Dean Steven Lynn Talks About the Honors College
I’m often asked what distinguishes our Honors College. Do we really think we’re the best? Do students really choose us over the most elite universities and colleges in the world?
For almost a decade, we've been ranked as the best honors college in the nation by Inside Honors, the most comprehensive and evidence-based assessment available. We're very proud of that accomplishment, and we're equally proud of our expansive curriculum, our community, our faculty and staff, our beyond-the-classroom experiences and our connections with alumni well beyond their time here at the South Carolina Honors College.
The official rankings are comprehensive, but the most important factor, as it should be, is the curriculum. How many honors courses are offered? How many different kinds of courses? How small are the classes? Who’s doing the teaching? Our curriculum is amazing, with between 550 to 600 honors classes each year, composed of both honors versions of standard and required courses, and unique courses that satisfy various requirements but are not part of the standard curriculum. This Fall we are offering, to pick only two examples, an honors version of Organic Chemistry, taught by Professor Ken Shimizu, chair of the Chemistry department; and we’re offering a unique Honors College course, History and Philosophy of Chemistry, taught by Professor Thomas Vogt, Director of the NanoCenter and Educational Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. We offer courses across the curriculum, with an average class size of 16 to 18. Especially exotic, high-impact courses might have only five students. And our students often find themselves invited to take graduate courses in their junior and senior years.
To graduate “with honors,” our students take 45 honors credits and complete a senior thesis. This may seem incredibly ambitious, but our students actually take on average about 54 honors credits. They take more honors classes than they’re required to because Honors courses tend to be richer, more engaging, more stimulating, more interactive and adapted to the needs and interests of students.
But are Honors classes more difficult? Well, the average GPA over the entire Honors College last year was almost 3.9 (on a 4.0 scale). Students in our Honors classes are not competing against each other for top grades; the faculty who teach Honors classes recognize that they’re teaching the brightest and most motivated students at the University. It’s not weird in fact for every student in an Honors class to make an “A”—although you’ll certainly need to earn it. Our faculty delight in teaching Honors students, and they look forward to working with their students on research projects and senior theses.
Beyond the Courses
We have a large and talented Honors staff of about 40 people serving a relatively small Honors College of around 2300. We are fortunate to have three Honors housing communities--the Honors Residence Hall, 650 Lincoln, and the Historic Horseshoe. Our students, supported by the National Fellowships and Scholar Programs office, have a strong record of success in the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, Fulbright, and many other prestigious competitions. We have seen, for instance, 28 consecutive years of Goldwater Scholars--arguably the most prestigious award for undergraduates pursuing careers in research. In the last seven years we’ve produced more Goldwater Scholars than every Ivy League school with the exception of Harvard.
To graduate “with honors,” students engage in an internship, a service-learning experience, study abroad, or research (many do two or three of these; some do all four). Funding for undergraduate research is especially robust, and we support study abroad, service learning, and internships as well, not only financially but with dedicated staff members. More than 70% of our students study abroad—in France, Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica (no kidding): all over the planet, in other words. Our Washington Semester Program, our accelerated law and medical degrees, the South Carolina Semester Program, our partnership with the Smithsonian and with various schools and universities around the world, our network of illustrious alumni, the community-building events we sponsor—there is much, much more to being in the Honors College that deserves your consideration.
In terms of success after college, our students, as you might imagine, do very well. They have an excellent record of acceptance into medical schools (acceptance rates for first-time applicants have ranged from 78 to 84% in recent years), into prestigious law schools, graduate schools, veterinary schools, PA programs, etc. Our students get jobs with top corporations and banks, go into public service, work for non-profits, start businesses, write for television shows, become stand-up comedians—they do just about anything you can imagine.
From its origins in the 1960s as a program, becoming a college in 1978, the South Carolina Honors College has attracted a richly diverse group of gifted students from all over the world and provided them with a superb education. There is way more to the South Carolina Honors College than I have mentioned--our phenomenal retention, graduation, and placement rates; the beauty of our campus and the vibrancy of our city, situated on three rivers, a couple of hours from beautiful beaches or magnificent mountains; the spirit of Gamecocks whenever we play any sport. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to look closer and see what is distinctive. It just might be that this is where you belong.
Dean, South Carolina Honors College
Louise Fry Scudder Professor
University of South Carolina