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Honors Program

Purpose, Mission, Values

A branch of the VCU Honors College in Richmond, Virginia, the Honors Program at VCUarts Qatar is designed to meet the needs of academically high-achieving undergraduate students by offering an advanced, rigorous, and student-driven liberal education that cultivates interdisciplinary research, creativity, and experiential learning.  

Students are required to complete a number of honors-level courses in a diverse range of disciplines that will help prepare them for various careers or graduate school. The curriculum provides students with the freedom to pursue honors in the social and behavioral sciences, the natural and physical sciences, the humanities, and fine arts and design, in order to create versatile and open-minded thinkers and makers. 

Students in the program regularly engage in advanced undergraduate research to produce creative and innovative work that integrates concepts and approaches from multiple disciplines, a process that demands risk-taking and the pursuit of novel methods.

Honors students are expected to adapt to changing environments and utilize emerging technologies as well as to develop advanced levels of multicultural literacy and the general capacity to positively impact whatever groups and communities they find themselves in. These expectations form the objectives of the program and serve as a basis for assessment.

The context and mission of the Honors Program at VCUarts Qatar is a synthesis of the many institutions and cultures that surround and support it. As part of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Honors Program is linked to a large, national, and urban public research institution dedicated to the success and well-being of students, faculty, staff, and community. 

As a branch of the VCU Honors College in Richmond, Virginia, our program promotes academic excellence by providing high-achieving students with extraordinary opportunities to realize their potential as part of a distinctive, diverse, inclusive, and supportive community.  

As part of VCU’s School of the Arts, the Honors Program endorses expanding the boundaries of new knowledge by emphasizing research, creative expression, and interdisciplinary collaborations.  

As part of VCUarts Qatar and Qatar Foundation, the program supports the cultivation of a dynamic, intercultural environment of diverse research, learning, and community engagement that propels the holistic development of exemplary artists, designers, and scholars to build vibrant communities and diversified economies that unlock human potential.

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What is an Honors Program?

Honors programs are commonly found in universities in the United States, but they are relatively new to the Gulf region. There are many different types and sizes of programs, but at the core of all honors education lies a commitment to creating stimulating and rigorous pathways for advanced students to go beyond the typical expectations of a university degree. 

One of the most comprehensive and authoritative definitions of “honors” comes from the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC).  

Based in the US, NCHC is widely regarded as the largest and most influential association for honors education in the world. 

They define honors programs in the following way:

“An honors program is the academic unit on a collegiate campus responsible for devising and delivering in-class and extracurricular academic experiences that provide a distinctive learning environment for advanced students. Such programs provide opportunities for broader, deeper, and more complex learning-centered and learner-directed experiences for its students that are not available elsewhere in the university.  

These opportunities are tailored to fit the school’s culture and mission and often occur within a close community of students and faculty. The honors community is composed of carefully selected teachers and students who form a multi-disciplinary cohort dedicated to achieving exceptional learning and high personal standards” (NCHC).

In sum, honors programs are academic enrichment programs created to ensure that the best and brightest students in the university are given an opportunity to pursue a rigorous education.

Graduating with university honors is the highest academic distinction bestowed upon undergraduate students by Virginia Commonwealth University. University honors is often confused with Latin, or “laudatory” honors. While both are praiseworthy achievements, Latin honors is based solely on a student’s cumulative GPA at the time of graduation, while graduating with University Honors signifies that a student not only maintained a high GPA, but also fulfilled a number of additional, rigorous requirements. Graduating with University Honors not only enhances a student’s education, it also signals to prospective employers that a particular student went above and beyond the normal requirements of a college degree, a valuable distinction at a time when university degrees are becoming ever more common, even in developing countries.

Graduating with honors can also be an asset for students who plan on pursuing advanced degrees like a Master’s or PhD, particularly in the application process, which can be highly competitive. Also, ambitious students often discover that consistently choosing to climb steep academic paths can be a somewhat lonely venture, but by joining an honors program, such students can become part of a community of like-minded peers to bond and collaborate with. 

Beyond these more immediate, practical returns, graduating with honors is a lifetime achievement that students can reflect on throughout their entire lives, serving as a reservoir of pride and confidence.

Requirements

To graduate with University Honors, students admitted to the program must earn a total of 24 honors credits by completing a variety of honors-level courses in a range of disciplines in the Liberal Arts & Sciences and in the student’s major course of study. Three of the 24 honors credits must be earned by completing an Honors Experiential Learning Project, an independent, student-driven project that involves applied, hands-on learning that transpires outside the classroom and bridges academic and experiential learning. The number, level, and type of honors courses offered each semester varies. Honors students meet with the Honors Program Administrator each semester to engage in in-depth honors advising to help them curate their schedules from an honors perspective, track and discuss program requirements, map out potential educational pathways, and discuss other honors-related matters.

In honors classes, students share the classroom with regular, non-honors students. However, honors students work closely with their professors to create a unique honors component that typically constitutes 20-25% of the total coursework. Honors components can assume many forms, depending on the nature of the course, the interests of the faculty and the student, and so on.

Honors students must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. If a student’s GPA falls below 3.5 but not below 3.0, the student is given one semester to re-establish the minimum 3.5 requirement. To graduate with University Honors, students must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5, and an honors-course specific GPA of at least 3.2.

Admissions

Applications are accepted and processed once a year. The application deadline is December 1.

Only current VCUarts Qatar students may apply. Students from all degree programs are eligible and encouraged to apply. Students can apply as early as the first semester of their freshman year, and as late as the first semester of their sophomore year.  

Applications from junior and senior level students are not considered, as there is not adequate time remaining in their degree programs to properly complete the honors requirements.

Students must have at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA to be eligible for admission. If the applicant is a first-semester freshman and has yet to establish a GPA, the application will be evaluated after the release of final grades for the Fall semester.  Final decisions will be made by the start of Spring classes.

If admitted, students will attend an honors orientation and advising session in the first week of Spring classes so that students can adjust their schedules to include honors courses prior to the end of add/drop week in the first week of the semester.

To apply, follow these steps

Write a formal statement of intent that is 400-600 words. The statement should begin with an introduction and speak to any achievements and extracurricular activities. The statement should address why you want to join the honors program and how you think it will help you advance your short-term and long-term goals (academic, personal, creative, career, and so on–however you define “goal”). The statement should also speak to your area(s) of interest and address major influences on your creative, intellectual, and personal development (books, films, artists, designers, writers, influential people, events, tools, technologies, and/or disciplines outside of art and design, etc.). Lastly, as an option, applicants are encouraged to provide a link to a website (or otherwise) with a selection of curated visual work to support your application.

Respectfully approach one of your faculty members (either in or outside your major) and ask if they are willing to write a short, one-page letter (officially called a “statement of endorsement”) that discusses your strengths, areas for improvement, and suitability to the program.  You will submit the name and email of the faculty member as part of the online application. They will be contacted via email with instructions on how to upload the letter. Faculty endorsements are due by 11:59 p.m. on the faculty final grade submission deadline for the fall semester. Check the VCUarts Qatar academic calendar for specific dates, as they vary from year to year.

Complete the online application for “Current VCU Students” in the admissions section of the VCU Honors College website: https://honors.vcu.edu/admissions/. For students on the Qatar campus, there are a number of application fields that require special attention. Please contact the Honors Program Coordinator on the Qatar campus via email (contact info is below) to obtain a step-by-step guide for completing the online application. To complete the application, you will need your VCU eID, your VCU V# (which you can find in DegreeWorks), your cumulative GPA at VCU, the name and email of the faculty member submitting a statement of endorsement, a CV/Resume, and your personal education paper.

Contact

Contact information about Honors Program:

Michael Hersrud
mail to: [email protected]