Honors Program FAQ

  • Definition and Eligibility Requirements

  • Thinking/Planning Stages

  • Declaring the Intent to Pursue Honors

  • Guidelines for Project Description

  • Project Report

  • Honors Review in the Area of Study

  • Collegiate Review

  • When Trouble Arises

Definition and Elgibility Requirements

Question: What is Honors in an Area of Study? An honors project represents an extraordinary commitment to exploration of a topic or problem in your area of study outside the parameters of regular classwork. Typically, an honors project is a year-long research or substantial creative work that culminates with a critical review by faculty in the area study as well as by faculty from across the College. Thus, an honors project should involve more than merely revising a term paper or project for a course, even if it is the final work for a capstone course. Honors projects may be based on work done for a course, but the student must demonstrate clearly how the scope and substance of the project will advance significantly from the initial work. Each area of study will have its own standards for judging a work as honors, so please consult with faculty members in your area for further information.

Question: Can my project be based on work done entirely outside the College? In general, yes. Your honors project may be based on a summer research position at another institution, for example. As long as you have the agreement of an on-campus Honors Review Committee in the area of study (including a faculty member willing to serve as director), nothing will stop you from submitting your work for review. Your Honors Committee and/or area of study may have specific requirements about such projects. Please consult with the chair or program director in the area of study for further information.

Question: Are there minimum GPA requirements to be eligible for honors? Yes, students are eligible for the honors program if they have an overall grade point average of at least 3.20. This is the requirement when the Intent to Complete Honors form is filed. However, at the time of graduation the student must have an overall grade point average of 3.0.

Question: Is there any way to waive the minimum GPA standards? Petitions to waive any of the minimum standards must be submitted to the ASC by the student with the support of at least two members of the area of study, including the department chair or program director (and the department chair or program director of the student's major, if different from the proposed honors discipline), and be approved by the ASC on the basis of a written motion which would become a part of the student's project record.

Question: Can I get academic credit for an honors project? Most areas of study require the equivalent of a year-long project. Some areas of study allow this to be two independent study projects, one each term. Other areas of study allow only one term to be done for credit; thus one term may be an independent study project and the other must be done as an extracurricular project.

Question: Does a project have to include independent study credit or be completed in any particular way in order to be eligible for honors? No. Often a student seeking honors will register for an independent study. While an independent study enables a student to pursue an interest, it does not necessarily produce an honors level project. Honors is not something automatically achieved upon the completion of such a course. Honors quality work may originate from projects other than those done for independent studies. Indeed, honors may be achieved entirely outside of regular course work; the quality of the project, not hours successfully completed, earns honors.

Thinking/Planning Stages

Question: I am thinking about an honors project but I don't fully understand what it entails. Is there some way to see what students have done in the past so that I can decide whether or not I want to do one? The Library maintains a collection of projects done by students who graduated with honors. Copies of projects completed last spring are available on the first floor of the Library. There are also copies of honors projects that are part of the Library’s historical collection. Consult with faculty in your area of study to find out the current expectations for honors work in your discipline.

Question: When can I do an honors project? An honors project may be done during the junior or senior year. Most often, honors projects are completed during the senior year. In any case, it is best to begin planning your project with your chosen director during the spring and summer prior to the year you will complete honors work. It is possible for a student graduating on December/january to complete an honors project.

Question: What does it mean to graduate with honors? Receiving honors in an area of study acknowledges that you have achieved an exceptional level of skilled work as an undergraduate in your field. Honors represents not the outstanding accomplishment of a relatively straightforward task, but the successful completion of a difficult challenge of some importance.

Question: In practical terms, what does it mean to graduate with honors? The fact that you graduated with honors in an area of study will appear in the Commencement Program and on your transcript. In addition, you will receive a certificate with your diploma at graduation.

Question: Do all the people who complete an honors project graduate with honors? No. Completing the project is the first major step in the process. The second is the Honors Review conducted by faculty members in the area of study. In the past, faculty reviewers have indeed judged some completed projects to be unworthy of honors and have not approved them. It is important for you and your director to communicate with faculty in the area of study about standards for honors as you work on your project. The third major step is the Collegiate Review, a public presentation of your project that will be judged by a committee of faculty drawn in part from other areas of study. This Collegiate Review Committee will determine if you communicate your work effectively to an audience of nonspecialists. This committee must approve your project as well for you to receive honors from the College, but problems at this stage are less common than problems at the area-of-study level.

Question: I have heard that different areas of study have different processes. Is this true? Yes. Each area of study has its own discipline-specific standards and procedures. You should find a faculty member who is willing to work with you as early as possible in the process. This faculty member will know (or can find out) the procedure for the area of study. It is recommended that you find someone during the spring term of the year BEFORE you plan on starting your project.

Question: May I do a project in an area of study other than my major? Yes, if faculty members in that area of study agree to work with you on your project. The only requirement is that you have a director in the honors area of study and that you follow the guidelines for honors established for that area of study. You should also consult with your major advisor to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of pursuing honors in an area outside your major. Keep in mind that a project worthy of honors should make an identifiable contribution to its field.

Question: May I do a project in an area of study that does not have an academic major (e.g. Religion or Education)? Yes, if faculty members in that area of study agree. Again, the only requirement is that you have a director in the honors area of study and that you follow the guidelines for honors established for that area of study. Contact your major advisor and the chair the Academic Status Committee for further advice. Keep in mind that a project worthy of honors should make an identifiable contribution to its field.

Question: May I do a project in a thematic major? Yes, students with thematic majors have completed honors projects in the past. Students with thematic majors should consult their faculty advisory panel and the chair of the ASC for the details on how to do this. Most of the difficulty in this process comes in getting the paperwork filled out correctly and in choosing committees to evaluate your work in the spirit of the regular guidelines for honors. It may be a requirement to have multiple honors chairs depending on the breadth of the theme.

Question: May I do projects in more than one area of study? If you mean “can you submit the same project to more than one area of study for honors in both,” then the answer is: no. However, if you mean “can you do different projects in two different areas of study,” then the answer is: yes, but with some caveats. The first caveat is that honors projects take a lot of time and energy. You would be well advised to think carefully about trying to take on too much, particularly during your senior year. The risk in trying to do two is that in the process you will most likely not complete either in a fashion that is worthy of honors. The second caveat is that if the projects are somewhat related you will need the approval of both areas of study for your plan. Both areas of study will need to agree that the work done is sufficient to be worthy of honors in their area of study and be comfortable with any overlap. Ideally the director of each project should be included in the process to monitor the degree of overlap, so that you do not suddenly discover that you have a problem at the end.

Question: I have decided to do an honors project, what are the steps? Please see the link to “The Honors Process” for step-by-step instructions. Declaring the Intent to Pursue Honors

Question: How do I go about declaring my intent to do an honors project? By the first Monday in October, you will file the Intent to Complete an Honors Project with the Academic Status Committee. This form includes the following: (1) a 500-word description of the proposed or in-progress project; (2) names and signatures of the faculty members willing to serve on the project’s Honors Review Committee; and (3) the signature of the Chair or Program Director in the area of study. See the link to “Forms and Resources” for further instructions.

Question: What are the guidelines for writing the 500-word description of the project? This description functions as a “proposal” and as a “work-in-progress report”; we do not use either term, however, because each student may be at a different stage of the process when the Intent to Complete an Honors Project is filed. The description, however, must accomplish the following:

  • State the goal of the project. The goal of the project should be stated within the context of the critical problem, research question, or creative idea the student addresses by doing this project. Thus, your statement should reflect knowledge of the relevant literature in your area of study.

  • State how the project is to be accomplished: What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Why are you doing it this way? If your project is based on work previously completed, state what you have done, how you have done it, and why you have done the work this way. If the project is based on work already completed for a “for-credit” course, it is imperative that you then describe the additional work you will do to expand the scope and substance of the initial project to complete a work eligible for honors consideration.

  • State what will be accomplished by completing this project. You might consider what you will learn by doing this project and how this work contributes to the area of study, your understanding of it, and/or your educational or personal goals.

  • Justify the proposed project as worthy of honors consideration (i.e., "a difficult challenge of some importance").

In this description, you are addressing the Academic Status Committee, which comprises faculty members from different areas of study across the College. Your description, then, should be aimed at nonspecialists, which means that you should define key terms and be very clear about the context, scope, and importance of your project.

To accomplish all this in only 500 words means that you will have to be in command of your project enough to be selective and precise in stating your goals and purposes. Be sure to begin drafting this work by mid-September to allow yourself time to review it with your director and to make appropriate revisions.

Question: What are some common errors people make when writing this project description? There are three problems that occur frequently:

  1. Be sure to address all four guidelines. The one that most often does not receive an adequate answer is the last one, in which you should justify why the project is worthy of honors. See the next Question for more details.

  2. Know your audience. The Academic Status Committee may not necessarily include a member from your area of study, so be sure to explain the context, scope, substance, and importance of your project in terms that an intelligent nonspecialist will understand. Technical terms are not a substitute for explanation; the value of the project must be clearly stated in non-technical terms. For students in the sciences, that means that providing a brief relatively non-technical overview of your project before you get into the technical details would be a good idea (and will help you when you begin working on the Comprehensive Summary at the end of the process). For students not in the sciences, that means that you may need to add some context for your subject area that might not be necessary if all of the faculty on the committee were in your area of study. Another thing that the committee will be looking for is a sense of the big picture: What makes your research interesting and important and who may be interested in it? In the sciences that means addressing what the potential applications or implications are of your project (not that you are necessarily testing them, but that you are aware of them). In other fields that means addressing briefly how your project fits into some portion of the discipline or what parts of the discipline might find the results interesting. See this as an opportunity to educate others about your work.

  3. Be clear about what you have done and what you wish to do further. This problem is prevalent with those students basing their honors work on a previously completed project. Summarize the work completed, and devote much attention to the specific points you will develop further in your honors year. If you are expanding a previously written paper as part of a course or an independent study, please do not attach a copy of it; instead, provide a summary. An honors project is more than merely revising a term paper for a course. The ASC is looking for a clear indication of how you are expanding the context, scope, substance, and value of your work.

Question: What do you mean by the question "what makes your project worthy of honors?" The definition of Honors in an Area of Study at W&J indicates that “honors represents not the outstanding accomplishment of a relatively straight forward task, but the successful completion of a difficult challenge of some importance. " How will your project take on a “challenge of some importance?” What differentiates your project from a research paper for a course or an independent study project? If you are basing your honors work on a previously completed project, you need to indicate what you are doing to make this much more than an exercise in revising a paper. Generally, this involves indicating what new research you will be doing and in what ways you will be expanding upon your initial paper. The ASC realizes that it is not always easy to articulate what makes a project worthy of honors. However, the committee asks the question because we feel that considering it gives students a fuller appreciation of what they are planning to undertake and what they will have accomplished when they are done. It is also a question that is often asked of students at the Collegiate Review at the end of projects, so you may want to continue to reflect on it as you work on your project.

Project Report

Question: What format should my final report have? Each area of study has its own standards and guidelines for honors projects, but most require some kind of written report as part of the project. The final written document must have a title page (please see the title page template form found under "Forms and Resources"). The form of the final project should be appropriate to the field. For example, if your area of study does not usually have an abstract on papers, then the final project does not need to have one. However, it can be helpful to provide people with a brief summary or overview of the project even if it is done as a separate document. For projects in the sciences where the length of abstracts is often constrained, it can be helpful to provide people with a longer and less technical version of an abstract to help orient readers from outside the area of study. It is also helpful to have a table of contents for the report, even if the area of study does not require it.

Honors Review

Question: How should I prepare for the Honors Review? In most areas of study, the Honors Review presentation of the project should be 20-40 minutes with time after that for questions. It is a good idea to practice this presentation at least once for your director, preferably in the room in which you will be giving your presentation. You should also make sure that you bring a copy of the Recommendation for Honors form, with the top half completed, to the presentation. Be sure to consult with your Honors Review Committee to verify the format of your Honors Review.

Question: If the Honors Review Committee fails to approve my project, is there anything I can do? If the Honors Review Committee has decided not to approve your project, there is nothing you can do. A project cannot proceed to the next level without the Honors Review Committee agreeing that it is worthy of honors in the area of study. For this reason, you are encouraged to discuss the standards for honors in your area of study with your Honors Review Committee early in the planning process.

Question: What does it mean when an Honors Review Committee approves a project with qualifications? At the Honors Review, the committee has the option to approve a project with qualifications. That means that the committee has some substantial, but potentially repairable, problems with the project. Approval with qualifications means that you now have a small window of time in which to address the concerns to the best of your ability. The window of time is typically 1-2 weeks, essentially until a few days before you need to submit the Comprehensive Summary to the Collegiate Review Committee. At the end of that window you will be required to submit the revised version of the project to the Honors Review Committee for their consideration. They may or may not request that you repeat the oral presentation portion. However, the Honors Review Committee generally chooses to read a revised version of the written document. After reviewing the revised project, the Honors Review Committee will decide whether or not you have addressed their concerns. If you have, then the committee members will sign and send a document, written by the director, to the chair of the ASC indicating that the qualifications have been satisfied and that your project may now proceed to the Collegiate Review.

You should be aware that there is no guarantee that the Honors Review Committee will approve the project after your revisions. If you choose to revise your project, the recommended course of action is for you to approach each member of the committee and ask what each one’s concerns are with your project . Once you have a list of concerns, sit down with your project director and determine which ones you can address and how they can be addressed.

Collegiate Review

Question: How do I select my Collegiate Review Committee? The Collegiate Review Committee is chaired by an ASC member and will also include an at-large faculty member and the project’s director. You will recommend to the ASC the faculty member at-large and indicate this recommendation on the Recommendation for Honors form. Prior to making this recommendation you must get permission from the faculty member at-large. The faculty member at-large cannot be from your area of study(s) or major(s). The Deans are considered to be part of the faculty and may therefore be selected for your committee. Since W & J is a Liberal Arts College, the ASC would like to encourage you to think broadly in choosing your committee.

Question: Who schedules the Collegiate Review and a room to hold it in? You, as the student pursuing honors, need to find a time for your Collegiate Review and find and schedule a room to hold it in. Your director can/should help with finding a room. This turns out to be a lot more work than you would expect. You may find it necessary to change one or more of your committee members in order to find a time when you can hold this review. That is fine, but you should run the final list past the chair of the ASC to make sure it is still acceptable.

Question: How should I prepare for the Collegiate Review? Like the Honors Review, the Collegiate Review presentation of the project should be 20-40 minutes with time after that for questions. The Honors Review presentation will probably need to be revised, if not completely rewritten, with a broader audience in mind before it is given for the largely nonspecialist audience. You should prepare your presentation for the Collegiate Review Committee with the assumption that not everyone will have read or understood the project thoroughly. This is a good rule of thumb for most presentations; however, it is particularly true for the Collegiate Review, because, since this review is a public presentation, some people may attend who have not received any written documentation of your work. And, since the Collegiate Review is a public presentation, others may attend as well. It is a good idea to practice this presentation at least once for your director, preferably in the room in which you will be giving your presentation. You should also make sure that you bring a copy of the Collegiate Review Committee form, with the top half completed, to the presentation. This form should be given to the ASC representative, so that it can be used to record the Collegiate Review Committee’s decision about your project.

Question: Can I give the same presentation at the Collegiate Review that I gave at the Honors Review? See the answer to the preceding question.

Question: My project was in a non-English modern language. Do I have to translate the whole thing for the Collegiate Review? No, you do not have to translate the whole document. What you must do is provide the Collegiate Review Committee with a Comprehensive Summary in English that might exceed the 750-word stated limit. This summary of your project will help prepare the committee members. As a courtesy you might offer to discuss the project briefly with them prior to the presentation in case they have questions. If possible you might try to select committee members with some familiarity with the language your project is written in so that they have the option of trying to read the project if they want to. In addition, the presentation for the Collegiate Review, unlike that of the Honors Review, should be done in English. You should explain this to the Collegiate Review committee members when you ask them whether they will serve on your committee.

Question: What does it mean for the Collegiate Review to be a public presentation? Because one of the goals of a liberal-arts education is for a student to communicate effectively to a broad audience outside his or her own area of study, the Collegiate Review will be advertised on the College’s website and will be open to the public. Please personally invite friends and family, as you wish.

Question: Why do I have to turn in two copies of the written portion of the project with the "Honors Report of the Collegiate Review Committee”? Your Honors Review Committee will determine what needs to be submitted as written documentation of your honors project. The copies of the written work turned in at then end of the process will be bound and will become part of the Washington & Jefferson College Library’s permanent collection of honors projects. These copies of the project must be turned in to the ASC chair.

When Trouble Arises

Question: Are there any exceptions to the honors procedures? If something goes wrong unexpectedly, is there any flexibility in the due dates? Exceptions to any of the honors procedures must be requested from the ASC by the departmental chair or program director concerned, and must be approved by the ASC on the basis of a written motion which would become part of the student's project record.