A close look at the Honorary Scholars program

| Staff Reporter

Students in WU/FUSED and the Diversity Affairs Council might be pushing for more financial aid, but Washington University offers both need-based and merit scholarships.

In addition to the Danforth, Rodriguez and Ervin scholarship programs, the College of Arts & Sciences awards four different scholarships—the Compton, Mylonas, Moog and Lien scholarships—to prospective students exhibiting academic excellence in certain areas. The Compton Scholarship is awarded to students planning to study physical sciences and mathematics, the Mylonas Scholarship to students studying the humanities, the Moog Scholarship to students studying biological sciences and chemistry, and the Lien Scholarship to students studying social and behavioral sciences. In all, there are usually 15-20 people from each class in the four programs.

“There are no criteria other than academic ones for the allocation of these scholarships,” said Assistant Dean of Arts & Sciences Ewan Harrison, the director of the Honorary Scholars program. “The only criteria is exclusively on the student’s academic potential in a subject area relevant to the subject groupings covered by the scholarship.”

The process of awarding these scholarships begins in the fall semester, when the University advertises the scholarships to prospective students. The University usually sees 400-900 applications for each program, which have an application deadline of Jan. 15. A committee of Washington University deans and professors goes through the applications and chooses a group of about 60 “semifinalists.” About eight or nine applicants for each program are invited to campus for an interview. These students either receive full tuition, half tuition or no scholarship. According to Harrison, standards for admission and emphasis on qualifying criteria change from year to year.

Harrison sees the program as fostering academic debate among students, similar to what he witnessed as a professor at Oxford University.

“The philosophy at Oxford is that you learn more from fellow students than professors,” Harrison said. “The way I like to think of the Honorary Scholars program is that it’s replicating or reinventing the Oxford system for American universities.”

Freshmen in the program participate in a weekly seminar, during which professors from the University talk to the scholars about their research interests. Students also participate in a pre-orientation program at Camp Wyman, a retreat center in Eureka, Mo., where they partake in various outdoor activities and get to know others in the merit-based program. Harrison also hosts an optional weekly lunch discussion group, during which he and the students discuss the previous Assembly Series speaker.

“We like to develop a real sense of community,” Harrison said. “In addition to these intellectual activities, like the discussion group and the freshman seminar, we also do team building and community-building activities with the view that these extremely good students, who we are fortunate enough to attract to Washington University, are able to bounce off each other and become friends with one another and stretch one another [by] virtue of their interactions.”

According to Harrison, the Honorary Scholarship awards are based exclusively on academic merit. Early decision and financial need do not factor into the committee’s decisions.

Sophomore Adam Hasz, a Moog Scholar, feels that the need-blind system for  awarding the honorary scholarships helps students who might not be able to afford attending Washington University but who do not qualify for need-based scholarships. As a result, Hasz believes that the need-blind system “broadens the community that can come to Wash. U.”

“I would not have gotten as much need-based aid as my family thought would be necessary to go to Wash. U.,” Hasz said. “The merit-based scholarship can allow students like myself to get some extra funding to still come to this school, while they would not have had that opportunity otherwise.”

Harrison’s goal for the program is to keep strong involvement in the program after freshman year. Following the freshman year seminar, there are fewer activities for which the students can assemble as a group.

“After freshman year, you don’t have a set opportunity to interact with anyone,” Hasz said. “I made some really good friends with the program, but I also made friends whom I never see anymore.”

Harrison similarly hopes that inter-class camaraderie can be strengthened in the future.

“My long-term aspiration is to mix up the four years more than they presently are,” Harrison said. “Each class has its own identity and makeup. My ultimate aspiration is that your year doesn’t matter and that everyone knows each other equally well.”