Tips & Tricks for First-Year Student Applicants


  • The honors program application becomes available on your Admissions Profile within about a week of being admitted to the university. You will not be able to access the honors application without having first been admitted to the university. If you do not see the Honors application email Susan Dickinson:
  • Understand that technical issues can happen and plan ahead.
    Just like giving yourself extra time to travel through heavy traffic, it's not a bad idea to prepare your materials at least a few days in advance of the deadline in case your computer suddenly decides it doesn't feel like submitting our application. Actually, you should try to do that for any application you're completing. Trust us, it's a much happier experience for everyone involved.

Application Materials

  • You must have an unofficial transcript in PDF format that you yourself will upload into the honors application.
    Do not have your high school send a transcript on your behalf for the purposes of the honors application. If a transcript has already been sent to the university for other purposes, we still need you to upload a PDF version into the honors application.
  • Obtain a copy of your high school transcript at least two to three weeks before the application deadline.
    Your high school's process may require more (or less) than two to three weeks, but we recommend that you double-check to make sure you know how long it may take to secure an unofficial copy of your transcript that you can upload into your application. You may have immediate access to an online version, in which case we refer you to the point in the section above re: technical issues.
  • Your essay will also be uploaded as a PDF.
    Draft your essay in your program of choice, then save as a PDF. If you are unsure of how to convert the document into a PDF, the search engine of your choice is your friend! Or, contact the honors program and we'll try to help you out.
  • There is an option to submit additional information.
    This space is intended for students to be able to expand on an area of the application that they feel warrants additional explanation. This includes, but is not limited to:  health issues that affected grades for a specific period of time, a brief explanation of high school course selection, or a description of how or why a student chose between two different activities (e.g. sacrificing a school organization for a part-time job). This doesn't need to be a formal essay - just let us know what's going on. If this part of the application is used to upload a resume or what appears to be a college admissions essay written on a prompt other than what we've requested, that information will be disregarded.

Writing the essay

2021-22 prompt: Tell us about an idea you cannot stop thinking about. Why is it so engrossing to you?

  • Answer the question.
    This may seem like an obvious one, but we receive a lot of thoughtful, well-written responses to questions we have not asked.
  • Use the space you've been given.
    We have asked for a maximum of 750 words, but did not specify a minimum. While we see successful essays at a variety of lengths, students who reach less than half of the maximum words we ask for typically have not engaged with the essay prompt in a way that helps us get to know them.
  • Don't forget that we're trying to get to know you.
    Sometimes this essay topic generates responses that sound like Wikipedia articles. We love a good information resource, but this is not what we're looking for here. Don't forget to tell us (or better, illustrate for us) how this topic teaches us about you. We don't really want you to convince us it's an interesting idea, but rather we want you to explain why or how you are engrossed.
    Some additional questions you may consider as you try to tackle the prompt:
    • Is there a topic that makes your friends roll their eyes because once you get started you just can't help yourself? 
    • Do you find yourself going down internet rabbit holes? About what?
    • What is an idea that has been with you in some form since you were a kid?
    • What do you with your with your time when you don't have to do anything?
    • Does something keep you up at night?
    • How do you procrastinate?
    • What makes you a little weird?
  • Stay away from absolutes.
    Words like "always", "never", and "impossible" tend to kick a reader's inner Devil's Advocate into gear. When we read them, we can't help but think of an example of when your assertion is NOT true. If you do not employ these inflexible words, you may avoid triggering a reviewer's inner debate champion!
  • Don't conclude by pandering.
    Your conclusion doesn't need an explicit statement along the lines of "And this is why I'm looking forward to all the opportunities in the honors program" or "And that's why I'm excited to be a Hawkeye". It's great if you're excited to join our community, but we take your engagement with the application, as it's written (i.e. follow the instructions), as your statement of interest.
  • Try to enjoy it! (No, really!)
    Believe it or not, we do not ask for an essay just to see what we can get you to do, or because everyone else is doing it. We hope the essay can be an outlet for you to explore something you truly love or a chance to take some time to think about what makes you tick, as well as a tool for us just to get to know you better. Don't worry about proving anything to us, other than the fact that you sometimes have some thoughts about some thing that you find engrossing (and perhaps that you have proofread your writing prior to submission).

To that end, our professional and student staffs did some thinking about what we would write about if given this prompt. Examples include: the importance and value of libraries; identical twins who are split at birth and what they can teach us about nature vs. nurture; and whether the Cubs bullpen exists merely to teach us patience.

Completing the activities section

In this section, you have the opportunity to share up to 10 of the most meaningful extracurricular activities your were engaged in from ninth grade to the present. You will be able to provide a more detailed description of three of those experiences.

  • Follow the instructions.
    Sensing a theme? Again, this might seem like it would be common sense, but we know this is probably not the only application you'll complete this year and it's easy to run on autopilot. Read the instructions carefully, then follow them. We thought about them a lot, and we think they'll help you introduce yourself to us in the most effective way for this process.
  • Don't upload a resume as an "additional information" supplement.
    See point above as well as the corresponding information in the Application Materials section above.
  • Don't limit yourself to school-sanctioned organizations if that isn't where you spend all your time.
    Are you employed? Do you have a time-consuming hobby? Maybe you have significant caregiving responsibilities at home or volunteer your time in ways that don't give you a traditional label of "volunteer". Think carefully about how you spend your time, and then tell us about the meaningful (to you) stuff, no matter where, when, or how it happens.
  • Think carefully about what you would like to highlight.
    You'll have the opportunity to list up to ten activities, but you get to provide a fuller description of only three of those. Please choose three activities that are truly meaningful to you. Don't choose the ones you think we want to see (you just might be wrong). Don't choose the ones that extrinsic feedback tells you are valuable. Choose the three that will help us get to know you.
  • Use acronyms and abbreviations carefully.
    We can probably figure out what it means if you said you were the VP of a group, but other acronyms and abbreviations can be locally or regionally specific. You might want to spell things out for us.
  • List the name of the actual group, employer, etc. in the first line of the activity, when applicable.
    We sometimes see more of a category here instead of the name of the activity (e.g. "Athletics" instead of "Baseball" or "Employment" instead of "Hooper's Store"). We'd really rather see what specific organizations or activities you are involved with because it helps us get to know you that much better. It will also leave you more space in the "Participation Details" line to give us your actual positions or roles (e.g. captain, cashier, Employee of the Month April 2019) rather than spending some of that space on naming the organization. We know some independent activities, such as hobbies, don't have an overarching organization you are involved with, and in that case it's fine to give us more of a descriptor (e.g. "independent genealogy research").
  • 10 is an upper limit, not a requirement (not even a suggestion).
    We do want you to fill this section out to the best of your ability, but we have seen great activities lists with fewer than 10 activities present. Again, we're just trying to get to know you. Don't overthink it - and maybe don't tell us about that one thing you did once for two hours one Saturday (unless it was super transformative for you - surely possible!).