Guidelines for Senior Projects

Our students are encouraged to move beyond the university and conduct Learn By Doing senior project in the community and internationally.

Some current examples include: investigating gender issues in Fiji by living with the people, studying educational inequality in Colombia by teaching in a Colombian school, and starting a non-profit that connects university students as mentors to a girls orphanage in India.

Senior Project

The senior project is the capstone experience required of all Cal Poly undergraduates pursuing a bachelor's degree. It is intended to integrate theory with application specific to the field of study, and it is the hallmark of Cal Poly’s Learn-by-Doing pedagogy. The standard for a senior project is a twenty-five page paper that illustrates a student’s ability to collect, analyze, and disseminate material in a well-written and organized document on a discipline-specific topic within their major. Although this is the standard, other types of senior projects are acceptable in consultation with your advisor. (See list below on types of senior projects.) The following guidelines should be carefully followed in order to fully meet the senior project requirements. 


Fulfillment of the senior project requirement in Social Sciences occurs over two consecutive quarters (461 and 462) and earns the student 2 units for each quarter. 


The student is assigned a grade at the end of each quarter. Incompletes (I) for 461 and 462 will only be allowed for exceptional reasons and must then be completed on a contractual basis. Incompletes for 461 must be completed and a grade assigned in order for the student to enroll in 462.

Grades will be assigned according to the following:

  • Student’s adherence to the assigned work schedule.
  • How well the student follows directions in completing senior project assignments.
  • The quality of student work.

Step One

The following must be completed before a student is allowed to enroll in 461 [first half of Senior Project]:

Format and Topic

Before talking to a Senior Project advisor, first consider a topic area of general interest [e.g., a subject related to your chosen career, or look over an introductory text in anthropology, geography, or sociology for a topic of interest]. You and your Senior Project advisor should agree on a general topic and format or style for your senior project

Choosing an Advisor

You should choose a senior project advisor from among the tenure-track and tenured faculty within your major. Special interest should be given to department faculty members whose interests and expertise are consistent with your chosen topic. They do not have to be your assigned academic advisor.

Getting a Permission Number

461 and 462 require separate contracts. ANG students should complete the senior project contract(s) during an on-line consultation meeting via Zoom with your advisor (discuss your topic, agree upon format, obtain your advisor’s signature, set due dates, etc.).

Sociology students:

Contact your senior project advisor directly to develop a plan for your senior project and receive a SOC 461 permission number.

Step Two

First Quarter (461)

During this quarter the student is expected to complete and include in the completed senior project version:

  • Research proposal
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Outline
  • Introduction chapter

Step Three

Second Quarter (462)

During the final quarter the student is expected to submit a:

  • Rough draft
  • Works cited (not annotated)
  • Finished project (one copy)

Note: ALL written documents created in step two and three, with the exception of the rough draft, must be included in the completed final senior project that is submitted to the library and your advisor. 

Tips Descriptions and Examples

Types of Senior Projects: Below is a list of approved formats for senior projects within the Social Sciences Department. Students will consult with their senior project advisor in choosing the format and type of project that fits best their needs, interests and passions.

  • Library Research Paper
  • Primary/Field-Based Research Project and Paper
  • Internship-Based Research Paper
    • ​Conducting additional stand-alone research based on an internship experience
  • Volunteer Abroad-Based Research Paper
    • ​Conducting additional stand-alone research based on your volunteer abroad experience. This could include research on the country, region, organization, issue, the work completed, and a critique of the experience
  • Writing a Grant Proposal
  • Writing a Business, Non-profit, or NGO Startup Plan or Assessment
  • Writing a Technical Manual
  • Developing and Presenting Educational Pedagogy
  • Service Project Activity
    • ​Organizing a Fundraiser
    • Community Organizing or Awareness Raising Activity
    • Organizing the Department's Career Fair
    • Diversity Awareness Training Sessions

Use of Human Subjects in Research 

All students planning on collecting research information from other people are required to conform to and follow Cal Poly’s policies and guidelines on the use of human subjects in research. Request for Human Subjects approval must be compiled per university guidelines, and applications for such research are the responsibility of the students and must be submitted to the campus Human Subjects Approval Committee. For more information, click here.

The Mechanics of Writing

The paper should be double-spaced, using a 12 point standard font, with one inch margins.

Format for Finished Senior Projects


The final project will include the following items in this exact order:

  1. Title page
  2. Table of contents
  3. Research proposal
  4. Annotated bibliography
  5. Outline
  6. Text
  7. Works cited (not annotated)

Title page

See example in the Senior Projects Guidlines (PDF).

Table of Contents

All major and subheadings should be featured in the table of contents. Most writing software can create tables of contents, if headings and subheading fonts are used in creation of the text. For more information, visit the Microsoft Office website


The outline will be typed, thorough, and complete. For examples and types of outlines, visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Research Proposal

The proposal is 1-2 double spaced pages and includes some or all of the following. Your advisor will determine which of the following are to be included in the proposal.

  1. Purpose or goal of the project
  2. How it will be accomplished (the kind of research required, methodology, etc.)
  3. A statement of your hypothesis
  4. Significance of the project
  5. How your project connected to your discipline
  6. How your senior project will help you move toward a future career

Annotated Bibliography

See attached instructions and examples. Important note: citing your professor from a classroom lecture does not qualify as a proper reference with respect to senior project research. Students are encouraged to look for original sources whenever possible.

The “Introduction” Chapter

The introduction to the senior project should be a re-working and expansion of the research proposal and should more thoroughly introduce readers to the topic or project.

Works Cited or Bibliography

Works Cited pages must be in APA format. This reference list is not annotated and should only include sources cited within the body of the paper or project. Please see the attached detailed formatting guidelines for your Works Cited page and in-text citations per APA guidelines.

Rough Draft

Submitted rough drafts must be proof read, well edited, and complete. Electronic, emailed submissions may be possible, but require advisor approval.

Final Copy

Once your Final copy has been approved by your advisor, complete the following steps:

  1. Compile all project pieces into a single PDF document
  2. Email the PDF file to: with your senior project advisor copied into the same email. Failure to do this could result in receiving an incomplete for your project grade.

Optional publishing and indexing with Digital Commons

If you would like to publish and have your senior project indexed to the Digital Commons, you must pay a library fee and upload your senior project to the Digital Commons with the Kennedy Library. To find help on formatting and uploading to Digital Commons, click here.


For standard research paper formats, the text and works cited must be a minimum of 25 pages. This does not include the title page, table of contents, research proposal, annotated bibliography, or outline. Appendices may be included, but will not count toward page requirements. 

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