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Undergraduate Honors Concentration

Applications for admission in Fall 2021 will be available January 25-February 22 2021

The MCB Honors concentration accepts applications in the Fall semester for continuing sophomores and transfer students and in Spring semester from continuing freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. No applications will be considered from first-semester freshmen in the FALL semester. Applications from other students may be considered on a case-by-case basis (please consult the Honors Coordinator for more information). Honors Concentration Information Meetings are held periodically. You may review a video of a past presentation here or a pdf of the most recent presentation here.

The MCB Honors Concentration is designed for exceptional MCB Majors who demonstrate personal motivation to explore a fuller complement of experiences in biology during their undergraduate training. MCB honors students typically plan to enter graduate or professional programs to reach their career goals and want an intensive undergraduate education as preparation. The MCB Honors Concentration is separate from, but compatible with the LAS James Scholar program.


Honors students must

  • fulfill all normal requirements of the MCB major;
  • complete five honors discussion sections (MCB 297 A, B, C; MCB 298 A, B), see below;
  • complete four or more additional MCB Honors Option courses, typically taken as Juniors and Seniors (although Honors students are encouraged to begin MCB 290 research sooner, if chosen as an option);
  • maintain minimum grade point averages (3.5 cumulative or 3.3 major);
  • other requirements may be added over time.

Required honors discussion sections

In addition to providing smaller and more interactive courses, honors sections are designed to develop skills in reading and critiquing primary scientific literature, analytical thinking and problem solving, oral and written communication, teamwork and creativity. There are five honors discussion sections, 297 A, B and C (which must be taken in consecutive order) and 298 A and B (which must be taken in consecutive order). It is preferred that students take these courses alongside 250, 252 and 354 (for 297 A, B, C) and 251 and 253 (for 298 A and B). However, students may offset the discussion sequences from the Core courses under certain circumstances (e.g., a student is accepted into the Concentration after having completed one or more Core courses). Please consult the Honors Coordinator with questions about your unique circumstances.

MCB Honors Option courses may include

  1. One additional advanced MCB course from the Approved List of Advanced Courses for MCB Majors;
  2. Honors Project in one advanced MCB course from the Approved List of Advanced Courses for MCB Majors;
  3. MCB 290: Individual Topics (Undergraduate Research): must be taken for a minimum of 2 credit hours (or 1, if taken during the 8-week summer session);
  4. MCB 492: Senior Thesis (may be applied towards graduation with distinction);
  5. MCB 292: Experiential Learning: must be taken for a minimum of 2 credit hours;
  6. Study Abroad in MCB-approved discipline-specific programs only;
  7. Approved Supplemental Advanced Course outside of MCB (see Honors Coordinator for list of courses approved for this option).

Students must consult the Honors Coordinator about MCB Honors Option courses. Only MCB 290 may be repeated, to a maximum of twice, although continuing 290 beyond two semesters is encouraged.  Other restrictions may apply, and other courses/options may be added to this list over time.


The MCB Honors Concentration is open to MCB majors only. All students admitted to the Concentration must either change their major to MCB Honors or make MCB Honors their primary major (if completing more than one major). In addition to the motivation to perform honors work, qualifications for admittance typically include cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better, grades of B+ or better in mathematics and science courses taken at the University of Illinois, and University of Illinois teaching assistant or instructor recommendation. Students should apply as soon as they are interested, preferably prior to enrolling in MCB 250/251--generally, during the Spring of their Freshman year. However, we also hold an application period each fall semester so first semester sophomores (and beyond) should still consider applying. Please Note: we do not accept applications in the Fall semester from first-semester freshmen. Freshmen who plan to take MCB 250/251 in the Spring of their freshman year should consult the Honors Coordinator for their options. Consult the Honors Coordinator if you have questions about any special circumstances (e.g., continuing students, transfer students, students who have already taken one MCB Core course, etc.). Also note that completion of one year of general chemistry (Chem 102 and 104) is a prerequisite and one semester or concurrent enrollment in organic chemistry is strongly encouraged for students enrolling in MCB 250. Please consult the FAQ for more details.

Application Process

During the open application period, a link to the on-line application can be found here. It is recommended that you prepare and save the information in a separate document and cut and paste in the application form for submission. If you make a mistake, you may re-submit a new application. Only the last application submitted will be read. The required essays are a critical component of your application assessment. Please take the time to construct thoughtful answers that provide some insight into your personality and character. Applicants who have not met this criterion may not be selected for an interview.

Letter of Recommendation

Applicants must submit ONE letter of recommendation. This letter must be from a University of Illinois professor/instructor or teaching assistant (no high school letters please). Also, NO letters from undergraduate TAs, e.g., Chemistry). Students who have transferred from another university or community college and are applying during their first semester on this campus may submit a letter from their previous institution. The letter should address your qualifications for participation in a college-level honors program and your level of commitment, in general, to your education. Consider asking someone who has known you in a classroom or laboratory (research) setting. Letters may be mailed via campus mail or emailed directly from the referee to Dr. Naidu or hand-delivered by the student to Dr. Naidu in 200 Burrill Hall. Letters delivered by students must be in a sealed envelope, signed across the seal by the referee. Applications will not be considered complete until the letter of recommendation is received.

example journals spread out on table with a text-box saying: Reflection Journals, MCB 298 A and B 'Reflective journaling helps students to develop critical thinking and promotes creativity.  When you write reflexively about your experiences, you thin more deeply about your learning and consider how to apply those concepts to wider issues. It also develops communication skills and self-awareness.'

Please see the FAQ if you have more questions about the Honors Concentration.

For More Information:

Dr. Shawna Naidu, PhD
Senior Coordinator for Instruction-Honors
School of Molecular and Cellular Biology
200 Burrill Hall, MC-119
(217) 333-6774

(Office location is in 209 Burrill Hall)