A Few Things to Consider

Why Join the L&S Honors Program?

Becoming an Honors student would allow you to take advantage of many opportunities, including taking small, intensive, high-powered courses, usually taught by professors, in which your classmates will be highly-motivated and high-achieving students like yourself.

Before You Register

Before you register, we hope you will spend some time reflecting on what exactly you hope to get out of your liberal arts education here in Madison. What does it mean to be a liberally-educated person? It does not mean taking a certain number of courses. It does not mean meeting distribution requirements. It means engaging the world and challenging yourself to grow in the process.

As an Honors student, your goal should not just be to meet the minimum requirements for graduation, but rather to push beyond those minima to discover your own highest talents. Look at each requirement not as something the University is forcing you to do, but as an opportunity you can embrace for its own sake: one that will hone your talents and broaden your experience of the world.

As an Honors student, for instance, you should not be satisfied merely to be exempt from the “Basic Composition Requirement”; you should ask yourself how you can become a better writer, since no one enters college writing as well as they could. While you’re at it, although the UW has no “Basic Speaking Requirement,” you should set yourself the goal of learning how to talk as well as how to write: don’t sit in the back of your classrooms as a passive, silent observer. Educated people know how to express themselves, whether on paper or in person. Seek out every opportunity you can for improving these skills, whether in class or over meals with your friends.

You should regard the “Foreign Language Requirement” as a chance to expose yourself to an entirely different linguistic universe, an alternative way of thinking about the world that can give you powerful new perspectives on yourself and your own culture. The same is true of the “Ethnic Studies Requirement,” which encourages you to learn about the diverse cultures of people whose lives and historical experiences are too often overlooked when people speak of “the American experience.” Learning about peoples and cultures, languages and histories that differ radically from your own is a crucial part of becoming an educated person. 

Breadth Requirements

As for the general “breadth” requirements of the College of Letters & Science, which ask you to take a certain number of credits of Natural Science, Social Science, and Humanities courses, we hope you’ll regard these as the very heart of your liberal education. You should be as creative as possible in the ways you meet them. You have come to one of the greatest universities in the world, which means that you can find classes on this campus dealing with virtually every aspect of the human experience and the natural world. Do not squander this opportunity by taking courses only on subjects you already know, or — worse yet — by taking courses you think will be easy.

Browse the Course Guide 

Browse Course Guide and ask yourself what you don’t know. Can you read and enjoy a play by Shakespeare? Can you explain how a futures market works? Can you figure out ecological relationships among plants and animals when you visit a prairie or a wetland? Can you appreciate the complexities of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Can you narrate the rise and fall of the Roman Empire? Can you interpret the ways in which different conceptions of gender have affected the lives of women and men in different cultures? Can you describe how American political institutions differ from those of other countries? Can you discuss the implications of Plato’s Republic for modern democracy? You could spend a lifetime exploring the riches of this university and still only scratch the surface, so make your choices thoughtfully.

There’s More to College Than Just Taking Courses

Finally, don’t forget that there’s a lot more to college than just taking courses. Some of the most important things you will learn here will come not from professors, but from your fellow students; not from formal class work, but from the informal activities you pursue with friends and on your own. An Honors student who concentrates only on courses and who worries only about getting a high grade point average is missing much of what UW-Madison has to offer. Be serious about your play; try to make it as important to your education as your academic work is. Join clubs and organizations. Engage in community service. Consider internships. Find a Study Abroad program with a unique service learning component in a country that you have never been to.  Becoming involved, working with other people, learning how to be effective as a contributing adult in a world that will benefit from everything you can do for it — these should be among the most important lessons you take away from your UW education.

To repeat: before you choose among the Honors degree options and the courses listed on this website, spend some time thinking and daydreaming about the person you want to be, the life you want to lead, the things you’d like to contribute to the world, and the people and communities with whom you’d like to share your talents. Keep track of dreams and values like these, and you will be well on your way towards an education that will continue for the rest of your life. 

We hope you will consider being a part of the L&S Honors Program!

Do you still have questions? If so, please call (608) 262-2984 during normal business hours (8:30 am-4:30 pm, Monday through Friday) or email honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu.