Distinction Portfolio

Process & Criteria


Q: What does “graduation with distinction” mean? Do I need to graduate with distinction?
A:Distinction is an honor that a small number of majors each year receive for having performed exceptionally well in the major, as evidenced by submission of an outstanding portfolio highlighting his or her own development and performance as a student of psychology. The standards are high for distinction, so if you choose to submit a Distinction Portfolio for consideration, you will need to put time and energy into crafting and revising it. Many students who do not receive distinction go on to fine graduate schools and careers.

Q: I think I would like to submit a Psychology Distinction Portfolio; what do I do now?
A: First, read through the criteria below. You’ll see that the St. Olaf Psychology Distinction Review process asks students to create a Distinction Portfolio consisting of four documents:

*Transcript and Psychology GPA
*Annotated History of Relevant Experiences
*Candidate’s Statement
*Major Paper

Detailed criteria and specific deadlines regarding each of these documents are given below.

By mid November you must notify Darla Frandrup <frandrup> if you are planning on applying for Distinction. At that time, you must also give Darla one copy of your (a) Transcript and Psychology GPA (calculate your Psychology GPA by listing all grades earned toward the Psychology major by the end of Semester I of your senior year and then dividing by the number of courses), (b) Annotated History of Relevant Experiences, (c) Candidate’s Statement, (d) name of a St. Olaf College Psychology Department faculty who knows you and has agreed to consult with you on your application and Major Paper, and (e) a plan for your Major Paper, including an abstract of the research or a research proposal, and a timeline for the Major Paper that has been approved by your Psychology faculty consultant. These items will be reviewed by the St. Olaf Psychology Department faculty and you will be notified if your application for becoming a distinction candidate has been approved.

By late March or early April, provide Darla with three copies of your Major Paper and three copies of your transcript showing your grades through the end of Semester I of your senior year. The paper and transcript will be added to the materials that were submitted in November and, together, constitute the Distinction Portfolio. The Distinction Portfolio will be given to a review panel of two psychology professors from other institutions; they will review the materials and make a recommendation about each candidate, based on the criteria below.

All distinction candidates must present their Major Paper in poster format at the Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference in April. The two outside reviewers will attend MUPC and will talk with each candidate about their poster, but the reviewers will not identify themselves as reviewers. Information about MUPC is available from the Psychology Department faculty.

You will receive word of the Psychology Department’s decision by the end of April.


The documents in the Distinction Portfolio and the poster presentation at the Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference (MUPC) will form the basis for evaluation of students’ progress in several important areas:

1) Knowledge of psychology: To what extent does the student demonstrate knowledge of psychological concepts, theories, and empirical findings? This is assessed via the Transcript, Psychology GPA, Psychology GRE score (if the GRE has been taken), the Annotated History, the Candidate’s Statement, and the Major Paper.

2) Understanding of research methods in psychology: Does the student demonstrate understanding of research design, data analysis, and interpretation of evidence (in analysis of own data or of others’ published studies)? This is assessed primarily via the Major Paper, but the Transcript, Annotated History, and the Candidate’s Statement may be relevant as well.

3) Intellectual engagement with psychology: Does the student show evidence of curiosity and questioning regarding issues within psychology? For example, does the student seek scientific evidence to evaluate claims or consider real-world problems? This is assessed primarily via the Candidate’s Statement and the Major Paper. The Annotated History may be used as well.

4) Additional skills in psychology: Does the student demonstrate sophisticated reasoning, reflection, question-posing, problem-finding, problem-solving, and/or creative thinking? Are his or her communication skills (writing and perhaps speaking) well-honed? Writing is assessed via the Candidate’s Statement and the Major Paper; evidence of oral presentation experience may be found in the Annotated History.


Distinction criteria for the Transcript and Psychology GPA, the Annotated History, the Candidate’s Statement, and the Major Paper, are described below. It is important that the writing in the Annotated History and Candidate’s Statement are the candidate’s own. A major paper resulting from collaborative work will be accepted, but the paper must be the writing of the candidate. A paper based on collaborative research should also be accompanied by an accounting of the candidate’s contribution to the team product. The candidate providing this account is responsible for its accuracy. The review committee may, at its discretion, check with team members to verify that the account is correct.

 (These items will be confidential, read only by departmental faculty and the external reviewers, and will not be included in public display of Distinction Portfolios)

To be eligible for Graduation with Distinction in Psychology, a student must have a psychology GPA (including all psychology courses taken as well any other courses required for the major – i.e., biology, sociology/anthropology, statistics) of at least 3.60 by the end of the Fall term of the senior year. By this time, students need to have completed almost all of the psychology major, including courses from both the natural science and social science aspects of psychology.

This annotated list should be a succinct, detailed itemization of the candidate’s experiences related to the field of psychology, including work that is in progress. In combination with the Candidate’s Statement (see III below), it will be used to assess the extent and depth of involvement to date in psychology. Relevant experiences might include course work (e.g., a listing of courses and activities/papers completed for these courses), research experiences, public presentation(s) of work (either past or planned for the future), teaching assistantships, internships, GRE scores (if taken), or other extracurricular activities. The information in the Annotated History can be organized chronologically or by category of experience; it can be a helpful way to review accomplishments and prepare to write the Candidate’s Statement.
Note: The Annotated History should also contain the name of at least one member of the St. Olaf Psychology Department who can serve as a reference.


This approximately two-page, single-spaced statement is an opportunity for the student to reflect on his or her own path in psychology — past, present, and perhaps (but not necessarily) future. This statement may refer to items from the Annotated History of Relevant Experiences (see II) but should not simply reiterate that list in prose form. Questions which might facilitate this process of reflection include: Who or what has influenced you? Are there particular interests, values, abilities, experiences, or career and life goals that have helped to shape your path? Are there any themes or patterns that emerge as you consider where you’ve been and where you’re going?

The Candidate’s Statement should be 1) connected to issue(s)/ theme(s) within academic psychology and 2) thoughtful and reflective. In addition to being clearly written and well-organized, outstanding statements will exhibit both of these criteria, as expanded upon below:

1. Connected to Issue(s)/ Theme(s) within Academic Psychology: The statement clearly makes reference to intellectual issue(s) or themes within the discipline of psychology, makes use of psychological concepts and language, and does so in an interesting, knowledgeable manner.

2. Thoughtful and Reflective: There is ample evidence of substantive thought about one’s own experience. Rather than merely a review of one’s activities, the writing is a consideration of broader patterns or themes. Creativity or original thinking is evidenced.


General Evaluative Criteria for Major Paper: This paper can originate from a variety of experiences such as research that you are currently doing with faculty, a report from a summer research experience, or a major theoretical analysis. If you have questions about the eligibility of a project, please ask your Psychology faculty consultant.

(1) The Major Paper should have a clear rationale, explaining why the topic is of interest to psychologists and how the project fits into larger issues in psychology. In a paper with a clear rationale, the introduction leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about what topic or question the paper addresses and the means of addressing that topic or question. A paper with a clear rationale discusses why that topic or question is important and how it fits into the broader discipline of psychology.

(2) Every Major Paper should also be clearly written, meaning that the writing can be understood by an educated reader with a background in psychology who is not a specialist in the area of investigation. It is direct and concise. It is not pedantic or full of jargon. Important terms are clearly defined and illustrated. Tables and figures are used to present information that is necessary to the paper but would be awkward to communicate in prose.

(3) The Major Paper needs to be well organized — written so that the organization is clear and fits the topic. Connections between ideas, sentences, and paragraphs are coherent and logical. Headings and subheadings are used to clarify organization.

(4) The Major Paper should also be comprehensive, citing and discussing major pieces of work relevant to the topic. This does not mean that every possibly relevant article is included, but that there are no glaring omissions. Methodological competence is demonstrated. Ethical issues entailed with the research are addressed. Empirical evidence is given in detail (e.g., the value of a correlation, rather than just a descriptor such as “high,” is given). The method and results sections are presented in enough detail that another researcher could replicate the study and analyses. If the research project is still in progress, the results of any initial analyses are included.

(5) The Major Paper must be written in a knowledgeable and thoughtful fashion. It should communicate a mastery of the concepts and evidence relevant to that topic or question. The paper should be logical, thorough, balanced, and carefully rooted in psychological theory and research. Gaps and weaknesses, as well as strengths, are acknowledged. Results and conclusions are not merely stated, but examined within the broader context of psychology. In this way, the author communicates a mastery of the concepts and evidence.

(6) In writing the Major Paper, the author should show a facility with psychological methodology, as reflected in a thoughtful critique of the design, analysis, and interpretation of studies. Facility with psychological methodology may also be communicated by the proper design, execution, analysis, and interpretation of one’s own empirical study.

(7) Every paper should be appropriately documented: a citation is given for every major idea or finding that is not the author’s own. Statements of general knowledge and common observation (e.g., the sun rises in the east) need not be supported by a citation.

(8) All Major Papers must be written in appropriate APA style, free of distracting lapses in grammar and spelling. Questions about format may be answered in the APA Style Publication Manual (6th ed.) or by a member of the Psychology Department faculty.

It is critical to recognize that APA style goes beyond a set of typographical, grammatical, spelling, and formatting conventions. In particular, the Publication Manual of the APAspecifies that language usage should be nonsexist and without ethnic bias, and it should be concise, precise, and clear. Also, it specifies that scientific writing “need not and should not lack style or be dull. In describing your research, present the ideas and findings directly but aim for an interesting and compelling manner that reflects your involvement with the problem” (p. 6).


November 23, 2015
You must notify Darla Frandrup <frandrup> if you are planning on applying for Distinction. At that time, you must also give Darla one copy of the following materials:
a) Transcript and Psychology GPA (calculate your Psychology GPA by listing all grades earned toward the Psychology major by the end of Semester I of your senior year and then dividing by the number of courses),
(b) Annotated History of Relevant Experiences
(c) Candidate’s Statement
(d) name of a St. Olaf College Psychology Department faculty who knows you and has agreed to consult with you on your application and Major Paper
(e) a plan for your Major Paper, including an abstract of the research or a research proposal, and a timeline for the Major Paper

December 7, 2015 – Notification of Acceptance as a Candidate for Distinction

April 4, 2016 – Major Paper due

April 23, 2016  – Public Presentation of Paper at MUPC (Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference at Augsburg College)

April 29, 2016 – Notification of Decision