Letter to Counselors

from the Director of Honors

From the Director

As we enter the 2013-14 academic year, I write to call your attention to important features of the Honors curriculum that will assist you in advising your students and to provide some updates to our application process. The curriculum focuses on modes of thinking across disciplines and the integration of academic and experiential learning. With increased flexibility via three Honors designations (Interdisciplinary, Departmental and College Honors), the core curriculum central to Interdisciplinary and College Honors provides an academic experience that reflects the Program's values and encourages students to see the relationships between their academic pursuits and the rest of their personal and professional lives. In addition to featuring small and engaging Honors courses, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, critical reflection, and a broad understanding of the interconnectedness of knowledge, a process facilitated by the on-going portfolio.

Our application process will continue to match the larger UW's updated timeline:

  • The Honors Program section of the 2014 freshman application will be available together with the main application for admission to the UW on October 1, 2013;
  • Our final deadline will match the UW's application deadline (December 2nd @ 10pm);
  • Honors recommendation forms must be submitted on or before January 17;
  • All UW Honors Program freshman admissions decisions will be mailed between March 24-April 7, 2014.

For the freshman Honors class of 2013 we received over 2,600 applications and accepted 759 in order to reach our goal of 225 students. Once again, we had to turn away many students who appeared qualified to enter our Program. We also kept a large waiting list, a fact that reflects the quality of our applicant pool. These are students whom we would certainly have accepted into the Program had we the space. Each year we manage to take a small number of students from the list into the Program. We continue to be struck by the excellent job that Washington High Schools, public and private, do in preparing students for college in general and for our Honors Program in particular and are frustrated by our inability to accept more of your students. We continue to hope that in the future we will be able to increase significantly the number of students we admit to the Program, but that time will only come when the state and university budgets are more robust.

As in the past, when reading applications we try to identify those students whose files suggest that they are not only academically prepared for the UW Honors Program, but who are also in tune with programmatic values. In order to do this, we read the files carefully and fully, looking at GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, extracurricular activities, all essays, and recommendations. Similar to last year, in place of a letter, we are asking recommenders to complete a short form (available online). Please note that if we do not receive this recommendation form, we will not process a student’s application. A surprising number of students are not considered each year because recommenders fail to send their recommendations on time or at all. Everything is considered in the process and we ultimately select for admission those whose achievements, aspirations, and attitudes toward education suggest that they would gain most from and contribute to the Program. Please note that if students are not admitted in the Autumn of their freshman year, they can apply for late admission in the Spring quarter. Also, Departmental Honors is available for all UW students who satisfy departmental requirements.

Regarding the recommendation form, please know that the short and focused questions made it much easier for us to determine the suitability of the program for your students than letters of a more general nature. Students who might not have been accepted in the past were admitted because the answers to these questions underscored the good fit between the Program and the students. The forms can make a significant difference in the application process.

In order to provide assistance for you in advising your students, I am including information below that I hope will clarify what we are looking for in applicants to the Program. It is my hope that you can help students decide if what we are offering suits both their short-term and long-term goals.

Thank you for recommending the UW Honors Program to your students. For a glance at what some of this year’s graduates have achieved, pleases go to http://depts.washington.edu/uwhonors/community/grads/. Our students are truly remarkable and we hope that we will include your students in the class of 2017.

Sincerely yours,

James J. Clauss
Director of Honors
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs
Professor of Classics

University Honors Program at the University of Washington

Traditionally, honors programs at universities have attracted the most talented and ambitious students in high schools, students who have taken a number of Honors, AP, and IB courses and thus students who have been prepared for university honors programs by parents, teachers, and counselors. These students have also been among the most active outside of the classroom, participating in various extracurricular activities (sports, music, service projects, etc). As we have learned over the years, a large portion of this group who apply to university honors programs have chosen to do so (1) as a natural extension of their advanced high school programs, (2) for the recognition acceptance brings, (3) for the smaller classes such programs offer, (4) with the expectation of being part of an elite group of the best and brightest, and/or (5) with the hope that completion of a university honors program will secure admission to graduate or professional schools after college. While some of this is true, the UW Honors Program offers to and requires of its students far more.

The Honors Program at the University of Washington has developed values, goals and outcomes that are essential for potential students to understand before beginning the application process. With regard to the points listed above:

  • Advanced courses in high school, whether Honors, AP, or IB, are significantly different from university Honors core courses. The latter attempt to get students to see beyond the disciplinary boundaries established in the typical high school curriculum and to understand the interconnectedness of all knowledge. Not infrequently, Honors students enter college with an eye toward acquiring expertise in a particular field (e.g., medicine, engineering, business, international studies). The continuation of a highly compartmentalized understanding of education, combined with the ambition of getting into the best post-graduate institution, often leads to resentment at having to study topics outside of the student's chosen discipline(s) and to include experiential learning projects and maintain an on-going portfolio. Students who want a streamlined course of study that supports a more focused approach to education might not consider the University Honors Program appropriate for their purposes.
  • The University Honors Program is indeed a highly competitive program and acceptance does set the admitted student apart. But such recognition alone will not lead to satisfaction if the student's goals are out of sync with the Program's values that also include community, diversity, leadership, lifelong learning, global and community engagement, and research.
  • UW Honors Core courses under the HONORS rubric are indeed limited to between 25 and 35 students, and students in these classes are among the most accomplished at the university. But these courses represent less than a third of the required credits to graduate. All UW students are likely to find themselves in a class of several hundred over the course of their study here. Students entering the UW Honors Program need to realize that they are also attending a large public university - one that offers amazing opportunities not available at small colleges. The UW Honors Program, among other things, does make the university seem smaller, but it does not isolate its students from the larger university community.
  • Students accepted into the Honors Program are indeed among the best and brightest, but applicants should be aware of the fact that we employ a holistic approach to reading applications. The valedictorian of a class with 2400 on the SAT and a 4.0 overall GPA with lots of extracurriculars may not be admitted into the Program if her/his essay makes it clear that she/he is not interested in pursuing a broad-based education. We are looking for those students who not only show academic ability and promise, but whose goals for their education include but also transcend a future career; in particular, we prefer students who are intellectually curious and willing to take academic risks in order to expand the boundaries of their knowledge. For in doing this, such students are the ones who are more likely to expand the boundaries of knowledge in their fields after graduation.
  • Envisaging Honors as a fast track to a graduate or professional program is not only out of sync with the philosophy of the Program, more importantly completion of this or any honors program does not in itself guarantee admission into any program. It is but one of numerous factors that are taken into consideration by program evaluators at the graduate level. Graduation from the UW Honors Program has indeed contributed toward future academic and professional success for the majority of our students, but it is our goal that graduates of this program leave the UW not only experts in their chosen fields but also committed to continuing their education both professionally and personally, serving their various communities as leaders, and engaging the world as global citizens.

Surveys submitted by those attending the UW Honors Program have shown us again and again that students who enter the Program for the wrong reasons either end up leaving or completing it with less satisfaction than anticipated. It is critical, then, that students, parents, teachers, and counselors consider the values and goals of the UW Honors Program before applying. Students who commit to our broader concept of a college education uniformly report that they have been transformed by the experience. It is this quality that makes our Program truly distinctive.

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