Mission and History

The L&S Honors Program provides a community and support for students who wish to engage in and achieve Honors within the College of Letters & Science. L&S Honors is the largest of the Wisconsin Honors Programs.

The Letters & Science Honors Program aims to put into action the values of a liberal arts education and enhance the experience of highly engaged undergraduate students by:

  • facilitating small Honors-level courses that foster intensive learning;
  • encouraging collaboration between students and faculty;
  • supporting opportunities to engage in research and scholarship; 
  • providing individualized and comprehensive academic advising;
  • creating a sense of community and inclusion among students;
  • promoting leadership, service, and engaged citizenship with respect for all.

Through this work, we support the broader missions of the College of Letters & Science and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The Honors Program is enriched by the diversity of its members. There is no single Honors student profile. Valuing each individual and opposing social injustice and racism at all levels are fundamental Honors values.

On May 18, 1958, a group of 172 University of Wisconsin-Madison students presented the President of the University, E. B. Fred, a petition charging that the University of Wisconsin had “failed to challenge its students sufficiently” and calling on the faculty to help address this failure by “challenging us more fully.” You can view the text of the Founding Petition from 1958 and the petition’s student signatories. Less than one year later, the faculty of the College of Letters and Science responded by establishing the L&S Honors Program, with instruction beginning in the fall of 1960.

The subsequent years have seen over 7,000 students graduate with Honors degrees from the College of Letters & Science. For most of its history, the Program offered a single path to an Honors degree that required completion of 40 credits of Honors course work as well as an Honors Senior Thesis. Students participating in the Program were challenged inside the classroom with rigorous coursework in small, faculty-led classes taught at an advanced level as well as outside the classroom through extensive research opportunities.

In 1997, a new degree structure was introduced, offering a choice of three Honors degree paths: Honors in the Liberal Arts (requiring 24 credits), Honors in the Major (requirements vary by department), and Comprehensive Honors (completion of both Honors in the Liberal Arts and Honors in the Major). This new degree structure provides Honors students with flexibility in their Honors education: students may focus on a liberal arts curriculum, advanced training and research in their major discipline, or a combination of both by pursuing the Comprehensive Honors degree, the highest degree awarded by the College.

As of 2009, the L&S Honors Program invites every student admitted to the College of Letters & Science to apply to pursue Honors in the Liberal Arts. The Program distinguishes itself from the large majority of Honors programs and Honors colleges across the country by not pre-selecting students based on grades and test results.