Our History

Commonwealth Honors College from above

Our History

Commonwealth Honors College builds on a long tradition of academic excellence at UMass Amherst. An honors college of national distinction in the public sector, Commonwealth Honors College has become a model throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the nation.

In 1894, 23 undergraduate honors theses were archived in the library. As the university grew and expanded from Massachusetts Agricultural College to Massachusetts State College to the University of Massachusetts, more departments offered honors tracks for their students. In 1960, the campus established a campus-wide Honors Program, with honors courses available not only in the arts and sciences, but also in the professional schools. In 1977, 400 students were enrolled in the Honors Program; over the following decade that number increased to 600. The Honors Program continued to expand through the 1980s and 1990s. Today, there are more than 3,000 students in Commonwealth Honors College. 

The Honors Program transformed into Commonwealth College in the late 1990s, after the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education proposed the concept for an honors college for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1996. The Board voted unanimously to accept the model proposed by UMass Amherst based on the strength of the existing Honors Program and the breadth of academic options available to students. Commonwealth College welcomed its first official class in the fall of 1999, offering small honors classes, residential programs, Community Service Learning courses and programs, and a community for academically talented students. 

Commonwealth College also took the lead in the newly-formed Commonwealth Honors Program to collaborate with and strengthen honors programs on other campuses in the Massachusetts system of public higher education. Students participating in any of the Commonwealth Honors Programs on the state college, community college, and other UMass campuses also benefit from automatic transferability of their honors coursework from one institution to another.

During the 2009-2010 year, the college celebrated its 10th anniversary, continuing a long tradition of advanced scholarship at UMass Amherst and beginning its second decade as a leader in honors education.

To build on the college's first decade of success and to better express its mission, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved the University of Massachusetts's recommendation to change the name to Commonwealth Honors College in May 2010.

Commonwealth Honors College offers an Honors Curriculum that incorporates general education and advanced scholarship for undergraduates pursuing any of the university's majors, culminating in the completion of an Honors Thesis. Specialized academic programs, supportive advising, close connections with faculty, extensive opportunities for research, and leadership development are available to all Honors students. Commonwealth Honors College prepares students not only for professional careers and graduate studies, but for life. 

Building on the steady growth of Commonwealth Honors College, the university erected the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community (CHCRC). Adding nearly 500,000 square feet of residential, classroom, social and administrative space, the CHCRC opened in the fall of 2013. With six residence halls, living space for staff and faculty in residence, Honors classrooms, the Bloom Honors Advising Center, Roots Café, and a large events hall, the design of the CHCRC promotes the kinds of informal interactions among students, faculty members, and advisors that extend classroom learning.


We provide a diverse community of academically talented students with extensive opportunities to make a positive impact through analysis, research, professional development and international experience.

The Honors Curriculum challenges you to find connections between academic disciplines, between theory and practice, between individual and community, and to learn to make a difference in the world.  

Your Team Helps You Succeed.

Meet the team of Commonwealth Honors College faculty and staff dedicated to academic excellence.