Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most common questions students have about the honors program. If your question is not on the list, you can e-mail the Faculty Director of the program, Dr. Stephen J. Laumakis aquscholarsdir@stthomas.edu.

What are the benefits of being in the honors program?

The benefits are many, but there are at least three major ones.

First, graduating from any honors program (especially one from a well-respected university) carries a certain prestige and status that can be valuable in obtaining employment or in gaining admission to graduate schools. To complete such a program is a substantial accomplishment, which is why graduates of the honors program are recognized in a special honors convocation at the end of the year, wear special cords to their graduation ceremony, have their names distinctively marked on the graduation program, and have notations put on both their diplomas and their academic transcripts.

Second, even if some graduating scholars never need their honors status to help them get a job or get into graduate school, they can still be assured that their honors experience was worthwhile, because it helped them get the most out of their education. Honors students have the ability to function at a very high level, and honors courses are designed to enable them to do so, to "use 100% of their brains" as much as possible. Students of exceptional ability sometimes find the average classroom slow and plodding, but honors courses are never sluggish and never boring. One honors faculty member likened his honors students to a Porsche. With that much power under the hood, he said, it would be a shame to drive always at 55 mph. Honors courses provide a challenge. By challenging students, they force them to expand their horizons and develop their minds. As a result, honors education produces graduates who are smarter and more capable.

Finally, honors education is beneficial--our graduates say--because of the friends and contacts they make along the way. Not only do honors students form close friendships with their fellow honors students through classes and the various social activities of the program, but they also develop closer bonds with their honors teachers, because of the small class size in honors courses and intense character of honors education. When college seniors start looking for letters of recommendation for jobs or graduate schools, they are sometimes unsure whether a given professor knows them well enough to do so, or would be willing to provide this service for them. Honors students never have this problem. They always have a long list of professors who know them extremely well and would be willing to assist them in any way possible.

What are the admissions requirements for the honors program?

The most important qualifications for success in the Aquinas Scholars Honors program are intellectual curiosity, openness to new ideas, eagerness and ability to participate actively in class discussions, strong self-motivation, and commitment to both active and collaborative learning.

Admission decisions are made jointly by the faculty director of the program and a student admissions committee. For high school seniors, three factors are considered: standardized test scores, high school g.p.a., and the written essay. The guidelines suggest that candidates for admission should have a composite ACT score of 28 or higher (or SAT score of 1200 or higher), high school g.p.a. of 3.8 or higher, and a high-quality written essay.

For current UST students or transfers from other colleges, there are two factors: college g.p.a. and the written essay. The guidelines suggest that candidates for admission should have a college g.p.a. above 3.6 and a high-quality written essay.

Is it easy to gain admission to the honors program if I have good grades and test scores?

The Aquinas Scholars is a selective program. Written essays are carefully judged by a panel of current Aquinas Scholars and by the faculty director for evidence of academic skill in the areas of written expression, critical thinking, and creativity. Not everyone who meets the test score and g.p.a. guidelines is admitted to the program, nor are those whose test scores or g.p.a.'s slightly below the guidelines automatically excluded. The quality of the written essay is the final determining factor.

I am a current UST student, with a g.p.a. above 3.6. Is it possible for me to join the Aquinas Scholars Honors Program at this point?

If you enter the program as a current UST student, you need to take three honors sections and three honors seminars to graduate as an Aquinas Scholar. Seminars are usually taken as overloads or as J-term courses during the junior and senior years. Honors sections, on the other hand, involve general requirements, some of which you will have completed by the end of the current semester. To determine if you have enough opportunities to take honors sections with your remaining general education requirements, click on this pdf linkand complete the checklist.

Are honors classes more difficult than non-honors classes? Will I graduate with a lower g.p.a. because I completed the honors program?

Honors courses are not harder than other courses, as long as students have the natural ability needed to "keep up." In honors sections faculty are encouraged to teach the same curriculum as in their "regular" sections, but to cover the basics more quickly and to move on to a more in-depth examination of topics that the extra time allows, to give students more responsibility for things like choosing discussion topics, and to allow students greater freedom and creativity in their work. Honors courses are not graded on a curve, so that the same quality work that would have produced a grade of "A" in a regular section is given a grade of "B" or "C" in an honors section. Faculty make sure not to "penalize" students for being in the honors program.

Honors faculty are not required to have the same "average grade" in their honors sections as in their regular sections. Indeed, the average grade in honors sections is typically much higher than in regular sections, precisely because the best and hardest-working students tend to be in the honors classes. So incoming students should not fear a "g.p.a. penalty" for being in the honors program. This simply doesn't happen.

What if I begin the program but find at some point that I can't fulfill all of the requirements for graduation as an Aquinas Scholar?

Under extraordinary circumstances, the faculty director may make an adjustment (usually a substitution) in a student's requirements. Ordinarily, however, students who can't fulfill the requirements for honors sections and seminar by the time of graduation simply need to withdraw from the program, easily accomplished by sending an e-mail to the director. The students' transcripts will continue to carry the Honors designation on all honors courses they took, and they do not need to pay for any honors seminars they took tuition free.

I have applied to the honors program but I haven't heard back yet. When will I hear?

Incoming freshman applications are reviewed starting November 1. Given the amount of time it takes for an application to be processed by the faculty board members the letters of acceptance/deferred to go out, the time between the sending of an application (one sent between November 1 and March 30) and the receipt of a decision should be approximately 4 weeks. If it has been more than 4 weeks since you sent your application, please e-mail the faculty director of the program.

Can I get into the honors program even though my test scores or high school g.p.a. are not over the usual threshholds?

The honors program looks for test scores of 28 or higher ACT or 1200 or higher SAT, and for a high school g.p.a. of 3.8 or higher. But these are guidelines not requirements. A student may overcome lower test scores or high school g.p.a. by writing an exceptional application essay. Another possibility would be to wait until after the first semester of college to apply to the honors program. If a student has a college g.p.a. of 3.6 or better, this will (in most cases) outweigh any standardized test scores or high school coursework.

I have been admitted to the honors program. Should I take honors classes right away? Or should I wait until second semester, after I have become acclimated to the school?

The honors program absolutely encourages accepted students to begin taking honors courses right away, and to take as many as possible. A good rule of thumb for the first semester is at least one honors section, and two if possible. Because honors sections are not more difficult than regular sections, there is no need to "ease" into them.