Distinguished Majors Program

Download the Application


Application Deadline: Friday, March 29, 2024 (5pm)

Information Session Details: Tuesday, February 27, 2024 at 5 PM, Gibson 341 (Food will be served!) 

The purpose of the History Department’s Distinguished Majors Program (DMP) is to enable selected undergraduates to design and carry out a research project of greater depth than is possible within the traditional history major.

The program offers many advantages for admitted students:

  • Each DMP student explores a topic in the field of history that most interests them, under the guidance of faculty advisors who are leading experts in their fields.
  • The DMP combines the rigor and sophistication of a graduate program with the intensive mentorship of liberal arts education.
  • The DMP offers a community of students with a common passion for history. Each DMP cohort provides a supportive environment throughout the process of completing the thesis.
  • DMP students learn to write grant proposals and can apply for competitive grants to fund their research. Students have successfully secured financial support to conduct research in libraries and archives across the United States and around the world.
  • DMP students gain experience solving problems, working independently, and producing original research, distinguishing them in competitive applications for jobs and graduate programs after leaving the university.

The Program

DMP students must fulfill all of the requirements for the history major, including credits, area requirements, electives, and course-level requirements. The DMP provides three of the ten courses required for the major: HIST 4890 (4 credits, fall of third year), HIST 4990 (3 credits, fall of fourth year), and HIST 4991 (3 credits, spring of fourth year). Students must be on Grounds to take these courses.

Third Year

The DMP begins in the fall semester of your third year with HIST 4890 (Distinguished Majors Colloquium). This intensive reading, writing, and discussion course is intended to familiarize students with the conceptual and methodological approaches that historians commonly employ and to develop analytical and writing skills. Class meets for 2.5 hours each week. Throughout the semester, students will meet faculty representing the wide range of fields in the history department and learn how they approach their research.

In the spring semester of the third year, DMP students take one of the Major Seminars (HIXX 4501/4502) or Major Colloquia (4511/4512). The goal of the Major Seminar/Colloquium, which is required of all majors, is to produce a 20 to 25-page research paper or several shorter historiographical papers. Ideally, DMP students will use the Major Seminar/Colloquium to explore a potential topic for their thesis that is related to the topic of their thesis, although this is certainly not always the case. The major seminar also initiates students in the art of finding and use of primary materials to construct an historical argument.

There are no formal requirements over the summer between the third and fourth years. However, many students use this time to make progress on their thesis. This would be the time for background reading, refining a topic, bibliographical exploration, and even archival research. Whatever you do, it is expected that you will have one or several concrete ideas for a research project by the beginning of fall semester.

Fourth Year

The fourth-year program consists of HIST 4990 and HIST 4991, the year-long Distinguished Majors Seminar, which provides a total of six credits for researching and writing the thesis. In the fall semester, the class meets from four to six times to provide support and assistance in refining your topic and beginning research. Over the course of the semester students will complete a formal, eight- to ten-page prospectus. Participants should expect to devote most of their energy in the spring semester to the completion of the thesis. The class will again meet occasionally, but for the most part you will be working independently. The first draft of the completed thesis will be due in mid-March, with the final revised draft due by mid-April.

Grading and Levels of Distinction

As a rule, theses are evaluated by the student’s advisor, the director of the DMP and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. In addition to assigning grades, the director of the DMP along with the director of Undergraduate Studies assigns levels of distinction (e.g., Distinction, High Distinction, Highest Distinction). The levels are determined, above all, by the quality of the thesis but also by performance in all aspects of the program. Applicants should realize that there is the option of denying Distinction if the quality of the thesis is below the department’s standards. In this (fortunately, rare) case, the student will graduate as a regular history major. The College of Arts and Sciences requires a minimum GPA of 3.4 for graduation with distinction; should a DMP student successfully complete the thesis but graduate with a GPA below 3.4, the student will graduate as a regular history major.

Prizes and Awards

DMP students are eligible for prizes and awards that are typically given at the department's spring graduation ceremony.


Admission to the DMP is competitive. There are fifteen openings, and we often receive twice as many applications. Successful candidates have excellent analytical skills, the ability to write well, a capacity for self-directed work, and a commitment to undertake serious research.

DMP students should be resourceful, persistent, and motivated. They must be the kind of individuals who will work steadily and methodically toward a long-term goal. They have to be able to learn from the inevitable missteps and find their own way to solutions. They should be prepared to sacrifice some of their other commitments — and even winter or spring breaks — to the goal of producing a thesis.

The College of Arts and Sciences requires a 3.4 overall GPA for a degree with Distinction and applicants typically exceed this threshhold. However, interested applicants with a GPA below 3.4 should speak to the director; students with superior grades in the major have occasionally been admitted if they can demonstrate that they are on track to raise their cumulative GPA to the minimum level. Most admitted students have a GPA of 3.6 or above as well as top grades in their history courses.

Applicants need not have a specific research interest when they apply, but they should be individuals who will, over time, develop a passion for a particular historical topic. After all, work on the thesis will consume much of the DMP student’s attention during the fourth year.


Students apply in the spring of their second year. Application forms and detailed instructions for applying are available here. The deadline for applications and letters of recommendation is Friday, March 29, 2024.  Completed applications and letter of recommendation should be emailed to Professor Joshua White at jmw4xd@virginia.edu. The director of the program will notify all successful applicants by mid-April.

The application consists of the following components:

  • Completed application form
  • Personal statement of 750-1000 words. This should explain why you would like to write a DMP thesis and describe your interests (it is fine if these are very general at this stage, e.g. early America, modern Middle East, etc). Describe why you are qualified to take on this task. Discuss any previous research experience you have.
  • Confidential letter of recommendation (must be from a UVA faculty, preferably in History, but other areas are accepted)
  • Academic record from SIS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can DMP students study abroad?

Yes, but it requires careful planning. DMP students must be on Grounds in the fall of the third year and for the entire fourth year. Therefore, students should plan to study abroad before beginning the program, or in the spring of the third year. Note that spring of the third year is the semester in which most DMP students take the required 45xx seminar. DMP students who choose to study abroad that semester must plan ahead to complete their major seminar at another time. This will likely mean taking it at the same time as one of the DMP courses. DMP students who have studied abroad in the past report that this resulted in a very demanding courseload, but that the experience was worthwhile.

Can DMP students complete a double major?

Yes, many do. You must plan ahead to ensure that you can complete the courses for the DMP and your second major in the proper sequence. The College permits students to complete only one DMP or honors major.

Do most DMP students continue on to graduate programs in history?

Some do, and DMP students have gone on to top PhD programs in history. However, most pursue careers outside academia. Graduates have been successful in law school, in graduate programs in fields other than history, in government jobs, and in business. The DMP is good preparation for any career that requires critical thinking and good writing, as well as skills such as the analysis of evidence and the construction of an argument.

Further Information

If you have further questions about the program and its requirements, please contact Professor Joshua White at jmw4xd@virginia.edu.

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.