Schreyer Honors College (SHC)at Penn State

Honors Option

While the overall goals, expectations and review process for honors options remain unchanged, the Schreyer Honors College has established a model that will increase the likelihood of approval by the instructor and/or the Honors College in certain situations. These changes were approved by the Faculty Advisory Committee on December 13, 2017, revising the document approved in 2005.

An honors option is an agreement between the student and the course instructor, with the approval of the student's honors advisor, to incorporate honors elements into a non-honors course. This gives the completed course an "honors attribute" on the transcript, and the credits count towards Schreyer Honors College requirements.

The honors option should make the student experience as much like an honors course as possible, without changing the core course content or creating an entirely independent study experience. Whenever possible, the honors assignments should be done as an alternative to some of the regular course assignments, rather than simply increasing the volume of work. The honors option work should account for between 10% and 25% of the course grade. Starting in Spring 2018, there are two models for the honors option, as explained below.

The honors option is always a voluntary commitment by the course instructor, and there are many reasons why an instructor might decline. Students should always plan for more than one path to fulfilling honors credit requirements, especially in the final semester of the lower- or upper-division blocks.

Since most honors courses are lower-division, honors options should be pursued primarily in the upper-division. There are exceptions to this rule, primarily in the College of Arts and Architecture — the student's honors advisor should provide guidance about the appropriateness of lower-division honors options. Honors options should not be used to avoid a regular honors course, or because an honors course is full or conflicts with the student's schedule. While most honors options will be in courses related to the student's major or minor, they can be appropriate in other courses where the student can demonstrate genuine interest and commitment.

For the traditional honors option (see below), the course instructor must be one of the following:

  1. Tenure-line faculty (see Schreyer Honors College Student Handbook for definitions/examples)
  2. Non-tenure-line faculty who have previously been approved by the Honors College to offer honors options (contact SHCAcademics@psu.edu to find out if an instructor was previously approved)
  3. Non-tenure-line faculty who are approved by the Honors College's Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, based on submission of a CV demonstrating scholarly credentials equivalent to tenure-line faculty, and prior experience teaching the specific course at Penn State.

Course instructors who are not in these categories may offer the review essay honors option explained below. Note that active graduate students, postdoctoral students/scholars, and part-time faculty may not offer honors options of either kind.

Honors option proposals are submitted via the Schreyer Honors College Student Records System.

The honors option submission deadline is the Friday of the second week of classes — see our Important Dates page for a listing of dates and deadlines for each semester.

The Schreyer Honors College student academic services office will enforce reasonable deadlines for honors option supervisors (course instructors) and honors advisors to approve honors option proposals.

The final deadline to withdraw from an honors option, reverting the course to non-honors, is the end of the eighth week of classes. Requests are made via the Petitions form of the Student Records System and require approval of the instructor. No requests will be granted after the end of the eighth week of the semester.

For eligible faculty (see above), honors options can take any form consistent with the general description above, subject only to the approval of the student's honors advisor. The range of possible honor option work is very broad — everything that could be part of an honors course, if that course existed. In courses with a professional practice orientation, additional or more intensive practice does not in itself constitute an acceptable honors option. There should always be a strong component of scholarly inquiry and reflection.

While a traditional honors option may take many forms, the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Honors College has approved a standardized model based upon a review essay. This model has wide applicability across disciplines and majors, and guarantees honors-appropriate enrichment.

This model of the honors option is required when the instructor is not eligible to offer the traditional honors option. It is strongly recommended for eligible faculty who are relatively new to Penn State, or have not previously offered honors options. It can be an attractive option for faculty who are eligible and experienced, but who are concerned about the time commitment of traditional honors options involving research or project supervision.

What is a Review Essay?

A review essay is a comparative analysis of several pieces of scholarly literature on a particular topic. It is a free-standing version of the "literature review" that is typically an early chapter of the undergraduate honors thesis. The pieces reviewed, typically journal articles, should be related rather than random, but they should be sufficiently different in questions posed, approaches used, or findings/results, to make for interesting comparisons in the review essay. The review essay should demonstrate the student's ability to summarize multiple works efficiently, analyze and critque them (going beyond "compare and contrast" to assessing the extent to which they ask the most important questions and get reliable answers), and suggest next steps for research.

The choice of scholarly articles is key to the successful and intellectually worthwhile completion of the honors option, so the student should discuss this extensively with the instructor. The selected articles should be related but not redundant, keeping in mind that multiple people may be working on nearly identical things and getting them published in different journals.

Specific Expectations for the Review Essay Honors Option

While review essays can be of varying length and can be about varying numbers of works, for the honors option review essay we require the following:

  • 4 to 6 scholarly articles under review
  • Uniform overall organization: statement of overall topic or question, discussion of articles, summary with directions for future research
  • Appropriate page length as determined by the instructor and honors advisor, subject to review by the Honors College

The honors option proposal for review essays does not have to list the specific articles, because that level of detail may not be possible by the submission deadline. It should, however, specify the topic of the review essay, the number of articles to be reviewed, examples of journal titles, the expected length of the review essay, and a deadline within the semester for finalizing the articles to be reviewed.

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