Honors Program

Dive into a subject you’re passionate about and
enhance your CALS experience with the Honors Program.

Highly motivated CALS students may choose to challenge and distinguish themselves by joining the CALS Honors Program. CALS Honors students choose from two paths – Honors in Research or Honors in Major. In either path, students carry out independent research culminating in a Senior Honors Thesis.

Why join the CALS Honors Program?

  • Challenge yourself in the classroom and beyond and set yourself apart
  • Develop and carry out an independent research project culminating in an Honors Thesis
  • Hone your critical thinking and problem solving skills beyond the classroom
  • Form a collaborative relationship with a CALS faculty member
  • Join a cohort with other CALS Honors students interested in research
  • Take Honors seminars to enhance your experience in the lab
  • Graduate with Honors

Honors in Research

Students engage in the university’s and CALS’ great research tradition through the completion of two research projects: an introductory project and a senior thesis project. A faculty mentor oversees their research efforts and supports their progression through the program. In addition to the hands-on research experience, students enroll in coursework directed at furthering their knowledge in quality and ethical scientific discovery.

Honors in Major

Honors in the Major offers CALS students an advanced program of study within a major field and closely related disciplines. In this path, students complete a set of courses with Honors credits and complete a Senior Honors Thesis under the mentorship of a faculty member.

Did you know?


CALS Honors students complete a Senior Honors Thesis with the mentorship of a faculty member

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CALS students are in the CALS Honors Program annually


CALS Honors students will receive an Honors designation on their transcript upon successful completion of the program


CALS Honors in Research students take specialized seminar courses designed to enrich their experience in the Honors Program

Sam Schmitz

BS ’17, Microbiology, Honors in Research

Sam Schmitz is analyzing water samples collected at Africa’s Lake Tanganyika by UW–Madison limnologist Peter McIntyre and his team. The lake’s depth (4,820 feet) and relative calmness discourage water layers from mixing, and oxygen is scarce. But life perseveres, even thrives, in these conditions.

Using DNA sequencing, Schmitz has found that the deepest depths of the lake are home to incredibly diverse microbial communities. He and his fellow researchers have already identified numerous unclassified bacteria.

“The microbiome of the lake has not yet been thoroughly studied, so the lake may hold many more unique, undiscovered bacteria,” says Schmitz—a revelation that amazes him, given how much is known about other ecosystems. These same microbes, he says, may drive the processes that sustain life in the lake’s depths.


How do I apply for CALS Honors Program?expand_more

New first-year students admitted to CALS are invited to apply for admission to the CALS Honors Program by completing the application that includes a statement of why you are interested in pursuing the CALS Honors Program and how the program will contribute to your academic and career goals. New first-year students will automatically be enrolled in Honors in Research, but may switch to Honors in Major after meeting with an academic advisor.

Transfer students and continuing CALS students are also invited to apply for the CALS Honors Program by completing the application if they have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25. Transfer and continuing students may apply directly for Honors in Research or Honors in Major (after meeting with the major advisor).

When should I apply for CALS Honors Program?expand_more

CALS students are encouraged to apply for the Honors Program as soon as they are interested, which might even be the summer before their first year. The sooner students enter the Honors Program the more engagement and opportunities will be available to them in the CALS Honors Program.

How do I find a faculty mentor?expand_more

There are many faculty members enthusiastic about mentoring undergraduate students in research – especially students in the CALS Honors Programs. There are also many resources to assist with how to find a faculty mentor including first-year seminar courses like QuickStart (INTER-AG 140) and the Introductory CALS Honors Seminar (INTER-AG 288).

Can I complete both the Honors in Research and Honors in Major?expand_more

Students choose to join the option, Honors in Research or Honors in Major, that best fits their goals. However, students can change which option they are pursuing if their goals change.

I have additional questions, who can I talk to about the honors program?expand_more

Contact the Honors Program Manager, Heather Mialik at heather.mialik@wisc.edu. Current UW-Madison students can schedule a meeting with Heather on Starfish.

Office of Academic Affairs

116 Agricultural Hall
1450 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706

Office Hours: 7:45am – 4:30pm

For current & prospective student general inquiries:
Phone: 608.262.3003
Email: academicaffairs@cals.wisc.edu