On this web page I have included questions that prospective and current students frequently ask me. One theme that repeats itself throughout much of my life is that things are almost always more complex than they appear. So, you may find, as do many people, that asking me a question results in a longer and more complex answer than you expect. That is just the way it is.
Jeffrey Haugaard, Ph.D.
Director of The Honors College and Professor of Counseling Psychology
Questions Asked by Prospective Students
Questions Asked by Students Who Are in The Honors College
Questions Asked by Prospective Students
Questions About Honors Courses
Some of the most frequent questions relate to concerns about grades and honors courses. Some students who will be striving to have a very high grade point average (GPA) at the end of their college years wonder if taking honors courses will have a negative influence on their GPA.
One common question is: Are honors courses harder than other courses at UAlbany? With this question, as with many questions, defining terms is important. The definition of harder seems particularly important. One definition of harder, when referring to academic tasks, involves whether one task is more intellectually challenging than another. For example, is algebra harder than multiplication? (My sense is that the answer is “yes.” Many people who can multiply cannot solve algebra problems, but everyone who can solve algebra problems can multiply.)
Honors courses are designed to be intellectually challenging for the bright, serious students who comprise The Honors College. This may mean that honors courses are more challenging than courses available to all undergraduates at UAlbany. I expect, for example, that the first semester of honors calculus is more intellectually challenging than the first semester of calculus. I would also expect that when the English course Growing Up In America is offered as an honors course it is more intellectually challenging than the same course when it is offered to students outside The Honors College. Students in The Honors College appreciate the challenging nature of their honors courses. No students have reported that their honors courses are too challenging or that their professors expect levels of understanding of which they are incapable. To the contrary, many report that they enjoy the intellectual challenge that their honors courses present.
Another way of defining whether one academic task is harder than another is whether it takes much more time to complete. Time is a limiting factor in all our lives. If a course were to require much more time to complete than most courses, then it might be considered harder. Surveys of students in The Honors College suggest that they spend slightly more time on their honors courses than they do on their other courses. However, none of them have reported that the time spent on their honors courses is excessive or a burden.
A second common question is: Am I likely to get a lower grade in an honors course than in another course? The concern is that in a course with only bright, energetic, serious students, professors will give a B for a level of competence that would receive an A in another course.
The answer to this question is more straightforward. I have not detected any general tendency of honors students to receive lower grades in their honors courses than in their other courses. Some honors students do get a lower grade in their honors courses than their other course, but others receive lower grades in their nonhonors courses than in their honors courses. An examination of the grades given in honors courses in the fall 2006 semester showed that a high percentage of the students in each course received an A.
The strategy of many professors teaching honors courses at UAlbany is to consider their courses’ level of academic challenge when assigning grades. Therefore, a higher percentage of students in honors courses receive an A than do students in most other courses. Since a goal in honors courses is cooperation between students, rather than competition between students, we have worked to create a classroom environment and a grading system that rewards cooperation and high levels of accomplishment rather than one that pits students against each other in pursuit of a small number of top grades.
In summary, my sense is that honors courses are more intellectually challenging than other courses and that the bright, serious students in The Honors College appreciate this; honors students work slightly more in their honors courses than their other courses; and there is no form of “grade penalty” for being in an honors course.
The Nerd Issue
Another common set of questions are asked to get a sense of the characteristics of the honors students at UAlbany. Questions commonly take the form of: What are the students in The Honors College like socially? What are the honors students like to live with? Are honors students different from other students at UAlbany?
I have come to recognize the concern at the foundation of these questions, so I often say something like “Oh, you’re asking about the nerd issue.” Inevitably, this evokes a smile and a nod from the student asking the question. Then I often say, “You’re wondering if it’s like Revenge of the Nerds?” More smiling and nodding.
I understand this concern. What is interesting, though, is that I am asked these questions by many, many prospective students each year who bear no resemblance at all to a nerd (or dweeb or geek or whatever). I confidently answer that they resemble most of the students in The Honors College: “When you check into the honors housing next fall, you’ll find a building full of people who are like you in many ways.”
Movies and junior high school students have helped perpetuate the myth that very intelligent people are homely and incapable of debonair social activity. Neither stereotype is true. In fact, just the opposite may be true. For example, in their article “Why Beautiful People Are More Intelligent,” Kanazawa and Kovarb argue that intelligence is related to higher status, that higher-status people tend to marry people who are more attractive, and that since intelligence and physical attractiveness are both heritable, a strong genetically based connection between beauty and intelligence has been created through many generations of smart, physically attractive people marrying and then having smart, physically attractive children (Kanazawa, S., & Kovarb, J. L. (2004). Why Beautiful People Are More Intelligent. Intelligence, 32, 227-243).
We have many smart, charming, attractive, interesting students in The Honors College.
Questions From Students Who are in The Honors College
Can I take an honors course in my junior year?
The rule is that each honors student should complete his or her honors courses during the freshman and sophomore years. Honors courses are designed primarily for freshmen and sophomores; consequently, it is best for students in The Honors College to take them then.
This rule is flexible. If a student’s education plan is such that taking an honors course during the junior year would benefit the plan, he or she can get special permission from me to do this. Students who would like to get special permission should send me an e-mail describing why it will benefit their education to take an honors course during their junior year.
What do I do if there is no honors program in my major?
Most majors at UAlbany have an honors program. Students in The Honors College who are in these majors must complete the honors requirements in their major to graduate from The Honors College (these requirements are listed on each department’s website). A few majors at UAlbany do not have an honors program. Students in these majors meet with me during their sophomore year to determine the courses they will need to take in their major to graduate from The Honors College. Consequently, students in any major offered at UAlbany can graduate from The Honors College. (For more information, see Honors, Honors, and More Honors.)
Do I need to write a senior thesis to graduate with honors in my major AND a senior thesis to graduate from The Honors College?
No. Each honors student must complete one senior thesis that is acceptable to the faculty in his or her major. Since the faculty members in a major are the experts in that area, they are the sole judges of whether a student's thesis is an appropriate piece of scholarly work.
When should I start to get involved in research?
“Now,” is my usual response. It is never too early for honors students to get started in the research process. Many aspects of research are interesting and intellectually challenging. In addition, being involved in research helps you to understand the type of thinking that is at the foundation of a discipline, allows you to meet and work closely with other students interested in a discipline, and provides ongoing contact with a professor who is a scholar in that discipline. So, there is no benefit to waiting to become involved.
Honors students should be actively involved in some form of research during their junior ane senior years. Those who are not may not be able to locate a professor willing to mentor them through their senior thesis. We have many suggestions for how to become involved in research on our research opportunities webpage.
Should I try to graduate early?
This is a complex question and one that may depend heavily on a student’s personal and family circumstances. So, I encourage students with this question to talk with me and/or their advisor. I can, however, give my general view on this question – recognizing that it may not apply to some students.
From the perspective of someone who has worked for many years, and who has many years still to work, I strongly discourage students from graduating from college early so that they can get to work. I ask, “What's the hurry?”
For a 19-year-old who has been going to school continually since age 4, getting out of school and “getting on with my life” has great appeal. I understand. When I graduated from college I remember saying to myself that I would never, ever step foot in a classroom again (I was VERY tired of being a student). However, from my perspective as a 55-year-old, I recognize that, although each of us spends many years in school, we spend even more years working.
Let’s say that you are planning to become a lawyer. Your school/work timeline will be something like: go to college for 4 years, go to law school for 3 years, work as a lawyer for 46 years (if retiring at age 70), retire, die. If you were to graduate from college a year early, your school/work timeline would be something like: go to college for 3 years, go to law school for 3 years, work as a lawyer for 47 years, retire, die. When you are 70, do you really think that you will say, “Thank god I got that 47th year of being a lawyer in before I retired”? Of course not.
There is little glory in graduating early and it will not distinguish you as a particularly accomplished student. I do not believe that any professional or graduate school will rate your application higher because you graduated a year early. They will be more interested in the breadth and depth of the courses you took and your grades in them. Similarly, it is unlikely that a potential employer will think that you are much smarter than the other applicants because you graduated in three rather than four years. The employer might wonder why you did not spend the extra year taking additional courses that increased the breadth and depth of your knowledge.
I encourage students to stay a fourth year even if they do not need to. If not completely tired of their major, I encourage them to take another course or two in it each semester to deepen their knowledge. I also encourage them to broaden their education by taking a course in earth science or art history or philosophy or some other subject about which they know little. Almost all of you will have children someday, and when they are doing a school project on continental drift, Michelangelo, or Keirkegaard this knowledge may come in handy.
Take 12 credits during each semester of your fourth year if you want to take a bit of a break. Take a course or two pass/fail. There are many ways to reduce one’s academic load while remaining in this academic environment to which most of you will never have the chance to return until that interval between retirement and death.