National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, Volume 9 (2013)


Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


The benefits of encouraging undergraduate students to pursue independent research have been well documented (Craney; Guterman; Hathaway et al.; Ishiyama; Kremer and Bringle; Volkwein and Carbone). Introducing students to research processes and protocols is always a challenge, particularly for students enrolled in professionally oriented, discipline-specific colleges: so called “specialty schools.” In these colleges, preparing students to do high-level research is complicated by the nature and priorities of the students as well as by the particularities of the curriculum, which is invariably more restricted in scope than that of a conventional liberal arts college. Undergraduate specialty school students tend to be highly focused on preparing for their careers, and few plan to go on to research-oriented graduate programs. Nevertheless, specialty schools typically include many liberal arts requirements in their curricula in order to give students a well-rounded undergraduate education.

Interviews with honors directors at a number of specialty schools—Johnson and Wales University, Virginia Military Institute, Bryant University, College of Visual Arts, Bentley University, and CUNY Baruch College (please see Acknowledgments)—indicate that honors students in particular recognize the value of expanding their studies to include courses beyond those directly oriented toward their career. Honors students tend to be less single-sighted and more broadly engaged by ideas than might be expected of typical specialty school undergraduates. A review of the websites of over a hundred specialty school honors programs reveals that many such programs culminate in a capstone academic research project in which students are permitted and often encouraged to engage with topics outside their area of professional concentration. These specialty schools’ commitment to offering honors students the opportunity for deep immersion in topics beyond their primary focus speaks to an educational philosophy that prizes expansive intellectual curiosity alongside vocational training. Concomitant with this admirable commitment is the question of how best to groom students at specialty colleges for honors-worthy research.