Humanities Honors Program

Background and History

Founded in 1954 by four innovative professors of history, literature, the arts and philosophy, the Humanities Honors Program has been recognized as the single best lower division program for student retention and timely graduation on campus, according to university data gathered over the years. 1 This highly successful path to completion of most of the General Education (GE) requirements for all majors provides a multi-disciplinary, globally inclusive, collaborative four-semester program of humanities-centered study, and also fosters a unique learning community at San Jose State.

A team of faculty works with each two-year cohort of students, teaching, advising and offering guidance. This faculty-student commitment supports a cohort of students who master the ideas and skills for success with integrity. Honors Program goals incorporate:

  1.  student integration into a learning community,
  2.  cultivation of foundational knowledge about world cultures,
  3.  honing of writing and speaking skills,
  4. development of critical and analytical thinking skills, and
  5.  exploration of the deep questions of life learning and meaning

The Honors Program has a rich history on the SJSU campus, with Honors alumni successes in many professional, academic and creative fields. The program hears often from past participants who remember their experiences in Humanities Honors warmly, and who provide support in the form of alumni donations of time and other resources. In fact, there are a continually growing number of alumni who are encouraging their children and grandchildren to participate in the program as well. Would you, too, like to become part of one of SJSU's most valued and respected traditions? See if you qualify for inclusion in the program.

What comprises the Humanities Honors Program?

The Humanities Honors Program is a General Education four-semester, six-unit per semester survey course of the Foundation of Western Culture and Society (HUM 1A/HUM 1B) and Modern Cultural and Social Institutions (HUM 2A/HUM 2B). It is formulated to emphasize the interrelationship of art, literature, philosophy and social institutions. It is centered in the interdisciplinary study of world culture. "Interdisciplinary" means that world culture is considered through the lens of different academic disciplines including: music, art history, rhetoric, philosophy, history and political theory, literature, and theatre. Through the study of cultures, students develop a foundational knowledge of the stories of human history and how civilizations have arisen and transformed into the cultures of the world today. Humanities Honors curriculum spans Antiquity (1A), the Middle Ages and Renaissance (1B), Revolutionary and Modern Eras (2A), and the Contemporary Era (2B). Be sure to look at our Reading List and FAQ online for more information.

What the Program Satisfies at a Glance

Core GE Areas



Written Communication 1A A2 3
Critical Thinking A3 3
Oral Communication A1 3
Arts & Letters C1 & C2 6
Written Communication 1B C3 3
Comparative Systems D2 3
Social Issues D3 3
US History & Constitution F1 & F2 3
CA Government F3 3

30 GE Units Total (36 Units for Engineering becuase Engineering students satisfy Areas D1 and E
by taking Humanities Honors.)

1 Office of Institutional Research, San Jose State University, lower division student program retention statistics.

Can I Apply?

First and foremost, "Honors" in the Humanities Honors Program means "willing to work with integrity." Typically, the program is open to entering freshmen from all majors who meet the qualifications, which are:

  1.  3.0 overall unweighted high school GPA and
  2.  550+ score on the SAT Critical Reading section, or 24+ ACT verbal section, or 3+ score on AP English exam, or 150+ score on the English Placement Test (EPT).

Satisfying #1 and any one of the options in #2 qualifies you for the program.  Please note: students who have any questions about the requirements, or who wish to be considered for inclusion in the program must contact Professor Cynthia Rostankowski, the Coordinator for the Humanities Honors Program, at or at 408-924-4508. Once you have contacted us and indicated your interest, we can proceed with your application process.

Why Humanities Honors?

Humanities Honors is a unique academic experience at SJSU because it creates a scholarly community in which students learn together and in so doing form lasting friendships and memories. Some students say that one of the best things about Humanities Honors is meeting others with whom they can truly discuss what they are studying, and who are as interested in the ideas as they are.

Along with building knowledge and community, Humanities Honors enables students to fast track through the various areas of required lower-division GE courses. In addition to the 24 units of GE requirements the program fulfills, students also fulfill graduation requirements in 6 units of American Institutions, and California Government. In this way, most students satisfy 30 units of General Education requirements while accomplishing 24 units in HUM 1A/B, 2A/B on their transcripts. Engineering majors satisfy 36 units of General Education requirements by taking the 24 units of coursework. This means that the Humanities Honors student will have more time to take courses in his or her major, or take a couple of interesting electives and stay on track toward a timely graduation.

What Can I Do To Be Successful?

First and foremost, Humanities Honors requires reading, so be prepared to spend a significant amount of time immersed in the literature you will be assigned. While challenging, this is also incredibly rewarding, because through immersion you will gain great insight and understanding into the cultures and eras being taught.

Secondly, take good and copious notes. Exams are based on lectures and reading, so pay particular attention to what professors say and write it down, as this will help in studying and in understanding the material. The act of writing engages you mentally in what is being discussed and will be very useful when it comes time to prepare for exams.

Third, form study groups. Cooperative learning is one of the best ways to be successful in your studies, and to make friends. If you are a student who is having trouble understanding something, studying with a fellow classmate helps you to make sense of things because he or she may be able to explain it in a way that makes it clearer. Also, if you are a student who is confident in your understanding of the material, explaining the material to another person solidifies the material in your mind.

Fourth, talk to your professors. Professors in the Humanities Honors Program care about the success of their students and are a resource to help you succeed. Don't be shy. Ask for help when you need it. Your professors will be happy to work with you.

These four guidelines characterize what we mean by "willing to work with integrity."


Faculty members are drawn from several disciplines and are all known by their colleagues as outstanding teachers. Several have received teaching awards at SJSU or other institutions of higher learning.

Who should I contact if I have more questions?

The Coordinator for the Humanities Honors program is Professor Cynthia Rostankowski. Her office is in Clark Hall, room 441, and her office phone is: 408-924-4508. You may also reach her by email at

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