When I got my letter from UMass in December of my senior year of high school, I remember reading the first sentence that said I was accepted, and then not reading any further. I was just so glad I had gotten in that I had failed to notice, in the next paragraph of that letter, that I had also been accepted into the Commonwealth Honors College (CHC).
It wasn’t even until the next day that my mom pointed it out to me. I was so excited and proud that my application had stood out enough that I had not only been accepted to the university, but to its prestigious honors college as well. However, there was one little problem… I didn’t actually have any idea what the Commonwealth Honors College was or what it meant for me as a student.
I never researched it or bothered to call its offices and ask about the curriculum; I was just happy knowing I was in it. Because of this, when I was entering my freshman year in September of 2011, I didn’t know what to expect out of my first honors class. I was nervous that it would be too hard and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was scared about what was ahead for me. Little did I know, I would not only one day know all of the ins and outs of CHC by heart, but I would also be explaining them to prospective students and parents as a part of my job.
I have been a Peer Ambassador for the Commonwealth Honors College for over a year now. My job is to meet with parents and students to conduct information sessions explaining the honors curriculum, student life, housing, and answer any questions they may have. I also speak about the Commonwealth Honors College at our fall and spring open houses.
In my experience, the number one question I receive is always “What is the Honors College?”
This is a question I should have asked when I myself was a prospective student, so it is my hope that this post will be a help to anyone who is currently in the same boat as I once was.
The Commonwealth Honors College is a small community of scholars within the larger research University setting. Its goal is to give you the best of both worlds: smaller class sizes and chances to build close relationships with professors that come with being at a small school, while at the same time receiving the endless opportunities of a large research university. This is something that is very unusual; instead of having to choose between a small school or a big school and weighing those pros and cons, you can essentially have both by being at CHC.
The way CHC typically works is that you will enroll in about 1-2 Honors courses out of the 4-5 total courses you will take per semester. The best thing about CHC, in my opinion, is that all of its classes have a maximum limit of 24 students. This is such a great advantage to have, as large lecture-style classes are inevitable at UMass with its 22,000 undergraduates. The average class size in CHC is 18, and most of my classes have been that size or less. Because of their size, these classes are much more discussion-based and interactive. Since the classes are honors-level, they are more challenging than non-honors classes, but this is mostly due to the professor’s expectations of his or her students. Honors professors want to hear from students who will think creatively and abstractly, who aren’t afraid to raise their hand and speak their mind in class, and who will bring new and different perspectives into the class’s discussions. If you were accepted into the Commonwealth Honors College, chances are you are this type of student. You will be in class with other students who are just as passionate about getting the most out of their education as you are. You will be able to get to know your professors really well, and your professors will in turn get to know you.
CHC holds tons of different events throughout the semester, such as “Pizza and Prof” and “Weekly Wednesday Workshops” that are really great ways to get involved within the CHC community. Additionally, with the new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community (CHCRC), students now have the opportunity to live with fellow honors students in a way that may be different than anything they have experienced before. Not only would you be surrounded by students who are driven and hold themselves to high academic standards, but you also have opportunities like RAP programs and becoming a peer mentor available to you as well.
There are classrooms, an events hall, and a 24-hour cafe all located within the CHCRC. Speaking as someone who has walked just about every possible route on our campus, the location of the CHCRC is very appealing. You are right next to the Rec Center, across the street from the Mullins Center, mere yards away from the library, and right in the heart of campus near all of our academic buildings. The CHCRC houses 1,500 (about half) of all honors students. There are traditional dorm-style rooms for freshman, and suite and apartment-style rooms for upperclassmen. Oh, and the air conditioning in all of the CHCRC residence halls certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Being a member of the Commonwealth Honors College comes with so many amazing opportunities just waiting for you to take advantage of. I had no idea when I came to UMass that being in CHC would make such a difference in my undergraduate education, but now, as I am nearing the halfway point of my junior year, I couldn’t be more grateful for it.