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Graduation with Honors

Students may earn honors upon graduation in three ways. The student may graduate with distinction or highest distinction, earn departmental honors in the major, or complete the University Honors Program. It is possible to earn honors in one of these areas, any combination of them, or all three. The award of honors is noted on the student’s transcript and in the commencement program. Distinction and highest distinction are noted on the diploma.

Graduation with Distinction or Highest Distinction

The top 10 percent of each year’s graduating class is designated as graduating with distinction. Of these, the top one-third is designated as graduating with highest distinction. To be eligible, students must have completed at least 60 credit hours, graded A through F, in residence at KU. See Required Work in Residence on the Regulations page.

Graduation with Departmental Honors

Most departments and programs allow qualified majors to work toward graduation with departmental honors. Graduation with departmental honors is awarded in recognition of exceptional performance in the major, completion of a program of independent research or an alternative project, and a strong overall academic record.

In addition to the requirements of individual departments and programs (which must be approved by the College committee on undergraduate studies and advising), the College requires the following for graduation with departmental honors:

  1. Candidates must declare the intention to work for departmental honors with the appropriate departmental honors coordinator(s) no later than the time of enrollment for the final undergraduate semester, but sooner if required by the department(s). Copies of the intent form should be returned to College Student Academic Services.
  2. At the end of the final undergraduate semester, the candidate must have achieved an overall grade-point average of at least 3.25 and a grade-point average of at least 3.5 in the major. Both overall and major grade-point averages include work done at other institutions, as well as at KU. No minimum grade-point average is required to declare candidacy for graduation with departmental honors unless specified by the department.
  3. Each candidate’s departmental honors work must include independent research or an acceptable alternative project. The results of research are presented in a form appropriate to the requirements of the major department. Equivalents to the independent research component are established by approved departmental honors programs. In courses meeting the independent research requirement, the candidate must earn a grade of B or higher. Successful completion of all departmental honors requirements must be certified to the departmental honors coordinator(s) by a panel composed of at least three members of the College faculty who have read the report of the independent research and heard the oral presentation, where required.


A department or program may petition to award graduation with departmental honors to deserving students who, for good reason, do not meet every College and departmental requirement. Send petitions to the committee on undergraduate studies and advising, College Student Academic Services.

Late Completion of Honors Requirement

Requirements for graduation with honors may be completed after the date on which certifications are requested from departments. In fact, requirements—for example, the completion of an honors thesis for which the credit hours are not needed to graduate—may be completed after a student has graduated. When a candidate finishes all requirements, departments must notify College Student Academic Services in writing.

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University Honors Program

The University Honors Program provides opportunities for outstanding and creative students in all schools at KU to develop their full potential during their undergraduate years. The Honors Program brings talented students together in honors classes and seminars to benefit from mutual interests and association. It brings students and faculty members together in a teaching and research environment that ensures high academic achievement and standards. The program also coordinates merit-based scholarship opportunities for qualified students, including KU awards such as the University Scholars Program, Undergraduate Research Awards, and the Dean’s Scholars Program. The Honors Student Association and the Honors Ambassador Program provide opportunities for student leadership.

In general, honors classes are small, oriented to discussion, and taught by full-time members of the faculty. Most honors courses fulfill requirements and deal with introductory fundamentals and principles, but they are likely to do so in more depth than their non-honors equivalents. Honors courses are distinguished by the energetic atmosphere and critical thinking generated by the students in them and the faculty members who teach them.

Honors students are interested in expanding their knowledge and take a broad range of liberal arts and sciences courses. This is true of students in the professional schools (architecture, engineering, business, etc.) as well as students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Honors program advisers typically recommend that students explore their interests through the broad curriculum choices KU has to offer.

A first-year, semester-long tutorial experience provides an introduction to an academic area of study in an informal setting that allows students to get to know one another and the instructor. The tutorial explores the research methods of a discipline and acquaints the student with the research resources at KU. Honors advising is personalized in meetings with honors staff, faculty fellows, and specially selected advisers from across the university. The program’s advising committee facilitates early and frequent contact with academic advisers in the students’ areas of interest. Honors students benefit from priority enrollment, which provides flexibility in planning one’s academic curriculum.

The program does not require a minimum number of honors courses a semester. However, students in the program quickly discover that honors courses engage the intellect, hold the interest, and create the enthusiasm for learning they seek at a university. Students in the professional schools are particularly encouraged to seek out honors course opportunities early, while their curricula still have breadth and flexibility.

Honors students are strongly encouraged to include research, study abroad experiences, internships, and community service in their academic programs. Consult Honors Program staff about applying these activities toward completion of honors requirements.


Students with strong high school curricula and excellent academic records are encouraged to apply to the University Honors Program. Students with composite ACT scores of 30 or above and unweighted high school grade-point averages of 3.75 or above are more likely to be admitted. Applications are evaluated on the basis of high school curriculum, grades, an essay, activities, and standardized test scores. Applications from first- and second-year students currently attending KU, as well as incoming transfer students, are evaluated on the basis of college course work. Review of applications begins in December and continues through April. Submitting an application on or before the January 15 priority deadline assures the timeliest review. Send inquiries to the University Honors Program, 1506 Engel Road, Lawrence, KS 66045-3845. View further information and the online application.

Completion of the Program

Students graduate from the program by completing eight honors units and the first-year, semester-long tutorial. The eight units must be completed as follows:

  1. 6 honors courses (may include graduate-level courses numbered 700 and above).
  2. 1 out-of-classroom experience such as study abroad, departmental honors, documented research experience, approved and documented internship experience, or approved and documented community service.
  3. The eighth unit may be from either category 1 or category 2. Students must also maintain a minimum 3.25 grade-point average.

Nunemaker Center

This unique building, with its modern architectural design, is the home of the Honors Program, near the Daisy Hill residence halls at 15th Street and Engel Road. The Honors Program is home to several faculty fellows who serve the program and bring additional resources to the program to complement the full-time staff.  Faculty fellows are available for advising, consultation about majors and careers, guiding research projects, and work with the Honors Council to develop programmatic initiatives.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of the spaces available at Nunemaker, including several classrooms and study areas, a kitchen, comfortable lounges that include two fireplaces, and wireless Internet access. Nunemaker also serves as a gallery for undergraduate art. The center is open days and evenings.

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