Letter to Counselors

From the Director of Honors

As we enter the 2015-16 academic year, I write to share information about the University of Washington Honors Program.  The value of an honors education within large, diverse public universities is increasingly clear - as highlighted recently in the New York Times - and as we approach the next admissions cycle, we hope the following information will assist you in advising your students as to whether our program is a good fit for their educational goals.

Honors at the UW is an innovative space and collaborative community engaged in rigorous interdisciplinary exploration. Students can pursue Honors as a general education track, an in-depth program within their majors, or as a combination of the two. They may apply as new freshmen, at the end of their first year, or once they've selected a major. 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 across campus and work across the university, challenging themselves and each other to take intellectual risks and commit to conscious global citizenship.

Our curriculum explores diverse ways of thinking across disciplines 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 interdisciplinary Honors courses, we emphasize 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 2016 freshman application will be available together with the main application for admission to the UW on October 1, 2015;
  • Our deadline matches the UW's application deadline (midnight on December 1, 2015);
  • Honors recommendation forms must be submitted on or before January 19, 2016;
  • Honors Program freshman admissions decisions will be mailed March 21-April 15, 2016.

We seek students whose application materials indicate a commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry, experiential engagement, and reflection, as well a demonstrated history of academic achievement and serving the community.  We invite those who are keen to take intellectual risks; who seek to understand challenges of social 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 find these applicants, we read applications carefully and fully, considering all materials in a thorough and holistic review. We ultimately admit those whose efforts, aspirations, and attitudes toward education suggest that they would gain most from, and contribute to, the Program.

For the freshman Honors class of 2015, we received over 2,900 applications and enrolled 225 students. We will continue to keep a wait list, reflecting the quality of our applicant pool and the eagerness for participation in interdisciplinary learning. Each year we admit a small number of students from the list and we anticipate that practice will continue.

We continue to ask recommenders to complete a short form. Please note that if we do not receive the form, we are not able to review a student’s application. A surprising number of students are not considered each year because recommenders fail to send recommendations on time or at all.

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

Thank you for recommending the UW Honors Program to your students. Please take a glance at what some of this year’s graduates have achieved; our students are truly remarkable and we hope that we will include your students in the our future classes.

Sincerely yours,

Victoria Lawson
Director of Honors
Professor of Geography

Interdisciplinary Honors at the University of Washington

Historically honors programs at universities have attracted talented and ambitious students, students who have taken many advanced level courses and participated in many extracurricular activities, and have thus been long prepared for university honors programs by parents, teachers, and counselors. A large portion of this group apply to university honors programs as a natural extension of their advanced high school programs; for the recognition acceptance brings; for the smaller classes such programs offer; with the expectation of being part of a highly accomplished and motivated group of students; and/or with the hope that completion of a university honors program will secure admission to graduate or professional schools. While some of this is true, the Honors Program at the University of Washington offers more to, and requires far more from, its students.

There are also students who may never have had opportunities to participate in, or imagine themselves belonging to, an honors program or track, but are nevertheless particularly eager to think in complex ways about big global challenges, and act in the world through the lens of their own diverse experiences. We encourage anyone with this deep curiosity about the world to consider UW Honors and the type of education and community we provide to such scholars. We evaluate applications broadly, looking to understand the entirety of the student’s experiences represented in those pages, and we are eager to ensure our community represents and includes complex and dynamic perspectives necessary to true scholarship.

To help all students better understand how UW Honors might fit into their educational goals, we’ve suggest consideration of the the following before beginning the application process:

  • The University Honors Program is indeed highly competitive 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: community, diversity, leadership, lifelong learning, global and community engagement, and research.
  • Advanced courses in high school are significantly different from our Interdisciplinary Honors courses. Our curriculum prompts students to see beyond disciplinary boundaries and to understand the importance of interconnected knowledge for addressing the big challenges of our times. Those who enter with an eye toward acquiring expertise only in a particular field (e.g., medicine, engineering, business, international studies) can be dissatisfied when when asked to study topics outside of their chosen discipline. Those who want a streamlined course of study might not find the Interdisciplinary Honors option appropriate.
  • Many of our courses are limited to 25-35 students. But these represent less than a third of the required credits to graduate from the University of Washington. All UW students will find themselves in a class of several hundred during their time here. Those entering Honors must be excited to attend a large public university - one that offers amazing opportunities not available at small colleges. Honors does make the university feel smaller, but it does not isolate its students from the larger university community.
  • We employ a holistic approach to evaluating applications. The valedictorian with 2400 SAT, a 4.0 GPA, and lots of extracurriculars may not be admitted if the application makes clear that the student is not interested in a broad-based interdisciplinary education. We look for those who not only show academic ability and promise, but whose educational goals include but also transcend a future career. Those who are intellectually curious and willing to take academic risks in order to expand the boundaries of their knowledge are more likely to embody a life of continuous growth and learning.
  • Completion of Honors does not in itself guarantee admission into any future program. It is but one of numerous factors that are taken into consideration by evaluators at the graduate and professional level. Graduation from Honors has indeed contributed toward academic and professional success for the majority of our students, but it is our goal that our graduates 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.

Our experience has shown us 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 report that they have been transformed by the experience. It is this quality that makes our Program truly distinctive.

Thank you for taking time to consider this information. We welcome your questions as you, and your students, continue to explore whether our Program is the right intellectual fit.