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The Honors Program 

One of the ways MCLA explores its Liberal Arts mission is to foster a cohort of passionate students - students who are intellectually engaged with each other and the world, who love books, writing, and learning for their own sakes, whose curiosity ranges beyond conventional disciplinary boundaries, and who crave intellectual challenges. The honors program aims to offer a home for such students. The idea behind honors at MCLA is not that you are undertaking more work, but that the work you undertake is more interesting.

Honors is an academic program, analogous to an academic minor concentration, which is compatible with any major (or even, with careful advisement, double major). Many of the courses cross-list within departments, but each is designed specifically as an honors course - reading-intensive, writing-intensive, intimate, participatory, interdisciplinary, and offering opportunities for individual and collaborative research. Some recent course offerings: 

  • The Nature of Human Nature               
  • Lincoln's Ethics
  • Post-Colonial Literature
  • Art and Philosophy
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Language and Censorship
  • Lords of the Ring Cycle: Nietzsche and Wagner
  • The Romantic Movement 
  • Spanish and Latin American Cinema
  • Atheism
  • Aesthetics
  • From Semiotics to Signification
  • Plants and Society

Program Details

Any MCLA student may apply at any time to be a member of the honors program by meeting with the director.  To remain a member of the program in good standing and receive its benefits and prerogatives, students must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2 and take at least one honors course each academic year.

Completion of the honors program, and graduation with All College Honors, requires completion of at least six honors courses (18 credit hours, at least half at or above 300-level) with a grade of B or better in each of them, and a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4

Commonwealth Scholar Thesis Option: By researching, writing, and defending an approved honors thesis and fulfilling the above requirements, honors students may graduate as Commonwealth Scholars. This yearlong independent research project will culminate in a public presentation and defense of a thesis. It provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore a topic of interest at a deep level, and is outstanding preparation for graduate studies. Guidelines for Prospectus and Thesis here.

The Community Beyond the Campus

The Honors Program is a wonderful way to meet other talented students from other colleges in the region and from across the country, to participate in colloquia with speakers and visitors from other colleges and universities, and to present papers on one's own research at national and regional conferences.

The Honors Program and Your Future

Graduating with All-College Honors is a distinction that follows you for the rest of your life. Inscribed on your transcript, it can help open doors to graduate or professional schools and enhance employment possibilities after college. But a serious Honors Program always offers more than a bright future; its chief focus is the quality and rigor of your experience as a student. As an Honors student you quickly gain the confidence not only of understanding something, but of knowing that you understand it, of knowing how to communicate it, -- of knowing how to learn on your own and work with others so that you can bring projects  to successful conclusion. Gaining the wisdom to know yourself: to know your powers in both their reach and their limitation is your present -- and your future. Make the most of it.

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Frequently Asked Questions


How can I join the honors program?
Students who aspire to become honors students, regardless of their past academic records, may request an interview with the program director to be admitted provisionally into the program. Those with an academic track record at MCLA are eligible if their cumulative GPAs are 3.2 or above.


Once I'm an honors student, how do I remain one?

Remaining a member in good standing of the program entails maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2, and taking at least one honors course during each academic year.


What are the qualifications to complete the program?
Completing the program to graduate with all-college honors involves completing a minimum of six, three-credit honors courses (at least half at the upper division) with a grade of B or better in each, and having a GPA of at least 3.4 upon graduation.

Is there a thesis option?
Some honors students choose to graduate as Commonwealth Scholars in addition to All College Honors. This option involves a year-long process of researching and writing an interdisciplinary thesis, culminating in a public presentation and defense in the Spring. The Commonwealth Scholar makes an additional presentation at the Commonwealth Undergraduate Research Conference in Amherst. If this challenge interests you, start a conversation about the possibility sometime early in your junior year. Prospectus and Thesis guidelines here.

Do honors courses fulfill CORE requirements?                                             Many honors courses, especially at the lower division, are designed specifically as CORE courses. Some honors courses can also be used to fulfill requirements for your major and minor programs, with departmental permission. You will need to consult your department chair or advisor to determine this on an individual basis.

What if there aren't enough honors offerings in my area of study to complete the program?
Part of the point of the program is to get students out of their comfort zones, doing intensive intellectual work in areas beyond their specialties (and bringing the investigative tools of those specialties to other subject-matters). Thus it is actually best to select most of your honors courses outside your major or division.

Where is the Honors Center?
MCLA's campus is rather small, so one measure of whether you might be honors material is your ability to locate the center on your own. (Hint: it's in Mark Hopkins Hall, room 213.)

What's the relationship between the Honors Program and various national and local Honors Societies?
None. The MCLA Honors Program is an academic program (a bit like an interdisciplinary academic minor). We have no induction ceremonies, no keys, no dues, and no national directories to buy.

Do I have to take HONR 100, The Nature of Human Nature, before taking other Honors courses?
Only if you choose to. As an honors student, you may take whatever honors courses you like, in consultation with the honors directors, who serve as secondary academic advisors (after your major advisor). It is a very good idea, however, to succeed at a 100-level honors course before diving into the deep end.

In courses cross-listed with honors, are honors students expected to do more work than the other students in the class?
Honors work is not designed to be more work, but rather more interesting work, which is to say more challenging and engaging, and hence also more fun. Specific course requirements vary from course to course, and some courses will have a specific honors project. Either way, honors students are generally expected to do background and supplemental reading on their own initiative, and to take the lead in class in drawing the other students out and steering the discussion in intellectually stimulating directions.


What makes an honors course different from other college courses?
This varies a bit with different courses and professors, but in general honors courses are reading intensive (with a preference for primary-source material), writing intensive, interdisciplinary, collaborative (most are small seminars), and present opportunities for independent research. All are designed specifically to take students who want to be challenged and push them to new levels, in fascinating areas of inquiry.


Who decides which honors courses are offered?
The honors directors, in consultation with the honors students and faculty, develop the schedule of honors courses. We regularly develop or repeat specific courses in response to student interest. As an honors student, you will be invited to a gathering at least once a semester, one purpose of which is to brainstorm about the future honors schedule. Of course, if you can't make those meetings, the honors directors always welcome your ideas and suggestions at any time.

Are honors students required to attend talks and performances?               Part of what it means to be an honors student is to participate fully in your own larger learning process, seeking out intellectual and cultural experiences to attend and discuss with friends. We encourage you to do this as much as possible, and to try things you know nothing about rather than sticking to what you are already interested in. Another important principle in honors learning is autonomy--making your own choices, as an adult, about what events to attend and when. Thus we have the strong expectation that you will participate in Honors-sponsored and many other events, but we have no formal requirement, and do not take attendance. 

What if I wonder about things that aren't frequently asked?                       We would consider that a good sign. Feel free to contact the program directors at any time:

Professor Matt Silliman  or Professor Susan Edgerton Co-Directors of the Honors Program