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What is the Stony Brook Honors College?

by kellym on March 25th, 2013

This post is for you if:

- you have been accepted to the Honors College at Stony Brook and you’re wondering why you should attend
- you’re thinking about applying, but you’re not sure you want to write an extra essay
- you’ve never heard of the Honors College at Stony Brook, and you want to know more about it

I’ve fielded the question, “Why did you decide to attend Stony Brook?” many, many times.  While there are several factors that played into my final decision, I almost always cite the Honors College as the thing the “sealed the deal.”  After I was accepted to Stony Brook, I attended an admitted student reception hosted by the HC.  The auditorium stage was filled to capacity with HC students eager to share their experiences with the new recruits.  They filled me in on all the perks of being an HC student at Stony Brook, all with a level of enthusiasm I had never seen at a college event before.  That’s when I realized that Stony Brook was where I wanted to be.

There are lots of special programs for high-achieving students at SBU–Steven’s post gives a great overview of the University Scholars program–but the Honors College is somewhat unique, for several reasons.

First, it has its own curriculum. HC students participate in a series of seminar-style courses on a variety of topics, two in their freshman year, and one each year after that.  These seminars replace the DEC curriculum that most SBU students take.  Each semester, the HC recruits faculty from across campus to lead the seminars according to their own interests or area of expertise, so the focus changes from one professor to the next.  I’ve had classes on the music, literature and popular culture of Weimar Germany, art and architecture in Ancient Mesopotamia, and the influence of technological advancement on society.  Since they are seminar-style classes, they all focus on learning through discussion, collaboration and critical thinking, rather than rote memorization and regular exams.  These courses are only for HC students, so they give you an opportunity to get to know your peers both socially and intellectually.

In addition to the seminars, HC students also take four 1-credit mini-courses in over their first two years.  The mini-course offerings each semester are incredibly diverse, and they offer a great opportunity to take a class on something that interests you but might be outside your general academic focus.  Since they’re only 1-credit, they typically meet only once a week and don’t add too much to your workload.  My astronomy mini-course met on Monday nights on the roof of the Earth and Space Sciences building for an hour of stargazing!  Some other mini-courses that have been offered in the past include:

- The Global Challenge of Infectious Diseases
- Preparing for the Health Professions
- The Islamic World and Europe: From Algebra to Zenith
- The Situation Room: Making Decisions about National Security
- Free Writing with Seniors from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Another unique feature of the HC is that every HC senior completes a yearlong thesis project.  I’m finishing up my project in Linguistics this month, but I’ve been working on it since last May.  The thesis project is an exciting opportunity to develop an independent project on a topic that interests you.  It doesn’t have to be related to your major at all.  But, if you do decide to do a project within your major, you can often earn HC credit and departmental honors for the same project.  At the end of your senior year, you present your project to a panel of faculty and HC staff at the senior symposium, and many students also present their research at URECA, the undergraduate research symposium.

Working on my thesis has been exhausting and exhilarating, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done.  Many of my friends who are science and engineering majors have been participating in faculty-directed research since their freshman year, but for me, this was a first foray into independent academic research.  At first it was overwhelming, but my faculty advisor helped me focus my interests and hone my knowledge by reading and discussing my ideas.

In addition to individualized coursework, the HC also offers some awesome perks: priority registration for classes and housing, the opportunity to be housed with other HC students, free tickets to events at the Staller Center and other cultural activities, and HC-sponsored events like the Faculty Roundtable, Masquerade Ball, and fall BBQ.  In my experience, the best part of being in the HC is the connections I’ve formed with my peers.  With about 200 students across all four years, the HC offers a tight-knit community within which I’ve found many friends and intellectual partners.  At the same time, I’ve been able to take advantage of the vast resources of Stony Brook University, which has afforded me many opportunities that have helped me to succeed.  It’s the best of both worlds.  And it’s definitely reason enough to write that second essay.

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