Starting next fall, LSA Honors students will have the option to
earn an Honors degree while exploring interests outside their
concentration.

Philosophy Prof. Stephen Darwall, director of the LSA Honors
program, said the new Honors in the Liberal Arts degree is intended
for Honors students who wish to explore interests outside a single
concentration, as well as for other students whose needs are
incompatible with the requirements of the traditional Honors
concentration.

“A number of students who do Honors in the first two years
decide, sometimes for good academic reasons, not to do Honors
concentrations,” he said. “For example, there are some
concentrations that are difficult to do with a junior year abroad.
… Some want to do some especially challenging work outside
their concentration.”

Students applying for an HLA degree will be required to complete
the first two years of the Honors program, as well as five
HLA-approved courses, including four from outside the
student’s concentration.

The Honors Program will determine which classes are eligible for
HLA credit, but generally any course that is approved for graduate
credit will count toward HLA requirements. In many departments,
400-level classes count as credit for both graduate and
undergraduate students.

HLA applicants will also have to submit a portfolio to be
evaluated by a committee, and maintain an overall grade point
average of 3.4.

Darwall said the new degree would also benefit Honors students
who concentrate in especially competitive departments and would
otherwise be unable to qualify for an Honors degree.

“Some departments are not able to satisfy the demand for
Honors concentrations, and sometimes there are talented students
who are unable to do an Honors concentration in the area of their
concentration, so in the past they haven’t been able to
continue as students in the Honors program in their third or fourth
year,” he said.

Until now, Honors concentrations, most of which require writing
a senior thesis, were the only way a student could achieve the
“Honors” designation on his or her diploma. Starting
next fall, students who complete the HLA requirements will receive
the “Honors” designation, but an Honors concentration
will remain the only way a student can earn “High
Honors” or “Highest Honors,” Darwall wrote in an
e-mail to students currently enrolled in the Honors Program.

But Darwall said this distinction is not based on a judgment of
the relative difficulty of the two degrees.

“(The ‘High Honors’ and ‘Highest
Honors’ designations) are on the basis of a faculty
evaluation of the thesis and its defense, and we don’t really
have anything that plays that role in the HLA,” he said.

It will also be possible for Honors students to complete both an
Honors concentration and an HLA degree.

Darwall said he does not believe the HLA program is less
rigorous than the traditional Honors concentration.

“They provide challenges of different kinds,” he
said. “I can well imagine some courses taken to satisfy the
HLA requirements that are as challenging as any offered at the
University.”

Still, Darwall emphasized that the Honors concentration should
remain the preferred degree program for Honors students, citing its
senior thesis requirement as an important asset for students
interested in deeply pursuing a single subject.

“The HLA doesn’t have the requirement to do original
research with a faculty member and to write a thesis based on that
research,” he said. “The Honors department continues to
believe that the Honors concentration is still the flagship program
for third- and fourth-year students.”

LSA sophomore Amy Duvall said she plans on graduating with an
Honors concentration in political science, but thinks the new
degree will provide flexibility for others.

“I can see it being really applicable to people who want
to double major in two things and want to do honors in both,”
Duvall said.

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