A Quick Guide to Completing Your Honors Requirements
Most honors colleges and programs in the country have students complete their honors requirements by completing a set number of honors course credits. UTSA is different. In our college, you can complete your requirements through Honors Courses or through Honors Experiences completed outside of the classroom.
What’s better, Honors Courses or Experiences Outside of the Classroom?
That is a personal preference, but most students do a combination of both.
Honors Courses: The advantage of Honors Courses is that they are easy to find, and you work with other Honors students. The faculty are hand-picked, and the credits count toward the total you need to graduate. Honors courses always have an experiential learning component. Students design cookbooks, do service projects, or do research. Many of the things you do in an Honors course might actually go on your resume. Many Honors designated courses can also count toward the Core or fulfill requirements in your major.
Experiences Outside of the Classroom: We find that Honors Experiences done in special programs and done independently outside of the classroom lead to significantly greater chances of students having early success after graduation. Some examples include internships, research with faculty at UTSA, study abroad, joining the marching band, or becoming a resident assistant. These are just some of the many examples of experiences that can count toward one of your six Honors experiences.
The advantage of doing experiences outside of the classroom is that they truly show who you are and what you can do. Generally, these experiences build your resume better than courses and in such a way that you are significantly more competitive on the job market, for graduate schools, and for other awards (even undergraduate scholarships if you start early). If chosen carefully, experiences will give you a resume that positions you to be nationally competitive for the openings most interesting to you. One of the key things that experiences showcase to a potential employer or graduate school committee is your initiative and drive. People reviewing your resume clearly see that you are willing to seek out and take advantages of significant, life-changing opportunities. The kinds of experiences that you complete define who you are, demonstrate what you know, and underscore your ability to grow, develop, and deliver beyond the classroom!
How does one find Honors Courses?
Honors Courses are advertised by the Honors College and can be found in ASAP or on our website here. On ASAP, it is easy to find all Honors courses by searching for courses with the attribute HNRS. That will pick up every Honors course offered at UTSA, regardless of discipline or prefix. You’ll notice that some courses are labeled with a SPICE assignment (“Service, Professional Development,” etc.). This means that the course will focus on the learning outcome of that SPICES area, just like if you did an experience on your own. When you complete a course labeled with a SPICE, it will count as one of your Honors requirements in that area. We also have Honors sections of courses that are offered by departments. You might find an Honors section of a course that you already plan to take (Example: Texas Politics and Law, Honors Section).
Honors students can also turn regular courses into Honors courses through Honors Contracts. The student and professor meet to figure out how to give the student a unique Honors learning experience within the context of a normal class. Once the student has successfully passed the course and met the Honors contract requirement, the class is noted as an Honors course. There is paperwork associated with this, so please refer to our webpage for information on the process. There are three advantages of doing a contract: 1) you’ll get to work with a faculty member closely, 2) this might lead to them being able to write a strong letter of recommendation, and 3) it might lead to other opportunities to work with the faculty member on research.
What Constitutes an Experience Outside of the Classroom?
Students can design their own experience or take part in existing programs as long as they meet the following criteria:
- They require 75 hours minimum time on task
- They result in a significant achievement, one generally worth placing on a resume or discussed in a job interview
- They have a guided mentor
UTSA offers many opportunities that meet the requirements above. For example, students who play in Spirit of San Antonio can get credit for an experience. Other examples include things like ensembles, intercollegiate and club athletics, research labs/programs, and independent studies with professors. Other experiences will take place off-campus, such as internships at companies, summer research experiences via the National Science Foundation at other universities, or study abroad programs. We advertise many of these directly to Honors students, but many of our students will research or create their own opportunities, like writing a screenplay or selfpublishing a children’s book.
Unlike classes which have a registration period, deadlines to apply for experiences fall at various time throughout the year and information regarding them is generally located in disparate locations. You can find them at internship fairs, your college’s student success center, the study abroad fair, the internet… they are all over.
The Honors College maintains a database of some professional experiences that we know are great. We also keep an archive of past E.L.F. posters on the website so that you can see what other students have done. But it really is up to you to take advantage of our peer coaches, the counselors, our workshops, your peer network, and your own search skills to be on the lookout for the right ones for you.
Honors also creates guided experiences. These are non-credit bearing experiences that we organize and do as a group. Examples in the past have included teaching English as a second language, forming a student-led task force to make suggestions on university policies regarding COVID-19, and collecting oral histories from community housing residents in San Antonio.
How do you know I have completed an Honors course or experience?
Courses are easy: they are on your transcript. Degree Works will pick those up when completed. Honors contracts also get recorded as Honors courses on the transcript once you have completed the final paperwork.
For experiences, you will need to submit an experience approval form, and then briefly meet with an Honors College staff member to discuss the experience. Upon approval, a 0-hour, upper-division class will be assigned to your transcript to represent the experience in one of our SPICES categories. Degree Works will pick this class up and record it as fulfilling an Honors requirement.
What are some myths about Honors courses?
Students worry that Honors courses are harder or more competitive. Nothing can be further from the truth. They are just different. Many students find them easier because they are smaller, students receive personalized attention, and they have great study partners/group members. Generally, they are also community creators and really fun.
What are some myths about experiences?
- They are hard to find. Not true. They are advertised everywhere. You just need to keep your eyes open and have the initiative to search for the ones right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and visit our Experiential Learning Lab.
- They are too competitive to get. Again, not true. While some may be very competitive (an internship with the F.B.I. comes to mind) you should never ever be afraid to take a chance on those. Just make sure you are asking for help as you apply. But the vast majority of experiences are easy to obtain and simply require a carefully constructed application and attention to deadlines. Every year we have offices calling us to beg students to apply to their experiences because they don’t have enough applicants.
- They are expensive. Many experiences are totally free, inexpensive, or even pay you! It is not uncommon for universities to offer Research Experiences for Undergraduates that pay stipends of $5,000, room and board, and travel expenses for students to spend the summer research at a top lab at a major research university. Scholarships are often available, many can be paid for with financial aid, and Honors students can apply to our opportunity fund to request additional funding. Alas, there are some experiences that are expensive. Some study abroad programs, like Semester at Sea, can set you back tens of thousands of dollars. But that is when you talk to us. For example, we might recommend studying abroad through our UTSA partner in Kyoto, Japan instead. A semester there is actually less expensive than spending a semester at UTSA and living on campus! Let us be a resource. Also, remember that the E.L.F. is also a scholarship competition, so you could earn additional scholarships because of your experience.
- They are things you do your last few semesters. Terrible advice! Success at one experience leads to being more competitive for future ones. An internship that you did your first year might be exactly the thing that lands you the prestigious Wall Street interview in your third. A rich resume of experiences after your second year may earn you scholarships in your last two. Remember, you generally start sending out job graduate school applications at the beginning of your last year, so it is vital that you have completed a significant number of experiences by the end of the previous summer and be active in one or more at the time of application.
- They get in the way of work. If you’re not in a job that is earning you the level of experience that would qualify as an Honors experience, then it is time to look around. Maybe going through your current company’s management training program, taking a paid internship, or applying for jobs that will make you more nationally competitive is a better avenue. Paid work can count as an Honors Experience.
- I’ll need to do it alone. Many students do experiences with their friends, Honors or not, or engage in experience expressly to make friends. A semester in the Archer Program might lead to a lifelong friendship with a student at another Texas university!
- If the experience is less than 75 hours, then it won’t count. Some experiences are awesome, have guided mentorship, signature outcomes, but they may fall hours short of the 75 hours. Don’t worry! You can get creative to “add on” to that experience. For example, a student who goes to Leadershape might add on some additional leadership reading and a short report. A student who goes on the UTSA Civil Rights Tour might volunteer an additional 20 hours at a civil liberties organization. You can get wonderfully creative here.
Final Takeaways: Make intentional choices; take chances; ask us for help
Here is the basic fact: experiences that are thoughtfully executed can be easy to find, cheap (or even paid!), fun, life-changing, and open doors you cannot currently imagine. A couple of internships, dedicated time in a lab, a win in an entrepreneurship competition, and hiking through national parks were the experiences of one of our students who won over $120,000 in scholarships to attend a Ph.D. program in bioengineering at UT Austin. We have hundreds of stories like this. Sure, you will have to do some work and only you can submit your application, so there is a time commitment on your end, but we are here to help and to encourage you at every step along the way.