If you are very good at something, such as academic achievement, excellence in sports, creativity, leadership, or even chess, your efforts can be recognized at UMBC. Part of UMBC's campus culture is to give credit and acknowledge outstanding contributions by students at all levels.
While recognition takes place throughout the year, there is a a special Student Recognition Week in May every year. During this week, a booklet is distributed around campus: "UMBC Celebrates Student Honors and Awards." Look for this booklet (pictured along with this article) in boxes around most campus buildings. An electronic copy of this booklet is available by clicking on the "Download Document" link at the bottom of this article. Many of UMBC's colleges and academic departments have student recognition ceremonies as part of end-of-the-academic year events.
Here is a run-down of some of the many awards and honors available to students at UMBC.
Academic Honors based on Semester Grades
The academic honor available to the largest number of UMBC students is completely automatic. Full-time students who achieve certain semester grade point averages receive a notation on their permanent UMBC transcripts as follows:
Semester Academic Honors = 3.50 and up
Dean’s List Honors = 3.75 and up
President’s List Honors = 4.00
The beauty of this one is that you get a chance at it every fall and spring semester. It is definitely a morale boost and resume-worthy when you see one of these notations on your transcript. It places you among the most successful students at UMBC in a given semester.
Honor societies may be identified by Greek letters, but they are not fraternities or sororities in the usual sense of “Greek life” on campus. Based on your academic performance at UMBC, you may be invited to join one or more of these organizations. You do not apply for membership. Membership recognizes your achievement, but also provides some service opportunities and some opportunities for developing leadership or to win scholarships. Here are the honor societies most active on the UMBC campus:
Phi Beta Kappa: The big Kahuna of American scholarly honor societies, PBK was founded at the College of William and Mary back in 1776 (a big year for the American colonies!). To win a Phi Beta Kappa key, a student has to achieve very high grades in a course of study that includes courses across the liberal arts. A faculty committee here at UMBC evaluates potential selectees for Phi Beta Kappa honors. UMBC’s faculty and staff who were PBK members had to demonstrate the breadth and rigor of our academic program in order to establish a chapter of this prestigious honor society in 1998. This is one invitation you will definitely want to accept if offered. Learn more about PBK here.
Phi Kappa Phi: Founded in 1897 at the University of Maine, Phi Kappa Phi honors high-achieving students in all disciplines, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The UMB-UMBC chapter was installed at UMBC in 2010 and is hard at work at creating campus presence. Phi Kappa Phi’s motto is “Let the love of learning rule humanity.” Learn more here.
Golden Key International Honor Society: Golden Key membership is extended to high-achieving students in all disciplines. The national and international organizations offer a large program of scholarships and awards open to members as well as regional and national conferences. UMBC’s award-winning chapter of Golden Key is well known for its extensive community service commitments. Learn more about Golden Key at UMBC here.
National Society of Collegiate Scholars: The NSCS at UMBC invites high-achieving freshmen and sophomores to become members. Through service projects such as participation in Relay for Life and March to College Day (for high school students), NSCS makes a difference on and off campus. Look for the UMBC chapter’s latest activities on Facebook.
Transfer Student Honor Society
Tau Sigma National Honor Society: Founded in 1999 at Auburn University, Tau Sigma recognizes and supports talented transfer students at four-year universities. This society does require students who believe they meet the criteria to apply for membership. Membership is available to transfer students who achieve high grade averages during their first full-time semester of enrollment at UMBC. The UMBC chapter was created in 2007. Click here for more details.
Honor Societies Based on Your Major
Many academic departments sponsor honor societies for the top students in their majors. These organizations not only recognize academic performance, but also give students a chance to “give back” to their departments and fellow students. Some societies provide volunteer tutoring. Students who meet the criteria may have to apply for membership in the disciplinary honor societies. Contact your department for details. Disciplinary honor societies for undergraduates at UMBC include:
Gamma Theta Upsilon (Geography and Environmental Systems)
Omicron Delta Epsilon (Economics, Financial Economics)
Phi Alpha (Social Work)
Pi Mu Epsilon (Math and Statistics)
Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science)
Psi Chi (Psychology)
Sigma Tau Delta (English)
Tau Beta Pi (Engineering)
Students who have earned at least 45 academic credits at UMBC and have achieved specified cumulative grade point averages are honored at the undergraduate commencement ceremony, in the program booklet, and receive honors notations on their official transcripts and diplomas. The three levels of graduation honors are:
Cum laude or with honor: 3.50
Magna cum laude or with high honors: 3.75
Summa cum laude or with highest honors: 3.95
Students achieving these levels of performance wear gold stoles, with those earning 4.0 averages adding colorful red silk cords to their commencement regalia. Eligibility for recognition at Commencement is determined based on grades up through the semester prior to the commencement ceremony. Honors notations on transcripts and diplomas are based on cumulative performance once all grades applicable to the degree have been recorded.
Departmental Honors and Awards
In addition to these university-wide honors, some departments honor their top graduates with departmental honors. Sometimes a senior thesis or capstone project is required to qualify for departmental honors. Departments have wide discretion to fashion academic achievement awards for their majors, some of which are keyed to graduation and others of which are open to all majors.
Honors College Awards
Students admitted to the Honors College at UMBC receive the Honors College Certificate at the time of graduation from UMBC if they have met the requirements and standards of the program. Honors College graduates receive a special medallion that is worn as part of the commencement regalia. In addition, the Honors College presents awards to the very top students for academic achievement and for service to the Honors College.
Academic Recognition for Varsity Athletes
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and other external organizations sponsor a variety of awards recognizing the academic achievements of varsity athletes. UMBC athletes and whole teams regularly receive recognition for maintaining high academic standards despite demanding athletic schedules. In addition, UMBC sponsors a chapter of the National College Athlete Honor Society, Chi Alpha Sigma.
Academic Merit Scholarships
The great bulk of academic merit scholarships at UMBC are awarded to students at the time they are admitted to UMBC. However, there are some opportunities for students enrolled at UMBC to compete for scholarships based primarily on academic achievement, sometimes in combination with service and need.
For example, UMBC sponsors small scholarships for returning women students. The UMBC Alumni Association also sponsors scholarships for continuing students. The Honors College and the Ancient Studies Department have some study abroad scholarships. The UMBC Theatre Department provides modest scholarships to majors based on academic performance and service. An extensive listing of such scholarships is available here
These scholarships are as much a way for UMBC to recognize top students as they are a means of financial support. Applying for merit scholarships at UMBC is therefore very worthwhile, even if the amounts involved are modest. These scholarships come and go, so be sure to do careful research.
External Scholarships, Some of Which are Nationally Prestigious
For some very top students, external awards and scholarships based mainly on academic performance are a realistic possibility. For example, UMBC students have had great success with the Goldwater Scholarship, which supports undergraduate students in the sciences who aspire to research careers. The Udall Scholarship supports students with strong commitment to environmental conservation. A number of scholarships sponsored by the U.S. government provide funding for undergraduate students to study abroad, including the Boren Scholarship and the Gilman Scholarship. The State Department’s Critical Language Scholarships can send UMBC students abroad for intensive immersion in Arabic, Russian, Turkish, or other languages.
If any of these programs are of interest to you and if you have not only academic talent but also energy and enthusiasm to invest in the application process, then run, do not walk, to obtain additional information! The Honors College, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, and the Study Abroad Office are all excellent resources. Competition can be stiff, but UMBC students can win and you have to play to win.
Winning these undergraduate scholarships can help students win the big graduate fellowships. And, by the way, if you are a junior aspiring to attend graduate school, it is time to start thinking about applying for those.
Word to the Wise: Honors you don’t Need
There has been a proliferation of organizations out there purporting to honor undergraduates for their achievements. Some of these organizations merely want your money to print your name in a big book for which they will charge you big bucks. If you have doubt about an organization, try to find out whether it has a chapter at UMBC. Get in touch with the UMBC contact people to obtain more information. If you receive an invitation “out of the blue” that does not seem connected to anyone at UMBC, then show the invitation to your academic advisor or a faculty member you trust to get another opinion.
Should You Pay to Join Honor Societies?
The most frequently asked FAQ in this whole “honors” topic is whether a student who is invited to join a society should fork over the $50 or $60 required for dues in order to be a member. The answer is:
YES, if you can afford it. If you have been invited to join one of the highly respected societies described in this article, it would make sense to join it. This is especially true if you can envision yourself actually participating in the local chapter’s activities, becoming an officer, or applying for any of the scholarships offered (such as study abroad awards). If you are absolutely down to your last dime and can’t justify the expense of joining, you can list the organization on your resume if you make clear that you were “invited to join” and not that you did actually become a member.
The Bottom Line
During these years when you have relatively little work experience to list on your resume, academic honors and achievements can go a long way toward filling up the blank space! They are also very reassuring to parents who may be helping to finance your university education. You may not feel that you “need” external validation of your accomplishment, but you can benefit from participation in honor societies that are active in supporting the campus and the community.
Honor societies and academic scholarships related to your major and career goal can be particularly helpful to your future, in part because they bring you in closer contact with faculty and fellow students who share your academic interests. Finally, if you have maintained a very high GPA at UMBC (especially a 4.0 or close to it), you have earned the right to be applauded at commencement. Enjoy the moment!
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTION
Are you a Retriever Achiever? Brag a little and tell us about it in the Comments sections below.
To see an electronic copy of the Student Honors and Awards booklet 2013, click on the "Download Document" button just below!