For the Love of Learning: The Benefits of the Honors Program at UND 

When most people think of an Honors Program at a university, an academically rigorous program for “advanced” students is what comes to mind. People often associate Honors Programs with high-achieving students and assume that such programs are, by nature, more difficult than the so-called “normal” programs of study. While this may hold true for other universities, it is not the case at UND. While the UND Honors Program is not necessarily more difficult than any other program, it is just different. Typical programs of study include a hefty list of required courses that focus on a single discipline and are meant to foster a well-grounded understanding of the topic and prepare students for a related career. At UND, however, the Honors Program does not follow one topic of study. As the mission statement on the Honors Program webpage states, “the UND Honors Program creates a holistic, multidisciplinary, student-centered educational experience that prepares the next generation of citizen-scholars from today’s exceptional students.” It is instead a dynamic experience that is really meant to be adapted to the students within it.   

The Honors Program is also unique in that it is essentially an add-on to a student’s main course of study. The Honors Program can be completed in conjunction with any major and requires only 24 credits, making it similar to completing a minor. Another unique aspect of the Honors Program is its flexibility; because the program admits students from all majors, there is no specific topic of study that is explored at length. Instead, the program offers a wide variety of class topics that often change from semester to semester. You might be asking yourself why you would take an extra 24 credits on seemingly nothing in particular, but there are several exceptional benefits to doing so that may not be obvious at first glance. For instance, there are plenty of opportunities for independent study and research as well as individual experiences. With the catch-all Honors 260 course, students can earn one Honors credit for every 15 hours they spend participating in a personal experience such as an internship, a volunteering opportunity, peer mentoring, shadowing, or tutoring. This is an incredibly flexible way for students to earn credits while getting involved in the community, on campus, or in their chosen field.  

Additionally, most Honors courses satisfy essential studies requirements and many of them are at the 300 level, both of which contribute to UND’s general graduation requirements. Several Honors courses are also discipline-specific or are simply Honors sections of classes that are already required for a major, allowing students to complete Honors credits and major credits simultaneously. As a result, the Honors Program can seamlessly integrate with any major and can actively contribute to necessary requirements for graduation.   

In addition to its flexibility, the Honors Program includes several other benefits. For instance, Honors scholarships are available and usually around 25% of incoming students receive one. The typical Honors scholarship is dispersed over the course of one’s college career, assuming the average four years of study required to complete an undergraduate degree. Honors students also have access to the Honors Lounge in Columbia Hall, complete with study areas and a conference room. One of the most practical and beloved benefits is priority registration. This simply means that honors students are allowed to register for classes before the majority of other students. This seemingly small benefit can be the difference between an unfavorable class schedule and a fantastic one. Registering early means there are more options for professors, class times, and course topics. Popular courses and class times often fill up early and it is a major bummer to miss out on a class because it was full, making this benefit a highly attractive one.   

These benefits make up the more technical, practical reasons to join the Honors Program, but there are other reasons as well. With no one topic of study, you may be wondering what Honors classes even entail. To graduate with a certificate in Honors, there are only two specifically required courses, either Honors 101 or 102 and Honors 489, which consists of a senior project. When joining the Honors Program, students choose a path that they would like to follow. The two paths are Research Scholars and Leaders in Action. As inferred from the names, Research Scholars, or Honors 101, involves the development of skills necessary for responsible research in any field. Leaders in Action, or Honors 102, focuses on developing the necessary skills needed to be a thoughtful leader. Students are encouraged to choose the path that is more closely aligned with their major or desired career or that simply interests them more if they aren not quite sure what they would like to study. In addition to one of these first two initial Honors courses, students are required to complete Honors 489, the senior project. The senior project is normally completed towards the end of a student’s college career, when they have developed a deeper understanding of their primary program of study. The senior project is of the student’s choosing but is most often related to the student’s major and is generally an extension of work done for a previous class.   

Other than those two courses, students are allowed to choose any Honors course that interests them, whether it be even remotely related to their primary field of study or not. The fun part about Honors courses is that they can focus on quite literally any topic, from cult classic films, to pirates, to medical humanities, to science fiction writing, to feminist philosophy, and so much more. Honors courses are as diverse as the students who take them, making for the perfect environment to discover and appreciate new perspectives.  

A key feature of these classes that makes them different from typical university lectures is their small class sizes. Special topic Honors courses or those that are specific to the Honors Program and not simply an Honors section of a normal program of study, usually have around 15-20 students, sometimes even less. These smaller class sizes allow students in the program to become more familiar with peers and to make long-lasting friendships. It also allows professors to get to know their students better, leading to more opportunities for research and making it easier for professors to write letters of recommendation for their students. In addition to this, the Honors Program faculty and staff are supportive, encouraging, and are great at accommodating students’ needs.   

The topics of the classes may seem interesting, and the small class sizes may or may not seem appealing, depending on how you see it, but you might still be wondering about the content of the classes. What actually happens in Honors classes that make them different from other university courses? Remember that Honors courses are not necessarily harder, they are created to explore interdisciplinary topics and to encourage students to think critically and consider multiple perspectives. Typical Honors courses involve reading and writing about different thoughts and ideas and class time is often dominated by the exploration of a question or concept by the class as a whole rather than a descriptive lecture given from a professor. In some Honors courses, the class is almost completely discussion based with questions and prompting from the professor as opposed to a lesson on a given topic. This allows students to explore their own beliefs, thoughts, and reactions to readings and to see things from the point of view of their classmates. Because the Honors Program consists of students from all majors, the discussions are frequently lively and fascinating, as students from different disciplines pick up on a variety of details that their peers in other fields of study might have otherwise overlooked.   

As aforementioned, the topics tend to vary and are often focused on niche subjects. For example, a couple of years ago I took an Honors class focused on science fiction. In that class, we read various science fiction books, watched some science fiction movies, and simply discussed. We attempted to discern, as a class, what made for good science fiction and why it is such a beloved genre in our society. We also considered the plausibility of certain science fiction concepts and discussed possible societal issues that might arise due to controversial topics such as artificial intelligence, big pharma, space exploration, self-driving cars, and gene editing. Conversations were lively with students building off of or responding to each other’s arguments. I did a lot of writing for that class, but the material was so mentally stimulating for me that I did not mind. The papers I wrote for that class were the easiest papers I have ever written, though they were far from the shortest. I adored that course, as well as most other Honors courses that I have taken. To me, they are the rare kind of classes where the conversation is so excellent that you actually find yourself wishing the class period was longer.   

The Honors Program at UND may not be for everyone, but for those who harbor a passion for learning and enjoy exploring and discussing unique topics with their peers, the Honors Program is the perfect addition to a college career.   

Gabrielle Bossart is a Dakota Student Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].