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FAQ: English Honors Track

Here are some frequently asked questions about the English Honors and Distinction Track programs. If these don't do the job, then feel free to contact the director of the Bachelor of Arts in English, Dr. Mike Sell

Please note, however, that the English Studies Honors Track Program is currently unavailable. We are revising the program and anticipate being able to offer it in the near future.

Why earn Honors or Distinction?

The Honors and Distinction Track programs give English majors and minors the opportunity to pursue advanced, independent work in all fields of English Studies. Students in the tracks are typically interested in kinds of reading, research, writing, and pedagogical practice that are nontraditional (for example, work that combines creative and scholarly approaches), that bridge disciplines (for example, between English and Philosophy, Art, etc.), that enable the further development of interesting, original projects begun in other classes, or that simply provide the fun and excitement of high-level intellectual challenge.

What’s the difference between Honors and Distinction?

Simply put, credit hours. A student can earn Distinction by successfully completing ENGL 485: Seminar in English Studies. To earn Honors, the student must complete not only 485, but HNRC 499: Senior Synthesis (3 credits), and six credits in some combination of ENGL 483: Honors Thesis in English and H-designated English courses.

But there should be more to it than that. Another way to look at the difference is in terms of intellectual development. A student pursuing Honors can, if he or she plans it carefully, build a coherent, multi-semester project that will allow them to develop profound expertise in the field of their choice.

One last point: Honors is an official designation, one that will appear on your diploma. Distinction is recognized by the English Department and will not appear on your diploma; however, it is “real” and should be bragged about to family, friends, and future employers and application committees.

What kinds of English majors are eligible?

Both the Honors and Distinction Track programs are open to students earning the Bachelor of Arts in English, the Bachelor of Arts in English/Pre-Law, and the Bachelor of Science in English Education.

Are English Minors eligible?

English minors may not earn Honors; however, they can earn Distinction.

What are the requirements for Distinction?

Successful completion (grade of B or better) of ENGL 485: Seminar in English Studies (3 credits)

What are the requirements for Honors?

Successful completion (grade of B or better) of

  • ENGL 485: Seminar in English Studies (3 credits)
  • HNRC 499 Senior Synthesis (3 credits)

Successful completion (grade of B or better) of 6 credit hours in some combination of:

  • ENGL 483/H Honors Thesis in English (0-6 credits)
  • H-designated English course (0-6 credits; if all 6 credits are taken in H-designated English courses, then one must be a 300-400-level couse)

Honors portfolio

Students wishing to achieve Honors designation must submit a final portfolio of the work they completed in their English Honors courses by the last month of the semester prior to their graduation, to be assessed by the Honors Track Program. 

What are the eligibility requirements?

In order to take either the English Honors Seminar (485), a student must meet the following:

  • Have completed English 101, 122, and 202.
  • Have taken at least 12 credits of English courses besides those liberal studies courses, including either 122 or 401.
  • Minimum 3.5 GPA in English courses for majors, 3.5 overall for minors.
  • Positive English department faculty recommendations that address the student’s ability to do high-level, self-reflexive, independently conceived, and pursued work.
  • A successful application (see below for details).

What if I don’t meet all the requirements?

If you are short a bit on, say, the minimum credits or QPA, you might still be eligible, assuming that your portfolio and faculty recommendations make up for it. Ultimately, we’re looking for people who are creative, original, and passionate. When in doubt, contact the chair of the Committee, Dr. Mike Sell (, or the director of the B.A. program in English, Dr. Wendy Carse (

What goes into an application for the Distinction and/or Honors programs?

The following materials should be submitted in a folder to the chair of the Honors Track Program, Mike Sell:

  1. A cover page with your name, phone number, and preferred e-mail address
  2. A list of English courses taken and in progress and the names of the professors for each course. This list will assist the committee in getting recommendations from English department faculty members familiar with the caliber your work.
  3. A letter, no more than two pages, single-spaced, describing in detail your qualifications for the program, your achievements, and a sense of what you’d like to achieve in the Seminar in English Studies (see “Helpful Hints” below for more details).

Your application should be polished and professional and thoroughly reflect your achievements, your passion, and your goals. Consult with your adviser, mentor, or other helpful person to ensure that everything looks just right and that it really reflects who you are and what you want to do with your English major.

Helpful Hints: Preparing the Application for the Distinction and Honors programs

Your letter should clearly and concisely describe your qualifications for admittance into this program. Describe your experiences in your English classes and any extracurricular activities related to your passion for English. You should also add any other information that you feel would assist the committee in making its decision. What, for example, could you bring to the seminar, and what do you hope to get out of it? What experience do you have with independent work? What evidence can you provide that you are a self-motivated and self-disciplined student who would benefit from this program? What really excites you about being an English major and how will this opportunity finally let you really dig in?

In addition to telling us about yourself, we’d like to hear about your research plans. What are your passions when it comes to English Studies? What are the topics or issues you find compelling? What kind of project would you like to create in the seminar and/or over the course of your Honors Track Program studies? How does this research plan relate to your larger life and career goals?

  • Keep it brief! The letter should be no longer than two single-spaced pages.
  • Make it good: Have your adviser, trusted teachers, and friends look it over for you.

Other questions?

Contact the chair of the Honors and Distinction Track programs, Dr. Mike Sell (, or the director of the Bachelor of Arts in English, Dr. Wendy Carse (

  • English Department
  • Leonard Hall, Room 110
    421 North Walk
    Indiana, PA 15705-1094
  • Phone: 724-357-2261
  • Fax: 724-357-2265
  • Office Hours
  • Monday through Friday
  • 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
  • 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.