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Commonwealth College

Contact: D. Cory Pols
Office: 504 Goodell
Phone: (413) 545-2483

Dean: Priscilla M. Clarkson; Director of Administration: Brett Snowden; Director of Advising: D. Cory Pols; Director of Academic Programs: Meredith Lind; Director of Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration: Daniel Gordon; Director of the Community Engagement Program: John Reiff; Director of Recruitment and Retention: Alexandrina Deschamps; Director of External Programs: Meredith Feltus; Associate Director of Student Programs: Melissa Woglom; Office of National Scholarship Advisement Director: Susan Whitbourne; Director of Curriculum Development and Assessment: Alexander Phillips.

The mission of Commonwealth Honors College is to provide an enriched undergraduate education to academically talented students from all backgrounds and to prepare them for responsible engagement in society by fostering intellectual curiosity, interdisciplinary analysis, focused study, and academic rigor within a supportive, socially just community. The college offers a variety of educational, service, social, and advising opportunities to support its over 3,000 academically talented students.

Commonwealth Honors College is a campuswide program; students from all majors in every college are eligible to join the honors college. Students are also encouraged to pursue interdisciplinary studies and may choose to do so through the Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC), which is a major within Commonwealth College that also serves non-Commonwealth College students and is described in the Academic Departments and Programs section of the Guide. Only Commonwealth College students are eligible to graduate with Commonwealth College Honors, and with Departmental or Interdisciplinary Honors.

Love of learning lies at the heart of Commonwealth Honors College. The curriculum of the college emphasizes inquiry and facilitates critical analysis, independent research, collaborative work, and effective communication skills. Consistent with the land-grant mission of the university, Commonwealth Honors College also promotes engagement with society. The college affords its students many opportunities for engagement through a variety of academically based opportunities including internships, co-ops, experiential learning courses, leadership training, and community service learning courses. The college also promotes student leadership through specific leadership courses, through its speaker series and alumni mentoring/shadowing programs, and by encouraging student participation in college activities including peer mentoring, committee work, and activity planning.

Honors students experience the advantages of a small college and the wide-ranging opportunities of a nationally recognized research university. The college encourages students to undertake research and supports their efforts by helping to identify faculty mentors, teaching thesis workshops, and offering research fellowships for financial assistance. The college also offers a lecture series that brings distinguished visitors to the campus to speak on selected national issues, publishes a web-based newsletter, sponsors service projects and student gatherings, and administers a competitive awards program.

First-year honors students may select from several Residential Academic Programs (RAP) including Commonwealth College’s Honors RAPs, as well as the Talent Advancement Programs (TAPs) or other RAP programs designed for all university students.


All students in the college are encouraged to meet regularly with an honors college adviser, as well as with an adviser in the department of their major. Faculty, staff, and peer advisers are available to assist students with their questions or concerns as they progress through their academic careers. This includes advice on honors course selection; how to integrate their honors requirements with their major department, academic college and other university requirements, study abroad and community service; and referral information about other services. Graduating honors students may request a letter of recommendation for prospective employers and graduate schools.

Each major has a departmental honors coordinator who advises students on the subset of requirements associated with departmental honors tracks, as well as honors activities and locating research opportunities within the department. Advising concerning other academic matters (e.g., late course adds, late course drops, credit limit increases) are handled through the college advising office of the student’s academic dean.

The college’s Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) assists eligible students applying for national competitive fellowships such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, and Truman Scholarships. ONSA advises students on requirements, qualifications, personal statements, and the interview process.

The Curriculum

The honors college curriculum begins with four honors General Education courses, including college writing, that provide a foundation for lifelong learning. The honors curriculum then allows students to choose from three tracks: to focus their honors work within their major, continue their honors work outside their major or negotiate an interdisciplinary honors contract. Common to each of the three tracks are an interdisciplinary honors course of the student’s choosing, the interdisciplinary Honors Seminar series, and the capstone experience. The capstone experience is a six-credit activity, usually taken during both semesters of the senior year, and resulting in a thesis or project. It is a chance to engage in mentored scholarship, through either an “independent capstone” under the supervision of a faculty guidance committee or a “course capstone” with a small group of classmates.

Community Service Learning (CSL) is a core value of Commonwealth Honors College, and an exciting way for students to develop new skills, build relationships, and apply their learning to help address community needs. Opportunities to combine service and learning abound across the honors curriculum. For example, many honors courses include community service, among them HONORS 292V Violence in American Culture, HONORS 292F The American Family, and HONORS 292S Engaging with the Community. Also, students may take a three-credit version of the Commonwealth Honors Seminar, Honors 291R, that integrates community service learning. First-year students may also apply to participate in IMPACT!, a CSL residential academic program. The Citizen Scholars Program, a four-semester, academic service-learning program, aims to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to be active and effective citizens, engaged in lifelong service to their communities, and to work collaboratively with others to build a more just society.

Honors Requirements

All students who complete Commonwealth Honors College requirements will graduate with Commonwealth College Honors. These requirements include a GPA of 3.400 or better, foundation skills, honors courses, and a capstone experience. Commonwealth Honors College requirements may be met via three possible tracks that vary by focus. Two of the tracks result in additional transcript recognition: Departmental Honors and Interdisciplinary Honors. Further distinctions may be achieved by Commonwealth Honors College students for excellence in their capstone combined with higher overall GPAs. For detailed information on diploma and transcript recognitions, and for criteria required to graduate with Latin honors, see the “University Graduation Requirements” section of this Guide. Note: to graduate with any level of Commonwealth Honors College honors a student must complete 45 graded credits in residence.

Commonwealth Honors College students must satisfy foundation requirements in two areas. The writing requirement is satisfied by completion of the General Education College Writing requirement (ENGLWRIT 112H or 113H or exemption). The oral communications requirement is performed through successful completion of the three-credit Honors Seminar series.
A minimum of eight honors courses must be completed with grades of B or better. These eight honors courses must include: College Writing (ENGLWRIT 112H or 113H); two other General Education courses, one of which must have an Interdisciplinary (I) designation; and the three-credit Honors Seminar series, which also carries an Interdisciplinary (I) designation (students complete this in two parts, Honors 291G for two credits and 391D for one credit). Three of the eight honors courses must be at the 300 level or above, two of which comprise a six-credit capstone experience ending in a 499-numbered course.

Accommodations may be made for those entering the college after the freshman year. Under no circumstances will the capstone experience requirement be waived. Students who transfer into Commonwealth Honors College having completed an associate’s degree through a certified Commonwealth Honors Program are recognized as having completed the first two years of their Commonwealth Honors College requirements.

Students are encouraged to integrate international study, internships, cooperative education, and service learning into their honors experience. Portions of this work may be approved as substitutions to fulfill honors course requirements. For details, call or visit the Commonwealth Honors College office.

Citizen Scholars Program Requirements
Commonwealth Honors College sponsors the Citizen Scholars Program, a two-year program exploring the linkage between community service, public policy, and active citizenship. Students apply to the program, which accepts approximately 20 to 25 students each year, during the spring of their freshman or sophomore year. Any honors college student who has a demonstrated record of community service, or civic engagement, a commitment to continue such activities, and a desire to develop leadership skills, is eligible to apply. Other indicators of academic performance are also considered. The program offers some funding to support students in doing community service. Citizen Scholars may also receive support for summer internships in public policy or community service administration. The program requires 19 credits of coursework and a community service component:

ANTHRO 297H The Good Society
HONORS 393T Tools for Change
HONORS 499R Service-Learning Capstone—Public Policy and Citizen Action
HONORS 499S Service-Learning Capstone—Organizing: People, Power, and Change
A fifth course chosen from a list of electives focusing either on community service learning or on social, political or economic theory.
60 hours of community service or community engagement in each of the four program semesters.

International Scholars Program
Commonwealth Honors College and the International Programs Office co-sponsor the International Scholars Program (ISP), which allows qualified students to integrate international studies coursework and study abroad during their undergraduate years. The program is highly competitive with approximately 15 slots per year. Benefits of the program include individual advising for the integration of a student’s major requirements and study abroad, ongoing mentoring by a faculty member from a related international field, and limited funding for study abroad via non-need-based scholarships. Qualified students are invited to apply in their freshman year. Applicants should have a cumulative GPA of 3.500 or higher and a commitment to pursuing international experiences or studies that will provide a global context for both their course of study and their career paths. The program requires seven credits of coursework, including preparatory cross-cultural, contextual, and re-entry coursework.

Admission Information

There are three ways to enter Commonwealth Honors College:

1) Admission Based on College Performance
High-achieving students may apply if they received a grade of B or better in College Writing and after they have completed a minimum of 12 graded credits at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The application process is competitive, and applications are accepted once a year, after grades are posted in May. More information on application requirements and deadlines is available at

2) Admission Based on High School Performance
Entering first-year students are admitted by invitation. Each student’s application to the University is evaluated on the basis of academic achievement in high school, test scores, an essay by the student, and evidence of leadership and community service. Average first-year honors students entering in fall 2009 ranked in the top 4.5 percent of their high school class, attained a weighted high school GPA of 4.164 in their academic coursework, and scored 1345 on their combined critical reading and math SAT I tests.

3) Transfer Admission
Entering transfer students are admitted by invitation based on evaluation of all transfer transcripts. To be considered, students must have an overall GPA of 3.500 or higher and a grade of B or better in College Writing. However, meeting the 3.500 minimum requirement does not guarantee admission to Commonwealth Honors College. Qualifications of students who have completed less than two full-time semesters at the college level at the time of application will also be evaluated on the basis of high school achievement and test scores. Students who completed an associate’s degree through a certified Commonwealth Honors Program may transfer directly into Commonwealth Honors College.

The Courses

Several kinds of honors courses are offered as follows:

Enriched honors courses are separate sections of departmental courses that are limited to 25 students. These courses are designated with an H following the course number (Psychology 100H) and may carry 3 or 4 credits.

Honors Colloquia are one-credit honors sections appended to regular three-credit courses. They often develop topics in greater depth than in the related course; however, it is not unusual for colloquia to introduce totally new material or experiences. Colloquia are designated with an H preceding the course number (Anthropology H317), and are limited to 25 students. Colloquia may be prearranged and advertised in the honors course guide or determined in the first two weeks of a semester and scheduled via a colloquium contract.

191T Leadership and Service
This course is the second in a sequence of courses that are part of the IMPACT! Residential Academic Program. Students critically analyze
different theories of leadership and learn about their personal leadership styles. Students practice leadership and teamwork by planning, organizing, and executing a community service event. In addition, students engage in ongoing community service throughout the semester, and use this as a powerful source of learning. By connecting theory to practice, students gain self-confidence to act for social change and develop deeper insights into how social and cultural issues connect to their various service sites.

291G Commonwealth Honors Seminar is the first of two courses in the Honors Seminar Series. In this three-credit course, beginning honors students read a common text, chosen by upper-level honors college students, as they are introduced to information literacy and honors-level research and communication skills. Students should plan to take the Commonwealth Honors Seminar within their first two semesters in the honors college. They may also incorporate service learning into their Commonwealth Honors Seminar experience by taking the three-credit Honors 291R.

391D Advanced Honors Seminar is the second and final course in Honors Seminar Series. Students participate in a topical seminar-style course designed by its instructor. Although the subject matter of each section is different, the types of assignments for each section are similar. Every section is open to students of any major. Advanced knowledge of the topic is not necessary.

393L Leadership in Community Service Learning
An advanced course for students who have been assigned specific leadership roles in support of service learning, such as Course Assistants and Community Liaisons.

393T Tools for Change, a four-credit course offered each spring, is the second-semester course in the Citizen Scholars Program. It is the first of three focused on developing the practical abilities to work toward the good society envisioned in the previous semester’s course. The “tools for change” covered include social justice theory, systems perspectives on community organizations and on communities, group dynamics, communication skills, and strategies to align one’s work with one’s core values. Students’ service placements are a focus for the application of these tools.

192, 292, 392, 492 Honors Interdisciplinary Seminars are directly sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College, and publicized prior to each semester. Classes are highly interactive in nature and feature distinguished guest professors from several fields. Most of these courses carry General Education credit, and some incorporate service learning. Examples include American Portraits (IU), The American Family (IU), and Engaging with the Community (IU).

196, 296, 396, 496 Honors Independent Study involves frequent interaction between instructor and student. The student and the sponsoring instructor must fill out a contract which is available at the honors college office and on the college’s website. Qualitative and quantitative enrichment must be evident on the proposed contract before consent is given to undertake the study.

196S, 296S, 396S, 496S HIS Community Service Learning allows an honors student, under the guidance of a faculty sponsor and a community adviser, to engage in community service learning for academic credit. Requirements include 30 hours minimum of relevant, course-related community service, a reflective journal, attendance at one reflection session, and a paper or project containing an analysis of the CSL experience and its link to academic course content.

198, 298, 398, 498 Honors Practica are one- or two-credit Pass/Fail skill-oriented courses which allow honors students to work together in small groups: for example, Peer Advising Practica. These practica cannot be used to meet honors academic course requirements.

198S, 298S, 398S, 498S CSL Honors Practica are one- to six-credit Pass/Fail freestanding courses that allow a student, under the guidance of a faculty sponsor and a community adviser, to engage in community service learning for academic credit. Requirements include 30 hours of approved community service for each CSL credit and a reflective journal. These practica cannot be used to meet honors academic course requirements.

499 Capstone Experience may begin with either a 499-numbered course or a graduate-level seminar, but must end with a 499-numbered course. The capstone experience is a six-credit activity that may range in scope from the more traditional sequence of honors research and thesis, to concurrent or sequential capstone courses, to projects ranging from a case study to a synthesis of academic study, guided reflection, and experience gained through community service, study abroad, or internship. Students should consult a Commonwealth Honors College adviser before undertaking a capstone experience.

499R Service-Learning Capstone—Public Policy and Citizen Action, a four-credit course offered each fall and the third in the four-course Citizen Scholars Program sequence, explores how public policy is created and shaped at the local, state, and national levels, and how citizens can impact the policy process to address their concerns and work toward the common good. As individuals or as part of a team, students each identify a specific public policy issue that arises out of their service experience, research it, and advocate for a specific outcome.

499S Service-Learning Capstone—Organizing: People, Power and Change, offered each spring for four credits, is the fourth and final course in the Citizen Scholars Program through which students learn how citizens organize and mobilize others to work toward structural change. As individuals or in teams, students identify issues of concern to them that relate to their public policy projects in the previous semester, identify community stakeholders in those issues, and design and implement projects mobilizing others to work toward change. This course is based on Professor Marshall Ganz’s well-known organizing course taught at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.