Letter to Counselors

from the Director of Honors

From the Director

As we enter the 2014-15 academic year, I write to tell you about important features of the UW Honors Program that will assist you in advising your students. I also want to provide you with an overview of our application and selection process. Honors is an innovative space for interdisciplinary inquiry on campus. We prepare our students to ask and answer bold questions about the challenges facing our ever-changing world. Our students participate in small classes with faculty from all across campus and our students work across the university, sharing their intellect and enthusiastic engagement with their communities - local, national, and international. Honors exemplifies the university’s mission, blending the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking and self discovery. Ultimately, our mission is to create engaged citizens and leaders who serve the community.

Our curriculum explores diverse ways of thinking across disciplines as well as the integration of academic and experiential learning. With flexibility via three Honors designations (Interdisciplinary, Departmental and College Honors), the core curriculum central to Interdisciplinary and College Honors provides an academic experience that 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, reflection, and a broad understanding of the interconnectedness of knowledge, a process facilitated by a portfolio.

Our application process continues to match the larger UW's timeline:

  • The Honors Program section of the 2015 freshman application will be available together with the main application for admission to the UW on October 1, 2014;
  • Our final deadline will match the UW's application deadline (midnight on December 1, 2014);
  • Honors recommendation forms must be submitted on or before January 16;
  • All UW Honors Program freshman admissions decisions will be mailed between March 23-April 6, 2015.

For the freshman Honors class of 2014 we received over 2,500 applications and accepted over 800 to reach our goal of 225 students. Our admissions committee carefully reviewed these applications, selecting students who indicated a commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry, experiential engagement and reflection, as well as a commitment to serving the community. We continue to keep a wait list, reflecting the quality of our applicant pool and the eagerness for participation in interdisciplinary learning. Each year we manage to take a small number of students from the list into the Program and we anticipate that practice will continue.

As in the past, when reviewing applications we try to identify those students whose materials suggest that they are not only academically prepared for the UW Honors Program, but who are also aligned with programmatic values. By this I mean that we seek students who are keen to take intellectual risks; who seek to understand challenges of social and environmental justice; who want to take leadership roles in confronting global change; who are familiar with and/or curious about the complexities of diversity; and who value a life of continuous learning and personal growth. In order to do this, we read applications carefully and fully, looking at a mix of factors including GPAs and their context, SAT/ACT scores, extracurricular activities, all essays, and recommendation forms. Everything is considered in our holistic review 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.

We continue to ask recommenders to complete a short form (available online). Please note that if we do not receive this recommendation form, we will not be able to review 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. Please note that if students are not admitted for Autumn of their freshman year, they can apply for second year admission in the Spring quarter of their first year. Additionally, Departmental Honors is available for all UW students who satisfy their major’s individual requirements.

In order to provide further 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, please visit http://honors.uw.edu/community/grads/. Our students are truly remarkable and we hope that we will include your students in the class of 2018.

Sincerely yours,

Victoria Lawson
Director of Honors
Professor of Geography

University Honors Program at the University of Washington

Traditionally, honors programs at universities have attracted highly talented and ambitious students, 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. 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 a highly accomplished and motivated group of students, 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, far more from its students.

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:

  • 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.
  • Advanced courses in high school, whether Honors, AP, or IB, are significantly different from our Honors core courses. The latter prompt students to see beyond disciplinary boundaries and to understand the importance of interconnected knowledge for addressing the big challenges of our times. 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, can lead to resentment at having to study topics outside of the student's chosen discipline(s), as well as participating in experiential learning projects and maintaining a portfolio. Students who want a streamlined course of study that supports a more focused approach to education might not find the University Honors Program appropriate for their purposes.
  • 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 must be excited to attend 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 feel smaller, but it does not isolate its students from the larger university community.
  • Students accepted into the Honors Program are indeed academically talented, 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 extra-curriculars may not be admitted into the Program if her/his essay makes it clear that s/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 seek 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.