Honors Program

Undergraduate Education Honors Program
Department Information
350 MSRB
Advisement Center
2500 WSC

Honors Program Director: Spencer Magleby; Professor; Fulton College of Engineering and Technology
Honors Program Administrator: Julie C. Radle 
Honors Program Advisement Manager: Vika Filimoe'atu

Participation in Honors

The Honors Program provides a rich and challenging experience for capable and motivated undergraduate students. Its purpose is to broaden and deepen the educational experience of students, to develop the intellectual integrity and moral character that define disciple-scholarship. An Honors education is not merely a more intensive general education or a more strenuous program in a major. Rather, it grounds students in broader interdisciplinary inquiry that strengthens leadership and encourages the integration of faith, intellect, and character.

The Honors Program is comprised of three dimensions: Great Questions, Experiential Learning, and the Honors Thesis. The central focus of the program is the study of big or "great" questions. Through coursework, research, writing, and hands-on experiences, students explore interdisciplinary approaches and consider ways in which "unexpected connections" not only can be found between different disciplines, but also can lead to a deeper understanding of the questions we seek to answer. The Honors Program invites students to satisfy university core requirements through the Honors Interdisciplinary Core where they can begin to consider the questions that drive our inquiry, and indeed, lie behind every bit of knowledge we study and learn.

"University Honors" is a distinction awarded to all graduates of BYU who have met the Honors requirements as described below. This prestigious designation is recorded on the university diploma, on the official transcript of grades, and in the graduation program. It is widely recognized as an indication of exceptional academic achievement. Although it is hoped that students will choose to complete all of the requirements for the University Honors designation, those who do not intend to do so are welcome to participate in the Honors Program to whatever extent they choose. All students are invited to consider Honors as a way to achieve the quality academic experiences they seek. Students may register for Honors courses at any time during their undergraduate years without necessarily intending to complete all the Honors graduation requirements.

There are no special admissions criteria for participation in the Honors Program, and all students are invited to consider Honors as a way to broaden and deepen their educational experience at BYU. However, it takes careful planning to complete all program requirements. Typically, interested first-year students begin by completing an enrollment form that may be obtained from the Honors Advisement Center in 350D MSRB after a brief orientation. Then during their second year, students formally commit to the program and, with the help of the advisement center, begin to construct a more concrete plan for graduation with University Honors. Reasonable accommodations can be made for transfer students who wish to join the program. Any student at the university is welcome to take Honors courses that suit their interests and educational objectives.

Facilities and Opportunities Available to Honors Students

The Honors Program is housed in the historic Maeser Building on the southwest part of campus. This quiet corner is surrounded by beautiful grounds and wooded areas. The building is named after Karl G. Maeser, the first principal of Brigham Young Academy (the school that later became Brigham Young University). A bronze statue of Karl G. Maeser stands at the building's east entrance. Constructed in 1911, the Maeser Building is the oldest building on the current campus. The building was restored in 1985 with modern electrical and ventilation systems but retains its historic architecture and decoration, its marble halls richly decorated with oak and brass trim.

Facilities for honors students in the Maeser Building include the Honors Reading Room in 150 MSRB, with study tables and a small library of reference works and classics; the Honors Student Lounge in 102 MSRB, where students can meet for informal discussions; an art gallery in the lower-floor hall; the Honors Advisement Center in 350 MSRB, where students receive counseling about their honors education; and the Martha Jane Knowlton Coray Lecture Hall in 321 MSRB, where classes, lectures, and musical concerts are held. Another Honors Reading Room is located in 3770 Harold B. Lee Library.

The Honors Program sponsors lectures, concerts, symposia, socials, and a Late Summer Honors program. It also offers competetive scholarships. Students can participate in intercampus events with Honors students from other universities and colleges, and are invited to participate with the Honors Student Advisory Council, a group of student representatives who assist in policy development, social activities, and academic functions of the Honors Program. Honors students are recognized during University graduation exercises at the Honors Graduation luncheon, and in the graduation program.

Who Should Participate in Honors?

Any student who wishes to broaden their education through interdisciplinary study and deepen it by producing original research in their home discipline should consider participating in the Honors Program. Especially welcome are students who seek both knowledge and wisdom, who want to use their intellect to build their faith, and their faith to strengthen their intellect, and who bring a sense of curiosity, humility, and courage to their education. The most successful Honors students see learning as a way of being, not as an instrument to a credential or a job. They do not worry if the program requirements will be too hard; rather, they see their BYU experience as a time to continually avail themselves of the rich and diverse offerings on campus of concerts, plays, films, lectures, art, science exhibitions, and athletic events. And they enjoy and benefit from pursuing all of these things in a community of senior (faculty) and junior (student) scholars.

Overview of Requirements for Graduation with University Honors

This section provides a brief overview of the requirements to graduate with University Honors. Detailed explanations of each requirement follow this section. The staff in the Honors Advisement Center, 350 MSRB, (801) 422-5497, is available on a walk-in basis to answer questions about the program. To graduate with University Honors, a student must be an admitted daytime student in good academic standing, and:

  1. Complete an honors enrollment form.
  2. Complete the honors commitment interview.
  3. Complete the honors curriculum.
  4. Complete the honors great questions essay.
  5. Complete the honors experiential learning requirement.
  6. Complete the senior graduation review.
  7. Complete the honors thesis requirement.
  8. Submit a graduation portfolio.

The requirements for graduation with University Honors complement both major and university core education. The Honors curriculum includes and enhances the university core components; the Honors thesis requirement enhances the major education component.

Detailed Explanations of Requirements for Graduation with University Honors

Honors Enrollment Meeting

Students who wish to explore the Honors Program should attend a brief group enrollment meeting as early as possible in their undergraduate program. Consultation with the Honors Advisement Center allows the Honors Program personnel to be aware of students' plans to better assist with registration, help develop plans toward graduation, and consult on Honors program requirements. The enrollment process is the door to a community of well-rounded, enthusiastic scholars and to all of the activities and programs the Honors Program offers.

Honors Commitment Interview

Students who intend to graduate with University Honors will submit a letter of intent in preparation for an interview usually held during the student's third or fourth semester at BYU. Accommodations can be made for transfer students and students joining late. Newly committed students will be recognized at the Fall Honors Opening Evening.

Honors Curriculum Requirement

The central focus of the Honors curriculum is the study of big or "great" questions (e.g., justice, human agency, relationships, ethics). Courses are designed to model different disciplinary approaches to Great Questions, to explore interdisciplinary approaches, and to consider ways in which "unexpected connections" can be found between disciplines, leading to a deeper understanding of the questions we seek to answer.

To fulfill the Honors curriculum requirements, students must complete 14-17 credit hours as follows:

  • HONRS 120 (2 credits): Introduction to Great Questions
  • UNIV 291, 292, and 293 (3 credits each): The Honors Interdisciplinary Core, comprised of three - - Unexpected Connections courses. Each course will simultaneously fill Honors core curriculum requirements and the GE requirements in two designated disciplines. A "B" grade or better in these courses is required for Honors credit.
  • ​HONRS 320 (3 credits): Great Questions Tutorial. See additional information below.
  • HONRS 390 (3 credits): Experiential Learning. See additional information below. 

Honors Great Questions Requirement

The capstone to the Honors coursework (HONRS 320) will provide group and individual instruction in researching and writing the Great Question essay, a multi-disciplinary essay on an approved question of the student's choosing. Students are expected to incorporate three different and sufficiently disparate disciplinary areas into the essay, usually including the student's home discipline. This essay is not a second honors thesis; it is fundamentally different in that it broadens where the honors thesis tends to narrow a topic.

By "Great Questions" we mean the big questions every discipline at the university addresses in some way and no one discipline can fully answer. Some of these are old, frequently posed questions for which the answer has proven maddeningly elusive (e.g., the question of justice, of human agency and freedom, of our relationships with and obligations toward each other, other forms of life, and the physical world in which we live). Others have emerged more recently, often provoked by new discoveries and developments in technology (e.g., questions of medical ethics, use of natural resources including very powerful ones like nuclear energy, etc.). Students will explore various aspects of their question, including implications, stakes and context, as they consider ways of thinking and reasoning from various perspectives to better understand their topic.

Honors Experiential Learning Requirement

Typically during their 2nd or 3rd year at the university, Honors students will participate in an approved, substantive, "hands-on" experience that augments their BYU education and expands learning to the world outside the classroom. To fill the Experiential Learning requirement (HONRS 390), students may serve as an Honors Peer Mentor in HONRS 120 or as a teaching assistant in a UNIV course, participate in an approved international study or internship experience, or participate in an education-related service initiative.

Senior Graduation Review

Progress on the thesis and other graduation requirements will be reviewed during the senior interview with an Honors advisor.

Honors Thesis Requirement

The Honors thesis requirement gives students the opportunity to participate in original research or creative work in the discipline of their major. Honors students typically complete the thesis requirement during their junior and senior years after they have obtained sufficient training in their major to conduct research in a specialized academic field. Generally stated, each student consults with the Department Honors Coordinator to choose a faculty advisor in the department of his or her major and, in consultation with the advisor, chooses a thesis topic. But this process can work differently in different fields. For instance, a student who works in a faculty member's lab can work with that faculty member to identify a portion or an expansion of the research being conducted that could become the student's thesis. Another student may fulfill major requirements with a capstone paper or project that could also serve as or become her Honors thesis. Yet another student produces his thesis from an academic or a creative project he first proposed to a faculty member to win an ORCA grant.

Students should complete significant course work within the subject area of the thesis (usually at least 30 credit hours, several of which are from 300- or 400-level major courses). The thesis is intended to acquaint students firsthand and in depth with the type of scholarly work that characterizes the field they intend to pursue professionally. For these reasons, only under rare circumstances is an Honors thesis topic outside the major area approved. (In most cases students who complete a thesis outside the major do so in fields cognate to their majors.)

Before students begin work on an Honors thesis, they attend an Honors Program thesis orientation then approach the Department Honors Coordinator to assemble a thesis committee consisting of the student, faculty advisor, the Department Honors Coordinator, and a faculty second reader. Each member of the committee signs a thesis contract that specifies the student's chosen topic and direction. Second, students submit to the Honors Program Office a formal written thesis proposal that has been approved by all members of the thesis committee and that is now ready for final approval from the Honors Program Office. Guidelines for writing the proposal are available in the Honors Advisement Center (350D MSRB) or electronically at http://honors.byu.edu. Students can request financial support as a part of the thesis proposal. Many Honors students obtain competitive undergraduate research grants from BYU's Office of Research and Creative Activities for Honors thesis work. Also, many professors and departments have research funding that can be devoted to research on an Honors thesis. Personnel in the Honors Program can help students explore the various opportunities available to support their work on an Honors thesis.

After completing thesis research and writing the thesis, each student must schedule and complete a thesis defense. The defense committee consists of the thesis advisor, a faculty referee, and the Department Honors Coordinator who serves as a representative of the Honors Program administration. After the thesis defense is completed and all final changes are incorporated into the thesis, the Honors Program will have the thesis bound and add it to the collection of Honors theses housed in the Harold B. Lee Library Honors Reading Room (3770 HBLL).

Graduation Portfolio Summarizing the Honors Experiences

The Honors portfolio is a record of a student's culminating experiences in each of the three dimensions of the Honors Program. It is submitted for review when the final thesis draft is due and contains:

  • The Great Question essay
  • A reflective summary of the student's experiential learning experience
  • The Honors thesis