You are not at UMBC only to seek recognition. You are here to gain an education. But, if you are a strong student, you may find yourself making the Dean’s List, joining (or even leading) honor societies, working toward an Honors College Medallion, or applying for merit scholarships in your field. Here is some information to help you navigate these opportunities 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 recognition is that you get a chance at it every fall and spring semester. It is definitely a morale boost also 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 opportunities for service, developing leadership, or to be awarded scholarships. The most active honor societies on campus are:
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 well beyond minimum general education requirements for a degree. A faculty committee here at UMBC evaluates potential selectees for Phi Beta Kappa honors. UMBC’s faculty and staff who were PBK members from their undergraduate days 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.
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. The inaugural PKP lecture was delivered by Dr. Scott Farrow, UMBC Professor of Economics available on video. Phi Kappa Phi’s motto is “Let the love of learning rule humanity.”
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, such as hosting an annual Halloween party for children at Villa Maria Children’s Center. A tutoring program at Arbutus Middle School is another project recently launched. Learn more about Golden Key at UMBC.
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.
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. Learn more and apply.
Single Discipline Honor Societies
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:
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 honors: 3.50
Magna cum laude or with high honors: 3.75
Summa cum laude or with highest honors: 4.00
Students achieving these levels of performance wear colorful silk cords as part of their commencement regalia. Eligibility for these honors is determined based on grades up through the semester prior to the commencement ceremony.
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 may 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 a small scholarship 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.
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.