Honors Class Types, Projects, and Grading

All students in an Honors Only seminar or discussion section complete the same work and earn Honors credit. These classes are:

  • Reserved for students declared in the Honors Program.
  • Low-enrollment seminars (usually 20 students or fewer) or small, professor-taught discussion sections of larger classes.
  • Designed to encourage active participation and intellectual engagement.

Examples of what can make Honors Only courses particularly motivating and enriching include:

  • Students gain additional insight into the professor’s background, research interests, and expertise.
  • Students take an active role in selecting topics and leading class discussions.
  • Students engage with other highly motivated learners.
  • Students are asked to synthesize knowledge and apply the knowledge/skills to real-world situations.
  • Readings come from primary sources, articles, and academic manuscripts instead of textbooks.
  • Projects are individualized and research-oriented.

See information about available funding for Honors Only courses.

All students in an Accelerated Honors course or discussion section complete the same work and earn Honors credit. These classes are:

  • Open to both Honors and non-Honors students, but may have other enrollment criteria.
  • Accelerated with respect to the amount or depth of content covered.

Characteristics of an Accelerated Honors experience courses can include:

  • Students are asked to do more difficult problem sets or read highly theoretical texts.
  • Students synthesize knowledge and apply techniques/skills to new areas at a faster pace than in the non-Honors curriculum. Several departments offer Accelerated Honors courses that allow qualified students to study material that is regularly taught over a two-semester sequence, for example.
  • Students complete a particularly in-depth capstone experience at the junior or senior level.

When a course is offered as Honors Optional, students can select Honors as part of their enrollment and then complete separate Honors components of the course to earn Honors credit. Honors Optional projects are:

  • Meant to enrich the learning experience and, ideally, increase faculty-student interaction without causing an undue burden to either side.
  • Designed by professors, sometimes in collaboration with students. Honors requirements for a given course may change from term to term.
  • Separate from graded components of the course. Honors credit is earned on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis and should not negatively or positively impact the grade that a student earns based on regular course expectations.

We strongly encourage these best practices when teaching a course with Honors Optional enrollment:

  • Include information in the syllabus about the Honors Optional project requirements and how students taking the course for Honors Optional credit should connect with you.
    • Suggested phrasing: “Honors Program students may take this course for Honors Optional credit. Students should add or drop the Honors Option by following the steps outlined on the Honors Program website. To earn Honors credit in this course, students will be required to …”
  • Early in the semester, require a low-stakes Honors assignment so that students enrolled in the Honors option can demonstrate their engagement. Use this opportunity to remind students who are not committed to completing the Honors work to remove Honors from their enrollment.
  • Create an opt-in opportunity for students pursuing the Honors Option to meet each other early in the semester. For example, you might invite Honors-seeking students to briefly stay after class in the first or second week to talk through the Honors project requirements and exchange contact information with other Honors students in the course.

A Green Sheet is a formal, student-initiated agreement that allows a student to earn Honors credit in a non-Honors course. In collaboration with the instructor, the student designs and completes an Honors project that enriches their experience in the class. Faculty are encouraged to consider students’ requests to engage more deeply in a course via this process, but faculty are not obligated to accept a student’s request for a Green Sheet.

The following points may be helpful to remember when a student approaches you about a Green Sheet:

  • To be eligible to complete a Green Sheet, students must be in the Honors Program and have already successfully completed an Honors course at UW-Madison. First-semester freshmen cannot earn Honors credit through a Green Sheet.
  • Students must submit Green Sheet proposals to the L&S Honors Program by the mid-semester deadline and gain official approval from Honors in order to receive Honors credit.
  • Students will receive their final grade based on the regular components of the class. The Green Sheet project should be separate from other course assignments and simply enables the student to earn Honors credit.

Read more about Green Sheet proposals from the student’s side.

If you are open to supporting multiple students with Honors projects, you can help streamline the process for students and reduce administrative work by setting up your course as Honors Optional.

The Honors Program’s guiding principle for grading is that no student should be disadvantaged through having undertaken (or attempted) an Honors project. Honors courses and projects are not intended to be “harder” as much as they are designed to be more engaging and enriching. This principle is affirmed by the Faculty Honors Committee.

In all cases, faculty are encouraged to clearly articulate grading policy in their syllabi and explain it at the beginning of the semester.

Honors Only and Accelerated Honors Sections:

All students in the Honors section should be required to complete the same work and will be graded with the same (Honors) syllabus. Honors credit cannot be removed for individual students, though the course will only count toward Honors degree requirements if the student earns a B or better.

Honors Only discussion sections frequently have different assignments or assessments than the non-Honors sections of the course. Honors students may, for instance, complete a group project, a presentation, or community activity instead of (or in addition to) a standard writing assignment or test. Just as there is great flexibility in designing Honors assignments and courses, instructors are free to select the grading options and rubrics that best reflect their course activities and desired learning outcomes.

Honors Optional and Green Sheet Projects:

Honors Optional work should be separate from graded components of the course. Honors credit is earned on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis and should not factor into the student’s final letter grade.

The “Q” grade process (see below) helps ensure that students do not earn Honors in a course for which they did not earn it.

Q Grades:

Some students will elect Honors Optional credit or propose a Green Sheet project, but not satisfactorily complete the Honors work. If possible, the student should remove their Honors enrollment before final grades are assigned. If Honors has not been officially removed, you should enter the temporary grade of “Q” (Question) in place of the letter grade.

In order to get a letter grade (and graduate), the student will then need to complete a Course Change Request to remove Honors and submit that to L&S Academic Deans’ Service. After their Honors status is updated, you will be notified and should then update the grade roster with the student’s earned letter grade.

Senior Honors Theses: 

We encourage faculty thesis mentors to clearly articulate to students what will be expected of them to earn an A, or any other grade, on their Honors thesis project. When a student has completed the first term of their thesis (681), the faculty mentor should post a “P” grade, signifying “progress”, if progress has, in fact, been made. When the 682 grade is posted, the Registrar’s Office will initiate a process to replace the “P” grade from 681 with the grade assigned to 682. It is not possible to earn different grades for the two courses in the thesis sequence; the project must be granted a single final grade.

In the case that an Honors student is not able to complete their thesis work satisfactorily, please consult with the L&S Honors Program. There are options, such as converting 681 to 699, that we may encourage you and the student to consider rather than awarding a poor grade for an unfinished thesis.

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How do I list my course for Honors? (For curricular reps: What happens in SIS?)

Offering a course for Honors for an upcoming semester is a relatively simple update to make. Faculty are encouraged to work with their curricular representative to indicate which section(s) should be made available for Honors credit and what type of Honors section it will be.

Honors Only:

  • When your curricular specialist sets up courses through SIS, they may add a section for “Honors only” or “HON” (either a discussion section in a larger course, or a small Honors-only seminar). Useful info can be found on page 32 and 112-116 of this document: https://learn.sis.wisc.edu/training/uploads/CurricularUpdate.pdf.
  • Honors Only sections should include a section-level requisite that students be declared in the Honors Program. The requisite is 000003 (Declared in Honors program) will restrict enrollment to declared Honors students. If you need a more specific enrollment restriction, please contact honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu.

Honors Optional:

  • Curricular specialists can designate course section(s) as “HIA.” For courses with multiple sections, we recommend adding the HIA option to all sections of the course.
  • When a course is set up as Honors Optional, individual students can opt into the Honors Option during the enrollment process using Course Search & Enroll. Students can edit their official Honors Optional status as appropriate through the twelfth week of the semester.

What should I keep in mind when developing Honors projects?

We encourage the following best practices for Honors work:

  • Provide options for projects or prompts for students to choose from, so that they may engage in a project (or multiple smaller projects) that leverages their individual interests.
  • When feasible, utilize group projects so that Honors students can collaborate and learn from one another.
  • Consider less traditional assignment formats such as a creative writing piece, a performance or a media project that applies course content or themes.
  • Encourage cross-disciplinary thinking, especially as it allows a student to explore connections between the course and their long-term goals.
  • Help students understand discipline-specific research processes and engage with appropriate primary and secondary literature.

As part of completing Honors degree requirements, many Honors students will take Honors courses outside of their primary areas of interest. Honors Optional courses in particular are meant to provide students flexibility and opportunity for deeper academic engagement as they complete their Honors degree and should not necessarily require additional familiarity or skill in the subject area. Alternatively, some Honors in the Major curricula require that specific courses in the major be taken for Honors credit. If you are uncertain whether this applies to your course, please check with Honors or your program’s student services coordinator.

What types of activities can students do for Honors Optional and Green Sheet projects?

Here are sample activities for Honors Optional and Green Sheet projects:


  • Students read selections from books and/or journals or an additional text that covers regular course topics in greater depth. Faculty meet with students from time to time to discuss these readings and have them give oral reports or write short responses.
  • Students relate current topics in the news to course material by meeting with faculty to discuss how each week’s headlines or articles related to course content.


  • Students research a topic and make a presentation in class or prepare a handout to be distributed to class members.
  • Students construct an annotated bibliography or write a research prospectus.
  • Students get involved in a research project or assist in activities and/or community service projects related to course topics.

Participating & Making

  • Students create something (a computer program, film, musical composition, podcast, website, short story or play).
  • Students prepare a model, demonstration or other visual aid for possible use in class.
  • Students learn to analyze data in the field you are studying (e.g., statistical packages or creating charts).
  • Students expand and improve a course project or paper beyond what is already required for the course.

Visiting, Listening & Watching

  • Students attend lectures, films, or departmental colloquia on a topic relevant to the course.
  • Students compare a theatrical or film production of a novel or play to the original story, or compare an interpretation of an event or person to reality.
  • Students visit laboratories or clinics to observe ongoing research or treatment activities and attend meetings of those involved in research.
  • Students visit museums or sites and discuss what they learned (e.g., analyze the physics of an exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, study a work of art at the Chazen Museum, or tour Dane County to study glaciated and unglaciated regions).

Examples of previous student projects can also be found on the Green Sheet Information page.

What is the B or Better Rule?

Honors students must earn at least a B in an Honors course in order for the course to count towards an Honors degree requirement. This is true both in Honors in the Liberal Arts and Honors in the Major. If a student completes Honors work but earns less than a B in the course, the “H” designation will remain on their transcript to represent that Honors engagement, but DARS will automatically ensure the course does not count toward Honors degree requirements.

How can I share or get feedback on my course ideas?

If you develop a unique and rewarding Honors project, please consider sharing it with us so that we might share it with other faculty as they work to develop the curriculum. Honors staff are also happy to discuss Honors course and project ideas with faculty. Ideas and inquiries can be emailed to honors@honors.ls.wisc.edu.