Math Honors Program

The Math Honors Program began in the mid-1960s as a means of encouraging excellent undergraduates to pursue a program that would challenge their abilities and better prepare them for their postgraduate career. Over the last 15 years, the program has grown from an average of four to five participants, with one to two completing the program each year, to an average now of about 35–40 participants, with 10–14 students completing the program each year.

More than half of the participants are double majoring in math and another area such as physics, computer science, math education, chemistry, engineering or a foreign language. Many students have done study abroad programs, particularly the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics. Students have also participated in summer programs such as the NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates.

Since 1992, seven math honors students have won Goldwater Scholarships, and 19 students have won NSF Fellowships for graduate school. In addition, three students have won the very prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship to Cambridge, UK.

About 80 percent of the students completing the honors program go on to graduate school in math or a math-related area, while the others have found rewarding jobs. Recent graduates have completed or are pursuing Ph.D.s in math, physics, engineering or other math-related areas at schools such as Princeton, Stanford, NYU, Wisconsin, Cornell, Northwestern, Rutgers, Ohio State, Duke, UNC and NC State. Several students have completed the BS/MS Degree Program, which enabled them to complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degree within five years.

Admission to the Program

Students usually enter the Math Honors Program during their sophomore or junior year. Invitation is based on a minimum 3.5 GPA both overall and in mathematics as well as recommendation of the Mathematics Department faculty. The Mathematics Department appoints an honors director, who administers the program and oversees the advising of all honors students.

Program of Study

Students are expected to complete MA 426 as well as a minimum of three graduate-level courses. With approval of the honors director, courses in math-related areas or 400-level honors-option elective courses in mathematics may be used as a substitute for one or more graduate-level courses. Honors sections of required upper-level math courses (MA 405H, MA 407H, MA 491H) are recommended for honors students but may not be used to satisfy math honors program requirements.

The selection of graduate-level courses depends on the student’s interests and postgraduate plans. Many students take courses to better prepare themselves for graduate work in mathematics. However, many recent math honors students have double-majored in areas such as physics, computer science, chemistry, engineering and education in order to prepare for careers or graduate study in those areas, while others have chosen to prepare for mathematical careers such as the actuarial profession.

Research

Honors students are expected to complete an independent study or research course (MA 491), which is usually taken during the senior year. Some students will elect to use MA 491 to study an area of mathematics of interest to them but in which no suitable course offering exists. Others will use MA 491 to work on a research project. Several students have participated in an NSF-sponsored REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at another school during the summer and received transfer credit for MA 491. For more information on the various research opportunities, go to Research.

A student who is double-majoring is allowed to substitute for MA 491 the senior writing course in the other major.

No matter how an honors student satisfies the research requirement, the student is expected to submit a write-up of his or her work. In addition, the student makes an oral presentation of the work in a special seminar open to the entire department.

Completion of the Honors Program

The student must maintain at least a B average in MA 426 and the three graduate-level courses described above in the program of study and receive an “S” in MA 491. (MA 491 may also be taken for a grade.) In addition, the student must graduate with at least a 3.4 GPA overall and in mathematics.

Advising of Honors Program Students

Students in the honors program will be advised by one of the faculty on the Math Honors Program Committee. Students may select one of these faculty upon admission to the program or, if no preference is indicated, the student will be assigned to the faculty member who seems to best match the student’s interests.

Honors Program Recognition

Graduating seniors in the Honors Program receive a certificate signed by the dean of the College of Sciences and the director of the College of Sciences Honors Program Committee. Mention is made on the student’s transcript and in the commencement program. Recognition will be given by comment in letters of reference to potential employers and to graduate school admissions committees.

Withdrawal from the Honors Program

An honors student who at any time decides that he or she would be more comfortable out of the program may withdraw with no complications. If a student does decide to withdraw from the program, it is not necessary to switch to a new adviser.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be in the University Honors Program to join the Math Honors Program?

  • No. Any math major who meets the admission requirements can join the Math Honors Program. If you are a math major in the University Honors Program, then you complete the Math Honors Program as part of your four-year honors program.

How many extra courses do I have to take to complete the program?

  • Generally none, but it depends on the number and level of math electives done before joining the program. The mathematics degree requires 18 hours of math electives and applied math requires 15 hours, so the 15 hours required by the Math Honors Program fits into the set of math electives.

I want to double major. Is it possible to do the Math Honors Program?

  • You bet! About half of our Honors Program members are double majors in disciplines such as physics, computer science, statistics, nuclear engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, English, history, French, Spanish … you get the picture.

How can I find out if the Honors Program will work for me?

  • When you’re invited into the program, the Math Honors Program director will work out a plan of study that shows you how to fit the Honors Program and all of its special opportunities into your plans, including both your undergraduate and postgraduate careers. Remember, the Math Honors Program doesn’t require extra courses, just more challenging ones.

If math is not my primary major, which courses can I take in the Math Honors Program?

  • We have many graduate-level math courses that are particularly well suited to majors in science or engineering. In fact, some of them even count toward both degrees. For example, MA 580 (Numerical Analysis) is cross-listed in math and computer science, so it counts as a math elective and a computer science elective and satisfies the Honors Program requirements in both disciplines.