"Honor"ary Degrees
April 30, 2010 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What is the easiest way to get an honorary degree?

Famous people get honorary degrees all the time without having to work for them. How could a layperson get on that train?

note: I'm not talking about faking a degree or committing any kind of fraud. loopholes are ok, but outright fraud is no good.
posted by nomad to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
At my alma mater, the honorary degree recipients were people that gave talks around commencement (not at the ceremony, but probably most of those commencement speakers get honorary degrees too). So... be interesting enough and know the right people to get chosen to do that.
posted by brainmouse at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2010

I know several people with honorary doctorates (in Canada this is often designated as LL.D). They were all granted these degrees for outstanding contribution to the community (ie. a lifetime spent volunteering for specific causes, raising millions for medical research or the arts, being an active participant in lobbying government for successful law changes to protect the environment or children etc.).
posted by meerkatty at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2010

Generally, you need to a) need to be really famous for something positive, b) attract the attention of a University (a very large donation might help here), c) get nominated (ditto), and d) accept, then show up for commencement. Usually a speech is involved. It would probably be more certain and take less time to just do the work (unless you are already famous).

Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on the practice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2010

It's not about being famous, it's about doing something that the college or university feels is worth honoring.

There are many things you could do that are honorable. If you're looking for a shortcut, you could consider donating a lot of money to a college or university, or doing a lot of volunteering for the school in some critical capacity over a number of years so as to affect a change that would significantly alter the school for the better. Those things might warrant an honorary degree. Just be sure that you don't try to set up a quid pro quo in advance.
posted by alms at 11:23 AM on April 30, 2010

Basically by being ridiculously awesome. Honorary degrees are the ways universities show incredible admiration.

This is almost way harder than actually earning the degree in question.
posted by valkyryn at 11:25 AM on April 30, 2010

Buy them a building. Or two.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:26 AM on April 30, 2010

I bet there's a diploma mill that would sell you one.
posted by box at 11:48 AM on April 30, 2010

My alma mater says "Honorary degrees are intended to recognize individuals who have made substantial contributions to society at the provincial, national and/or international levels."

Looking at the list of recipients (second link above), some of them are not famous, exactly, but I wouldn't say any of them are laypeople. Once we eliminate the people who could reasonably be considered famous (a prolific, critically-acclaimed author, a well-known actor/comedian, and an astronaut), we have
  • the CEO of the most recent Olympics
  • two medical researchers
  • a former Dean of Science
  • a documentary filmmaker/advocate
  • a mathematician/math educator
  • an artist/art scholar
  • an orchestra leader
  • the Chief Technology Officer of a communications corporation
If you do some kind of exceptional community service or are a research/business leader, you might have a shot at an honorary degree. At the University of British Columbia, anyway.

[Sheesh, Douglas Coupland AND Rick Mercer are going to be there? I wish they'd spoken at my grad.]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:54 AM on April 30, 2010

Out of curiosity, why do you want to get on that train? It's an honor to be recognized for your work, but honorary degrees don't MEAN anything besides that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:00 PM on April 30, 2010

Well, if nomad's profile didn't place him in Connecticut, I would almost say this sounded like something for the University of Chicago scav hunt.

Have you tried calling and asking?
posted by Carillon at 2:06 PM on April 30, 2010

posted by hworth at 2:16 PM on April 30, 2010

Do they have to be accredited? The (entirely meaningless, non-accredited) Doctor of Divinity degree from the Universal Life Church is yours for only $32.99.

(Disclosure: I have been canonized by the ULC. For free.)
posted by dr. boludo at 2:49 PM on April 30, 2010

You could get horribly burned by napalm, survive, then forgive your attackers.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:51 AM on May 1, 2010

Yeah...you could be a genius, contribute something really awesome to humanity, find something beautiful or helpful in the world, or even just do something incredibly selfless.

And then you get your honorary degrees.

And after that, you can do some horrible ass shit.


But seriously, the easiest way is to be reasonably popular...at least within your alma mater (easies way)...get really popular with the student government and the deans for your work with the university and what you do outside of it.

Also...you gotta make sure they can't get someone better to speak at commencement.

That'll do.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:18 PM on May 1, 2010

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