Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors in the Master's: A New Perspective?

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors in the Master's: A New Perspective?

Article excerpt

The honors master's thesis is the first chapter of a future dissertation.

You learn to work together from an interdisciplinary perspective.

This program increases your chances on the U.S. labor market.

With this master's, you become a scientific practitioner.

The successful completion of this program increases your opportunities to win a top internship and career coaching.

--These quotations have been selected from the websites of honors master's programs.


In Europe, there is a growing interest in honors education, not only in the bachelor's but also in the master's degree. The Dutch government, for instance, is actively promoting excellence in both bachelor's and master's degrees through honors programs (Siriusteam). Most Dutch universities have honors programs at the bachelor's level or are developing them. Some universities have also recently introduced honors into their master's programs, stimulated by recent publications (van Eijl, Wolfensberger & Pilot). Because honors master's programs are a new phenomenon in higher education and are still exceptional in the United States of America, we have undertaken a research project to study them (van Ginkel & van Eijl).

In our study, an internet search showed thirty-four examples of honors master's programs from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Ireland and The Netherlands. All of these cases involved special honors programs within master's curricula, some in addition to the regular master's course of study and others as an integral part of it. Our study focused on forming a better understanding of the characteristics of honors programs in the master's and specifically on the mission of the programs, the selection of students, the content, the educational methods, and the program format. These issues are related to the "Basic Characteristics of a Fully Developed Honors Program," according to the National Collegiate Honors Council. The findings may allow us to view the concepts and key characteristics of honors master's programs from an international perspective.


In the literature, we found no studies of honors activities in the master's while a considerable number are available about honors programs at the bachelor's level (cf., van Eijl, Pilot, Wolfensberger, & Schreve-Brinkman). The starting point for much of the research on honors education at the bachelor's level in our European context is often Renzulli's 1978 work on giftedness, with talent as a generalized, multi-dimensional concept that is then related to the development of talent specifically in honors programs (Jenkins-Friedman). Using such earlier work on talent and its relationship to honors education, we developed in 2010 an inventory of the characteristics of honors programs, using a three-windows model (van Eijl, Pilot, & Wolfensberger) that is strongly connected to the Basic Characteristics defined by the NCHC.

Based on our experiences and on the results of our inventories and analyses of the bachelor's honors programs, we will focus on the main characteristics of honors master's programs in The Netherlands, the different profiles of these programs, and student interest in supplemental activities when studying for their master's degrees. We will then discuss the results of the inventory from an international perspective.

As a characteristic example of an honors master's program, we provide a description in Box 1 of the Excellence Master's Track (EMT) at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance of Utrecht University in The Netherlands.


For this exploratory project, a mixed method approach was used (Creswell & Plano-Clark; van Ginkel & van Eijl) in a study that was carried out at the start of the academic year 2009-2010.

First, an Internet search identified Dutch and non-Dutch honors master's programs. …

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