Program Description

The heart of a Seattle University education lies in its rich liberal arts tradition. The Honors program provides highly-capable, highly-motivated students the opportunity to join a cohort of students who enroll in a series of interconnected seminars centered on the liberal arts. These courses fulfill all of a student’s core or general education requirements outside the student’s major. Through these engaging seminars on the history of ideas, Honors students gain deep knowledge of the humanities, the social sciences, and the history and philosophy of science.

Our approach is historical. The journey begins during the first quarter of freshman year, when students are plunged into an in-depth examination of the ancient world and concludes with seminars asking students to consider the issues and crises humankind must confront in the 21st Century and beyond.

Honors classes employ a lively seminar method that combines the Socratic dialogue with the Jesuit tradition of challenging students to learn for themselves. The seminar method is essential for helping students become self-motivated learners who can articulate their insights cogently in group settings and one-on one. Professors who teach in our Honors programs have proven experience of excellence in the classroom and are committed to academic rigor and dedicated to bringing out the best in students.  Whether pursuing answers to individual questions or interrogating broader issues or problems, students learn quickly how to critically assess ideas and to better understand their own points of view.

Because writing is a process, the program regularly incorporates peer review of papers in draft. With the help of their professors, students form small groups of four or five members for a paper conference to plan, read, critique, and improve each other's papers.  Each person typically read the papers of fellow group members and writes evaluations of each essay, as does the professor. Through this intensive writing process, which is repeated during each of the six terms of the program, students learn not only to find their own voice, but also to hone their skills for writing scholarly papers in a discipline as well as write in other genres for a variety of audiences.

At the end of each term, each Honors student takes an oral exam with all of their professors simultaneously.  This oral exam set-up, a routine feature within many graduate programs throughout the United States, allows students to showcase their knowledge and demonstrate their ability to analyze and synthesize the course materials and ideas common to all three seminars in each term. The maturity and skills a student develops through the oral exam process carry far beyond the Honors Program into situations that involve interviews of all kinds for scholarships, internships, graduate schools or jobs.

Three Options for Different Interests

We recognize that one size does not fit all. For this reason, the Honors program offers three distinctive tracks to accommodate students’ diverse interests and collegiate aspirations. All three tracks follow our historical approach. They begin with the ancient world, with seminars on the “Origins of Philosophy” and “Polis, Republic, and Empires,” and then branch off into distinctive territories all their own. At the same time, while taking Honors seminars, students also can enroll in at least one class, depending on the track, outside of Honors every term—an ideal way to fulfill a foreign language requirement, complete the introductory Biology or Chemistry series, take courses within their majors, or simply explore other curricular interests.

In all three tracks, through a series of engaging, interconnected seminars, students develop writing and communication skills essential for their intellectual and professional development. Each quarter concludes with an oral exam, in which each student meets with his or her Honors professors during the quarter all at once. Through our Socratic seminars, our intensive writing and research instruction, and our oral exams, they graduate from the program with the poise they need to excel as students in their majors and as prospective job candidates in interviews. They also gain a deep knowledge of the humanities that is ideally suited to helping them address, in powerful ways, the problems of today.

Students complete all their non-major course work after completing any of these three tracks. Those interested in majoring in Philosophy, History, Literature, or Creative Writing receive credit toward these majors through their Honors curriculum.

Intellectual Traditions

This two-year track relies on an intensive focus on the humanities disciplines of philosophy, history, and literature, while also incorporating the social sciences, and the history and philosophy of science. It firmly grounds students in the major intellectual traditions and debates that have informed the development of various cultures, the rise of diverse ways of thinking, and the advent of globalization. 

Society, Policy, and Citizenship

This two-year track begins with the same distribution of humanities seminars as the first year of Intellectual Traditions but then places a much stronger emphasis on political economy and on the social sciences during the second year.  It is ideally suited for students interested in public policy oriented careers and complements the social justice focus of the university mission.


The Innovations Track emphasizes intellectual, cultural and artistic innovations, while preparing students to think critically about both the relevant historical contexts and the implications of these innovations for society and values. The Track features dynamic seminars, such as “Major Debates,” which shift each time they are taught based upon faculty interests and expertise. This flexibility allows the program to be responsive to pressing contemporary issues through historical inquiry. Innovations is the three-year Honors option, ideally suited to students with credit-intensive majors like Nursing. 

Honors Program History

The University Honors Program has been a part of the Seattle University educational experience for over 50 years. Originally conceived by Rev. Thomas O'Brien, S.J. in 1956, it debuted in 1959 as a University Core alternative.

The ethos of the University Honors Program draws from Jesuit educational goals: while emphasizing a rigorous academic education, it understands this education as a holistic one, encouraging the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth of the student.  The Program is structured around the belief that a truly academic education leads students both to an understanding of the world in its diversity and to an understanding of themselves in the world.  A truly academic education, at the same time, instills in students a critical concern with such understanding, a desire to act ethically and responsibly on the basis of it, and an empowering impulse to ask further questions and explore new answers.