Affairs majors.

The DMP Seminar

In the fall semester, members of the DMP will meet regularly to discuss issues related to conceptualizing, researching, and writing social-science theses. In the spring semester, members of the DMP will present their preliminary hypotheses and findings to the seminar.

The DMP Thesis

Students in the DMP are required to write a thesis of high quality, earning six credits, during the fourth year. The thesis seminar, PLAD 4960/PLAD 4961, is a year-long course, carrying six credit hours. Students are responsible for obtaining a faculty member to serve as their thesis advisor for both semesters of the course.

Limited funding is available to support thesis research. Please see the Funding page for more information about the funds and application process.

Complete first drafts of theses are typically due during the last week of March.  The final deadline for completed theses, reflecting all revisions, is typically in the third week of April, on a date set each year by the director.

Program Evaluations

Students who successfully complete the requirements of the DMP will be evaluated based on the following: (1) quality of the thesis, (2) overall work in major field of study, (3) overall College record.

Faculty thesis readers will forward evaluations to the Department’s DMP faculty director, who will review the evaluations and students’ records, and forward recommendations to the College Committee on Special Programs.

Superior theses will be nominated by faculty advisors for the Emmerich-Wright Prize, which is given annually to the outstanding thesis.

Where can I find the official academic requirements for the University?

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at http://records.ureg.virginia.edu/index.php.


Please direct questions not answered above to Prof. David Waldner, [email protected].

Recent DMP Theses

Emmerich Wright Prize Winners are in bold.

  • Dodwani, Shriya Devi - “Defense-Based Cyber Strategy: An American Necessity in The Face of a Cyber War”
  • Finelsen, Russell Mason - “Perceived Weaknesses of Transportation Methods in the Charlottesville, Virginia Area – and How to Resolve Them”
  • Gagne, Avery - “The Asian-American Vote – Does it Exist? An Analysis on the Origin and Relationship of the Political Preferences of Asian-American Ethnic Groups”
  • Groetsch, Abby Rose - “An Intentional Exclusion: The Genocide Convention’s Neglect of Protections for Political Groups and the Contemporary Consequences”
  • Gulas, Seth Davies - “Authoritarian Intensification Political Effects of COVID-19 and the Long-term Implications for Democracy”
  • Huffman, Nicole Elizabeth - “An Intersectional Analysis of Gender, Race, and Place Identities’ Impact on Political Cognition”
  • Newberry, Matthew - "Perplexity Of Nuclear Terrorism: Changing Landscape of Nuclear Terrorist Threats and Deterrence”
  • Ryan, Matthew Tanner - “Assessing the Assertive China Meme: A Critical Review of the Operationalization and Intensification of PRC Assertiveness in the South China Sea Disputes"
  • Scocos, Garrett Matthew - “Politicking The Road To War: Insights into How the United States Decided to Invade Iraq”

New Content Coming Soon!