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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Comparing Plan II and Liberal Arts Honors

The differences between Plan II Honors and the Liberal Arts Honors programs are numerous, as are the similarities. The two programs are equally distinguished and can both boast of many of the brightest and most talented students at the University of Texas at Austin. Plan II and LAH could be considered sister programs, sometimes sharing information, faculty and a few special events. But the purpose and design of the programs are quite distinct. Size-wise, the programs are similar. Plan II seeks an entering freshman class of about 175 each fall. LAH invites about 120 to 130 entering freshmen.

Plan II students can combine Plan II with other majors, degree or honors programs (Business Honors, Dean’s Scholars, Engineering Honors, Turing Scholars and Health Science Honors), but a student may not be in both Plan II Honors and Liberal Arts Honors.  Although Plan II and LAH are quite different, pursuing them together would be a form of “double-dipping” that we don’t allow. Applicants may APPLY to both Plan II and LAH, and may be ADMTTED to both Programs. If admitted to both programs however, the applicant must choose the best fit of the two programs.

Plan II Honors was established in 1935. We celebrated the diamond jubilee 75th anniversary in March of 2010. It is an honors program, but also a major in the College of Liberal Arts. A student may, but does not have to, claim or pursue any other major in addition to Plan II. Plan II, as a major, has specific degree requirement courses which are open only to Plan II majors. Major requirements are constituted of core curriculum courses (humanities/liberal arts; sciences; social sciences; math; and fine arts). The major requirements--the Plan II Honors core curriculum--would comprise approximately one-third of a student’s total degree hours; about one quarter of the total hours if the student pursues multiple majors and/or dual-degrees. Plan II is often regarded as the better fit for the student who is looking to study broadly across disciplines and/or focus on a specific discipline or career training (combining other majors and/or degrees with the Plan II major), while still pursuing a broad arts and sciences education.  The breadth of the Plan II core curriculum encourages broad study and also allows a huge degree of flexibility that enables majors to easily incorporate multiple majors or concentrations within the usual four-year course of study.

Although Plan II Honors is itself a major, almost 75 % of Plan II Honors majors pursue a second (or third) major in the same college (double-majors) or seek simultaneous degrees with a second major in another college (dual-degree). Triple majors are not uncommon. We’ve seen five majors in four years on more than one occasion (which is certainly not necessary, nor is it necessarily recommended). Dual-degree programs means that one of the majors is housed in a different college and they require not only more specific major and college requirements, but additional hours. Dual-degree programs are almost always five-year commitments.

Plan II has from 60 to 90 Plan II Engineers, another 30 to 50 students combining Plan II and a degree in the College of Communication, approximately 120 Plan II majors combining Plan II with the McCombs School of Business and close to that number of students combining Plan II and a major in the College of Natural Sciences. A few dozen students will combine Plan II with a degree plan in the College of Fine Arts. And, one or two students a year will combine Plan II with Architecture (usually a six-year commitment).  We have a handful of students combining Plan II Honors with degrees in the Jackson School of Geoscience, the College of Education and the School of Social Work.

Liberal Arts Honors, as is it exists now, was created about 22 years ago. LAH seeks to admit students who have a strong commitment to a liberal arts education. LAH is not a major however.  LAH students have majors in any/every department in the College of Liberal Arts. Liberal Arts Honors is an enhancement honors program, or an “umbrella” program which coordinates all the disciplinary majors in the College of Liberal Arts—other than Plan II.  With LAH, a student must choose a major in the College of Liberal Arts (History, Economics, English, Spanish, Gov, Geography, Linguistics, etc.). These students are certain of their pursuit of a liberal arts major and degree, even if not 100% sure of which major in the liberal arts. Most however are comfortable and confident of a major choice, whether it’s Sociology or Linguistics; Philosophy or Geography.  Many LAH students pursue multiple majors in the College of Liberal Arts. LAH does share a few majors with the College of Engineering, the College of Fine Arts and the College of Natural Science, but it's less common than in Plan II Honors.  The “true” LAH student is is usually far more interested in specific disciplinary studies (wanting more history or more English classes) and is somewhat less interested in the proscribed Plan II core curriculum of interdisciplinary arts and science studies.

LAH offers honors sections of the University’s core requirements. Plan II’s major requirements are core courses. Plan II has a more rigid set of math and science requirements. The Plan II core includes specific social science course requirements, philosophy and non-US History requirements. We believe that through the Plan II core curriculum, our students experience a binding intellectual undercurrent that unites them and gives them a strong sense of a shared experience.

Rather than a set curriculum of core courses such as Plan II offers, LAH students take two core course in the freshman year and also have the option to take some of their University core requirements (such as American history or Government) in honors level sections. LAH students are united by the designation "honors," the honors core courses and the fact that they have an optional thesis. But that thesis and any specific disciplinary honors required courses are generally coordinated through each student's home department. Some departments have very evolved honors programs. Plan II has a much greater mix of students in other colleges who may vary wildly in current and future interests and career paths, but who are all united by the Plan II core curriculum experience and the Plan II community, which is remarkably strong.

LAH students who pursue the disciplinary honors recognition in their major, (“special honors” in their major discipline, for example, "Special Honors in History") must submit a thesis.  But the thesis-track is optional for students in LAH. 

All Plan II Honors students must write a senior thesis. If a student pursues honors recognition in History, for example, the student will fall under the aegis of LAH, even if the student did not participate in freshman honors through LAH. Many Plan II students double- and triple-major (sometimes they pursue as many as four or five majors) and complete Special Honors in the second (or third) major(s) in addition to graduating as a Plan II Honors major.  In such circumstances, the student graduates with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Plan II Honors and History Honors (for example).

Either program would benefit an undergraduate who is planning to pursue graduate work. An LAH Anthropology major, for instance, would be well-prepared to compete with other Anthropology majors for admission to a graduate program. A Plan II Honors student planning to pursue an advanced degree in Anthropology would be advised from the beginning to include the additional major in Anthropology, along with the Plan II Honors major. She would not only have the Anthopology major, she would have the additional benefit of the rigorous core curriculum and the “fairy dust” of the Plan II Honors degree, completion of one of the most competitive and highly regarded honors programs in the US. She would be the student who has fulfilled the standard Anthropology requirements and is also quite well-versed in Philosophy, literature, biology and advanced theoretical physics. Graduate schools notice. Medical schools notice. Law schools notice. All the “big” schools, and med schools, law schools and MBA programs, as well as a large cross-section of the highly-regarded companies (Boston Consulting, Google, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, FaceBook and McKinsey, etc.) know Plan II Honors quite well. The history and tradition of excellence and achievement of the Plan II Honors Program and its alumni carry a great deal of weight.

But that by no means implies that LAH is less distinguished. Far from it. LAH is designed differently to offer a challenging honors experience to students who have a different focus than the “typical” Plan II Honors student. In addition to challenging honors level courses, the LAH Programs also provides a lot of the closely-knit community structure and offers many similar organized activities that the Plan II Honors Program offers. LAH students are also eligible for honors housing assignment as are Plan II Honors majors. LAH includes activities and programs to develop and foster a sense of community, however LAH is NOT a major; Plan II Honors is a major. LAH does not have a core curriculum; majors in LAH pursue different curricula depending on their major. Plan II Honors student share a curriculum and a major and may, or may not, combine other majors and degrees with their Plan II Honors major.

Questions concerning Plan II admission?  Please email Plan II Admissions Director, Jennifer Scalora.

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