Home < Schools, Colleges, and Programs < College of Letters & Science < L&S Honors Program

College of Letters & Science

Honors Program

Honors Degrees
    Honors in the Liberal Arts (HLA)
    Honors in the Major (HM)
    Senior Honors Thesis
    Comprehensive Honors

Admission to the Honors Program
     Admission to Honors in the Liberal Arts (HLA)
     Admission to Honors in the Major (HM)
     Honors Courses, Credit, and Enrollment

Special Honors Services and Opportunities

Washburn Observatory, 1401 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706-1209; 608-262-2984; www.honors.ls.wisc.edu

Faculty Director: Sissel Schroeder, Chair of L&S Faculty Honors Committee and Professor of Anthropology

Undergraduate Honors Advisors: For details on Honors advisors and their profiles, see www.honors.ls.wisc.edu.

To schedule appointments, call 608-262-2984 or check the Online Honors Calendar for regular drop-in advising and chat advising services. Incoming prospective students, first-year or transfer, may take advantage of a weekly information session offered throughout the year; to register for an information session, see the Online Campus Reservation System. Current UW–Madison students interested in the Honors Program are encouraged to call the Honors Program Office to set up an appointment to meet with an L&S Honors Advisor.

The L&S Honors Program attracts more than 1,300 motivated undergraduates in the College of Letters and Science. Students in the program pursue Honors in the Liberal Arts, Honors in the Major, and/or Comprehensive Honors—the highest undergraduate degree offered by the college. In addition to an enhanced curriculum, the program offers academic advising services; grants, scholarships, and awards; and numerous professional development and co-curricular opportunities.

Honors Degrees

Honors may be earned in any L&S undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Arts; Bachelor of Science; Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics; Bachelor of Science–Chemistry; Bachelor of Arts–Journalism or Bachelor of Science–Journalism; Bachelor of Music; and Bachelor of Social Work). For students who complete the requirements, Honors will appear on diplomas and transcripts (for example, B.A. with Honors in the Liberal Arts or B.S. with Honors in the Major).

Honors in the Liberal Arts (HLA)

Honors in the Liberal Arts is often the primary focus for most first- and second-year honors students. It requires students to earn honors credits in broadly distributed subjects. Students who complete this demanding but exciting curriculum are assured of an especially fine and wide-ranging exposure to many fields of knowledge. The specific requirements for the HLA degree are: (1) completion of the L&S general degree requirements; (2) a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.3; (3) completion of at least 24 credits in honors courses with grades of B or better; (4) of the 24 honors credits, at least 6 must be in the humanities, 6 in the social sciences, and 6 in the natural sciences; and (5) of the 24 honors credits, at least 15 must be "automatic honors" credits—that is, in courses that carry the "H" or "!" honors designations in the Course Guide.

Honors in the Major (HM)

After formally declaring a major in the College of Letters and Science, students may opt to pursue honors in that major. Honors in the Major requirements can be completed independently from Honors in the Liberal Arts; they may also be completed in conjunction with Honors in the Liberal Arts (see section below on Comprehensive Honors). Each academic department and program in the college, with approval of the Faculty Honors Committee, establishes its own requirements for the Honors in the Major degree. These requirements are intended to provide the best possible undergraduate education in the discipline. For this reason, students intending to do graduate or professional training or work in their fields are strongly encouraged to consider completing Honors in the Major.

Although many of the specific requirements for HM vary by department, all students pursuing Honors in the Major must: (1) complete the L&S general degree requirements; (2) complete the regular major requirements; (3) obtain an overall cumulative grade point average of at least 3.3; and (4) successfully complete a two-semester capstone experience during their senior year, typically a Senior Honors Thesis (see below for more information).

In addition to these collegewide requirements, HM students may be required to complete additional upper-level, honors and/or graduate course work; participate in department research colloquia; and meet a minimum grade point average in all classes in the major (typically between 3.3 and 3.6).

Senior Honors Thesis

Most departments require a Senior Honors Thesis as the culmination of their Honors in the Major curriculum. In departments for which a research thesis is not the most appropriate capstone, an alternative such as a performance, a professional practicum, or a major piece of creative writing may be required instead. The two-semester honors thesis or capstone project is often the most challenging part of the honors experience, and for most students it also proves to be the most rewarding. The Senior Honors Thesis is a two-semester (or summer and semester) effort; students first enroll in Senior Honors Thesis 681, followed the next term by Senior Honors Thesis 682 (some departments may use different numeric designations for Senior Honors Thesis options). These two courses may not be taken concurrently. The final grade for the entire thesis is assigned after 682 has been completed.

Students who intend to complete Honors in the Major and write a Senior Honors Thesis should consult with department advisors as early as possible. They are also strongly encouraged to begin working with a faculty advisor no later than the beginning of the junior year in order to formulate a research topic, which will enhance the student's potential for success in research grant funding cycles for their senior year. Some departments offer special courses designed to facilitate the organization, planning, and execution of honors thesis projects (for example, Psychology 686, Political Science 683/684, and History 680). Other departments encourage (and some require) students to take a directed study or tutorial course with the thesis advisor sometime during the junior year. Students who receive funding from the L&S Honors Program for their thesis research should submit an unbound copy of their thesis to the Honors Office.

Comprehensive Honors

Students who complete the requirements for both Honors in the Liberal Arts and Honors in the Major in at least one department or program earn Comprehensive Honors, the highest undergraduate degree awarded by the college.

Admission to the Honors Program

Students may apply to enter the L&S Honors Program in any semester of their undergraduate careers. Any UW–Madison honors credits earned before admission to the Honors Program may be applied toward honors degree requirements. Eligibility criteria and admissions procedures differ for the different honors degrees.

Admission to Honors in the Liberal Arts (HLA)

To become a candidate for the Honors in the Liberal Arts degree, a student must apply directly to the L&S Honors Program. Students may apply at any point in their undergraduate careers, provided they meet the eligibility requirements described below.

Incoming First-Year Students

All students admitted to the university and to the College of Letters and Science are invited to apply to be considered for admission to the Honors Program to pursue the Honors in the Liberal Arts degree. Interested students are able to apply via an online application form. Students receive an invitation message by email that contains the URL to the online application. Students who do not have email and/or Internet access will receive an invitation letter by mail that will include directions to contact the office by phone at 608-262-2984 to request a hard copy application. A specific application deadline will be provided to each student in their invitation message or letter. Admission to the program is competitive, and space is limited.

Continuing and Transfer Students

Students with a cumulative grade point average of 3.3 or above who are currently enrolled at UW–Madison or who are transferring to the UW–Madison from another college or university are invited to apply to the L&S Honors Program. Application requires completion of an application and submission of a letter of recommendation from a professor or teaching assistant. Honors Program staff review and respond to applications on a rolling basis. Applications are evaluated on an individual basis and admission decisions are usually made within three weeks of submission of the completed application and supporting materials. While continuing or transfer students having 60 or more credits at the time of application to the Honors Program are eligible to participate in the Honors in the Liberal Arts (HLA) degree track, they are encouraged to consider Honors in the Major (HM) as an option (see below). Students may find it difficult to complete the HLA degree requirements if beginning that program in the junior or senior year.

Criteria for Remaining in Good Standing

Students must maintain a grade point average of 3.3 or higher to continue as Honors in the Liberal Arts degree candidates. First-year students have until the end of the second semester on campus to achieve the 3.3 minimum grade point average. Students must also make satisfactory progress toward the degree. Satisfactory progress is defined as: (1) successful completion (grade of B or higher) of at least one honors course (any designation) by the end of the third semester on campus; (2) a cumulative UW–Madison GPA of at least 3.0 by the end of the third semester on campus; (3) successful completion (grade of B or higher) of at least two automatic honors courses by the end of the fifth semester on campus. Students may withdraw from HLA at any time by submitting a complete Honors in the Liberal Arts Withdrawal Form, available from the Honors Program office.

Admission to Honors in the Major (HM)

Students interested in pursuing an Honors in the Major degree are encouraged to consult the department listings in this catalog and speak with the department's academic advisors, who will be able to explain admissions procedures and requirements for the degree. After officially declaring the major and receiving authorization from the department to declare HM, students must submit a completed Honors in the Major Declaration Form to the Honors Program office. These forms may be obtained from either the department advisor or the Honors Program office. Incoming first-year students may not apply for Honors in the Major.

Criteria for Remaining in Good Standing

Because each department sets its own criteria for the HM degree program, students are encouraged to work closely with department advisors. In addition to the criteria established by individual departments, all students must obtain a cumulative grade point average of 3.3 or higher in UW–Madison course work to be eligible to graduate with the Honors in the Major degree. Students may withdraw from HM at any time by submitting a completed Honors in the Major Withdrawal Form, available from either the department advisor or the Honors Program office.

Honors Courses, Credit, and Enrollment

The College of Letters and Science offers several types of honors courses. Each is designated with a special symbol in the Course Guide, as follows:

  • The "H" following the course number and/or the middle digit "8" in the course number designates a course reserved for honors candidates. These honors-only courses are generally small classes, led by a faculty member and designed for acceleration or enrichment. The symbol "H" may also designate discussion sections or labs reserved for honors students in larger non-honors lecture courses. The enrollment system will automatically assign honors credit to all enrolled students.
  • The "!" symbol designates unrestricted honors courses—courses recommended for honors students, but open to all students. These accelerated honors courses are usually conducted at a faster pace than the non-honors course counterparts or are upper-level capstone courses in a major that require significant engagement with the course material. As with the "H" designation, the enrollment system will automatically assign honors credit to all enrolled students.
  • The "%" symbol designates courses for which honors is available through an optional honors component of the course curriculum. These courses are open to all students for enrollment. Students must register separately for the honors component through their My UW Student Center and may add or drop the honors component through the regular add and drop deadlines set by the registrar. Typically, students have until the 12th week of classes to change their honors status in a "%" course via the Student Center, after which point students and faculty will need to file paperwork to make any changes to honors enrollment status. Students enrolled for the honors component in a "%" course are advised to consult with the instructor during the first weeks of the term to determine the honors curriculum. Instructors often have designated honors curricula, but in some cases students are encouraged to develop a project idea of their own. Students should refer to the Course Guide and to the Honors website for information about specific honors courses available each term.

Honors candidates may also earn honors credit through the following methods:

  • Designing and successfully completing an additional honors curriculum for a course not designated with an "H," "!," or "%." This option requires consent of the instructor and approval of the L&S Honors Program. To request permission from the Honors Program, students must submit a completed Green Sheet Agreement form and all supporting documentation to the Honors Office no later than the eighth week of a regular semester, or the fourth week of an eight-week summer term. Green Sheets are available on the Honors Program website. Supporting documentation includes a one-page formal proposal outlining the additional honors curriculum in about 250 words, and a completed Course Change Request Form. Additional information is available from honors advisors and on the Honors website.
  • L&S Honors candidates who receive grades of B or better in graduate courses (numbered 700 or above) may be able to have their work in that class counted towards honors requirements. Honors students should contact L&S Honors advisors to find out if their course is eligible and how they can have that work counted towards their honors degree requirements. Graduate courses may not carry the H or honors designation on the transcript although students are encouraged to talk about their experiences in graduate courses in cover letters and applications for jobs as an honors experience.
  • Studying abroad in a non-honors study abroad program. Students may petition to receive up to 4 honors credits per semester (one course) for participation in most study abroad programs. Upon returning from a study abroad experience, students are asked to write a petition in which they are required to reflect on the nature of the courses taken abroad and develop a rationale that the courses meet the desired criteria for any of the three types of honors credit including: (1) general honors credit (2) automatic honors credit and/or (3) honors breadth credit. For more information on the specific qualities considered for each of the three areas, see the Honors website.
  • Studying abroad in an Honors Study Abroad Program. (Currently programs are available in Ecuador and Utrecht, Netherlands.) Students may earn up to 16 honors credits (see below). Students receive honors credit in these cases through the study abroad equivalency process upon their return from the study abroad experience.

In all cases, to receive honors credit in a course, students must earn a final grade of B or higher in that course. If a grade of BC or lower is earned in an honors course, the honors notation remains on the student's record, but the course does not count toward honors degree requirements.

Students may not receive honors credit in courses carried on a pass/fail basis.

Special Honors Services and Opportunities

In addition to honors classes and degree programs, the L&S Honors Program offers a wide variety of other services and opportunities.

Academic Advising

The UW–Madison can often seem overwhelming because of its size and the complexity of its policies and procedures. Academic advisors help students get (and maintain) their bearings on campus. The L&S Honors Program has a team of specially trained academic and peer advisors who accompany and support honors candidates as they pursue diverse educational and co-curricular experiences compatible with their long-term goals. Advising occurs through a variety of formats including small group workshops, drop-in hours, telephone, email, appointments, and instant message advising. Additional information is available on the Honors website.

Sophomore Summer Honors Research Apprenticeships

These competitively awarded grants provide stipends for honors students who work as research apprentices with UW–Madison faculty. Students may not earn course credit for this work. For past students, these apprenticeships have often evolved into paid research positions and/or senior honors thesis projects.

Grants, Scholarships and Awards

The L&S Honors Program currently offers or administers a number of different grants, scholarships, and awards for introductory and senior thesis research, study abroad and research-related travel, community and university service projects, and merit-based awards acknowledging outstanding scholarship. The amounts of the awards range from relatively small supplies-and-expense funds to stipends equivalent to two semesters of in-state tuition. For additional information, see the Honors website.

Honors Student Organization (HSO)

This student-run group focuses its efforts in four main areas: community service, extracurricular social events, community-building outreach, and professional development. The HSO provides students with an opportunity to extend what they are learning beyond the walls of the classroom to the larger world and, in the process, build a strong sense of community with their peers, faculty, and staff members. All UW–Madison undergraduate students may join the HSO. For details see the HSO pages on the Honors website.

Academic Sponsorship of Student Organizations, Teams, and Projects

The Honors Program sponsors a number of groups on campus, including the nationally recognized UW–Madison Forensics Team, which strives to bring a better understanding of public speech to students through intercollegiate competitions. Other sponsorships include three student-initiated and -managed journals, Illumination, the Journal of Undergraduate International Studies, The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, and the Wisconsin Undergraduate Journal of Science.

Professional Development

The Honors Program helps students prepare for life after college while they are still on campus. Each year, for example, the program, in collaboration with HSO and other campus offices, organizes a series of panels designed to address some concerns among honors students and to raise awareness of the variety of career opportunities that exist in today's world. Examples include: how to get started on (and how to finish) a senior thesis; how to write cover letters, resumes, and CVs; interviewing skills; career opportunities in government and nonprofits; and using foreign languages after college. Through the HSO, students gain valuable volunteer, service, and leadership experience. Honors candidates have worked with honors advisors, staff, and faculty to organize and host national conferences and competitions, and to prepare for public presentations at conferences around the globe.