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Who We Are

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The Honors College is a selective academic community of about 500 students who represent a diversity of majors and interests but share a commitment to intellectual inquiry and the life of the mind.

Since our founding in 1988, we have awarded over 1500 Certificates of Honors to UMBC graduates. Our alumni have gone on to prestigious graduate and professional schools in the U.S. and abroad, winning national and international awards including the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Fellowship, the Gates-Cambridge Fellowship, Fulbright Fellowships, and others. The average GPA of our graduates is above 3.7, and most of UMBC’s Valedictorians and Salutatorians have been members of the Honors College.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of becoming a member of the Honors College?

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Honors College
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As a member of the Honors College, you’ll have the best of both worlds: a small liberal arts college experience at a first-class research university. The benefits of membership are many, but in sum they include: the Honors College curriculum, the Honors College community, and the opportunities for connection with faculty, staff, and off-campus professionals.

Here’s what that looks like:

  • Curriculum: You’ll thrive in an interdisciplinary and intellectually stimulating academic program, with small classes featuring unique, specially designed content.
  • Community: You’ll work alongside dedicated, talented, and interesting students like yourself — students who flourish as readers, writers, thinkers, speakers, researchers, and active members of the UMBC community.
  • Connection: Through special coursework and holistic advising and mentoring, you’ll have the opportunity to build relationships with faculty and staff to cultivate your longer-term ambitions.

How do I apply to the Honors College?

When you apply to UMBC through the Common Application, complete the Writing Supplement for the Honors College. Or, if you’re also applying to a Scholars Program at UMBC, check the box on your Scholars Program application to have it considered as your application to the Honors College as well.

If you decide to apply for the Honors College after you’ve submitted your UMBC application, you can download an application here and submit it to the Honors College via email.

If you’re already an established student at UMBC, you can apply to the Honors College at any time by submitting a downloaded application to us via email.

Fall Deadlines for Honors College applicants:
  • Freshmen (Priority Decision): November 1
  • Freshmen (Regular Decision): February 1
  • Transfer (Priority): March 1
  • Transfer (Regular): June 1
Spring Deadlines:
  • Transfer (Priority): October 15
  • Transfer (Regular): December 1

Will the Honors College be a good fit for me?

Members of the Honors College take an active, even passionate interest in their education. They not only excel in academics; they find joy in learning for its own sake. They’re hungry for courses that challenge them to read and think widely and deeply, and they’re excited by ideas. They come to class prepared to listen, contribute, and respect the opinions of others. They’re eager for educational experiences outside the classroom, including service, internships, and independent research. Even if they don’t know what they want to do after they graduate, they know they want to keep learning. They reflect the diversity of backgrounds and interests of UMBC students as a whole. They like books.

If this sounds like you, we’d love to see your application.

How will my application to the Honors College be evaluated?

We review applications holistically, but place special emphasis on the quality of the written material you submit as part of your application. The strength of your high school curriculum, GPA, and standardized test scores are also very important. Grades aren’t everything, though: we’re interested in what interests you, and what kind of mark you want to make on the world.

Freshman applicants to the Honors College should have a minimum unweighted high school GPA of 3.5 or better (on a 4.0 scale) and strong standardized test scores.

Successful applicants for Fall 2018 scored an average of 1477 on the SAT and an average of 32 on the ACT. The average unweighted high school GPA of the Fall 2018 class was 3.8.

For transfer applicants and established UMBC students, we look for a strong record of academic success in college. Transfer students who have completed honors-level coursework at other institutions are especially encouraged to apply.

What is the status of my Honors College application?

You’ll hear back from us only after you’ve been admitted to UMBC. Expect to receive your decision letter according to this schedule:

  • Freshmen Early Action: late January
  • Freshmen Regular Decision: between February and March
  • Transfer applicants: between April and July for the fall semester; December or January for the spring semester
  • Established students: at the end of each of semester

If I’m not offered admission to the Honors College, does that mean I can’t come to UMBC?

No. Admission to the Honors College has no impact on your admission to UMBC or any scholarships you may have been awarded when you received your university admission packet. If you’re denied admission to the Honors College as an incoming student, you are welcome to apply again as an established student.

Is there an Honors College Scholarship that I can apply for?

No. For best consideration for university merit scholarships, prospective students should apply to UMBC by the Early Action deadline. Each of UMBC’s Scholars Programs also offers its own scholarships.

Can I be a member of a Scholars Program and also be a member of the Honors College?

Absolutely! Many members of UMBC’s Scholars Programs (Meyerhoff, Linehan, Sondheim, Humanities, Center for Women in Technology, Cyber Scholars, and Sherman Teachers) are also members of the Honors College. While membership in a Scholars Program gives you access to opportunities focusing on a specific area of study, the Honors College provides additional opportunities for courses, service, internships, and research across disciplines. Read more about the Scholars Programs at UMBC here.

I’m transferring to UMBC from another school. Will any of my old coursework count toward the curriculum requirements of the Honors College?

If it’s honors-designated coursework, then yes. Previous honors coursework can fulfill up to 9 credits of the Honors Elective requirement of our curriculum, and transfer students are exempt from HONR 100.

Transfer students are an integral part of the Honors College community, but interested applicants should look carefully at our curriculum requirements. The commitments of time and interest required to complete our coursework in full may not fit well with the academic plans of students who want to graduate from UMBC in only a few semester.

Read more about our curriculum here.

Read more about transferring coursework to UMBC here.

I’m a little confused: UMBC is “An Honors University in Maryland,” but also has an Honors College? What’s the difference?

As our vision states, UMBC “redefines excellence in higher education through an inclusive culture that connects innovative teaching and learning, research across disciplines, and civic engagement.” It’s that blend that gives UMBC its distinction within the University System of Maryland (USM) as an “Honors University” — an institution with exceptional opportunities for students of all backgrounds and aspirations.

The Honors College is an interdisciplinary academic program at UMBC with its own staff and faculty. It is separate from but in constant collaboration with academic departments, scholars programs, and other campus partners.

I still have more questions! How can I reach an Honors College representative?

Feel free to send us an email at honorscollege@umbc.edu or call us at (410) 455 3720. Honors College staff also participate in UMBC’s Undergraduate Admissions Preview Days, half-day programs that include opportunities to visit the campus, learn about academic programs, and meet with faculty and students.

Honors College Staff

Simon Stacey, Ph.D., Director

spstacey@umbc.edu

Jodi Kelber-Kaye, Ph.D., Associate Director

jodik@umbc.edu

Before becoming the Associate Director of the Honors College in 2011, Jodi Kelber-Kaye was a faculty member in Gender and Women’s Studies for eight years. She continues to do research and teach in the areas of critical gender and race studies, LGBT studies, visual studies, and gender and science studies. Besides her research in these fields, Dr. Kelber-Kaye serves as a gender consultant for “B’More Fit for Healthy Babies,” a HHS-funded project that is targeted to help reduce the high infant mortality rate in Baltimore City. Dr. Kelber-Kaye is also currently collaborating on the production of a documentary film about the feminist and black power movements active in Baltimore in the early 1970s. Dr. Kelber-Kaye received her Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of Arizona in 2003 (where she also earned her M.A. in art history) and has been at UMBC ever since. Originally from Boston, she is happy to make downtown Baltimore her home and volunteers regularly with social change nonprofits in the city.

Michael Stone, M.A., Assistant Director for Recruitment and Assessment

michaelstone@umbc.edu

Michael Stone joined the Honors College as an Academic Advisor in 2016. Michael advises all Honors College freshmen and transfer students and also oversees the Honors College admissions and recruitment efforts, coordinates the Honors Living Learning Community, and develops and implements Honors College assessment strategies. He is passionate about helping students develop an academic identity that strives for excellence both in college and beyond. From applying to college, to being admitted, all the way through the first year, Michael supports students as they develop the self-efficacy, discipline, and imagination that defines an Honors College student. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in history from UMBC. His research focused on Public History, which he defines as a collaborative process that reclaims community power through the expression of historical narratives. Michael’s experience presenting at conferences, applying for prestigious opportunities, and assisting in classroom instruction further informs his work as an Academic Advisor.

Julie Oakes, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Curriculum and Retention

juloakes@umbc.edu

Dr. Julie Oakes has been a member of the UMBC community since 2007, teaching numerous courses for both the History Department and Asian Studies Program. After receiving her M.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University, she went on to the University of Chicago where she earned a Ph.D. in Japanese history. Her research interests center on Japanese art policy, and she is currently revising her manuscript on the creation of Japan’s National Treasure system. In the 2016-2017 academic year, Dr. Oakes served as Acting Associate Director of the Honors College, following that up with a year as the Interim Director of the Asian Studies Program. Dr. Oakes is now back with the Honors College, serving as an academic advisor and program coordinator. Outside of her work at UMBC, Dr. Oakes is the Baltimore seminar coordinator for the NCTA (The National Consortium for the Teaching About Asia), whose aim is to help elementary, middle, and high school educators better incorporate East Asian topics into their curricula. She also gives talks on Japanese history and culture to various community groups, ranging from elementary school students to adult learners.

Lisa Whittle, Administrative Assistant II

whittle@umbc.edu

Honors College Faculty and Faculty Fellows

Ellen Handler Spitz, Ph.D., Honors College Professor of Visual Arts

Ellen Handler Spitz, at UMBC since 2001, teaches interdisciplinary seminars in the Honors College in aesthetics, literature, psychology, and the visual arts. Dr. Spitz received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and has held fellowships at the Getty Center, Radcliffe Institute, Stanford, Rutgers and the Clark Art Institute, among others. She has taught and/or lectured in England, France, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Russia, Canada, India, and the Peoples Republic of China. Dr. Spitz has published numerous articles and books, most notably Art and Psyche (Yale University Press, 1985), Image and Insight (Columbia University Press, 1991), Museums of the Mind (Yale University Press, 1994), Inside Picture Books (Yale University Press, 1999), The Brightening Glance (Pantheon Books, 2006; Anchor-Vintage Books, 2007), and Illuminating Childhood: Portraits in Fiction, Film, and Drama (University of Michigan Press, 2010). She also reviews children’s literature in academic journals and for The New Republic online.

Christopher Allen Varlack, Ph.D., Honors College Lecturer

cvarlack@umbc.edu

Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack served as a lecturer in the Department of English at UMBC for four academic years before joining the faculty/staff of the Honors College as well as the Individualized Study Program in 2018. He teaches courses in professional and advanced research writing in addition to literature courses with an emphasis on race, gender, and cultural politics. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Varlack is a dedicated scholar, focusing on tracing the ideological arc of nineteenth- and twentieth-century African-American literature particularly of the Harlem Renaissance era. He has served as the editor of Grey House’s Critical Insights: Harlem Renaissance (2015) and Critical Insights: Civil Rights Literature, Past and Present (2017). His current research includes a monograph that explores the concept of the “black group soul” and the theories of Black cultural, political, and socioeconomic aggregation in the fiction works of Claude McKay. A photographer and creative writer, he also spends his time reflecting on the potential of art to not only reflect the human experience but also to ask important questions about identity, race, social justice, and social change. He holds a B.A. in Communications (2008) from Loyola University Maryland, an MFA in Creative Writing (2010) from the University of Southern Maine, and a Ph.D. in English (2016) from Morgan State University.