Undergraduate students may apply for exemption from up to three different Focus requirements if they have had one or more extraordinary college-level educational experiences that fall outside of normal university coursework and also meet appropriate Focus Hallmarks.
To earn exemption, students must demonstrate to the General Education Committee or relevant General Education Board that the experience(s) fulfilled the goals of the requested Focus area(s). Approved exemptions reduce the number of courses required for the approved Focus area(s); however, they do not reduce the total number of credit hours needed to graduate. Students are limited to three exemptions. Restrictions apply.
Applications from Two or More Students as a Group
Two or more UH Mānoa students who participated in the same extraordinary Non-Course Experience or Course-Based Experience in the same academic semester may submit a single application together. Each student’s full name, UH ID number, contact information (email and mailing address), and signature should be listed on the application form. The students may write their statement together, and request a single Sponsor Verification and Assessment Form for all covered students. If the application is for a Course-Based Experience, please submit a single course syllabus with your application.
Note that the General Education Boards who review the group application will issue a final decision that will apply equally to all students covered in the group’s Focus Exemption application. No appeals are possible.
- Read through the entire Focus Exemption application form and the Frequently Asked Questions (see toggle below) to be sure that the experience qualifies and meets the Hallmarks (see toggles below labeled “Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences” and “Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences”).
- Submit the application form with a statement of no more than 750 words addressing how the experience met the hallmarks and was an extraordinary educational experience. See the Statement Writing Tips (toggle below) below for guidance.
- Have the sponsor complete the Sponsor Verification and Assessment Form to be included as part of your application. Note that the Sponsor Verification and Assessment Form is part of the Focus Exemption application form (page 4).
- If you are applying for a course-based exemption, you must also submit a course syllabus.
Deadlines. Students must submit the application form, statement, and the Sponsor Verification and Assessment Form at least one semester prior to the anticipated semester of graduation. For course-based exemptions, a course syllabus must also be included. Students are encouraged to submit these well before the due date. Due dates:
August graduation: March 1 (or earlier)
December graduation: April 1 (or earlier)
May graduation: November 1 (or earlier)
+ Frequently Asked Questions
1. What makes an experience “extraordinary”?
An extraordinary experience stands out as uncommon when compared to educational experiences of the general UH student population. It is something that falls outside of normal university coursework yet is instructive, with a concentration on knowledge and skills acquisition in the Focus area for which the exemption is sought.
Here are some examples of “extraordinary” experiences that may serve as the basis for an exemption:
- Service as a student representative on a college campus’s academic grievance board (non-course experience; Contemporary Ethical Issues)
- Receipt of training and mentoring on giving public presentations and/or conducting interviews as part of professional work experience in the U.S.A. or abroad (non-course experience; Oral Communication)
- Participation in a project or projects of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (non-course experience; Hawaiian, Asian, & Pacific Issues)
- Production of marketing brochures or informational flyers for a community center (non-course experience; Writing Intensive)
- Successful completion of one or more college courses taught in a foreign country (most commonly taken through the Study Abroad Program). These courses must be taught by non-UHM faculty in order to be eligible. Courses taught by UHM faculty should go through the regular Focus designation process prior to the start of the Study Abroad Program in which they are being offered. Please consult with the General Education Office for clarification regarding these types of experiences, as restrictions apply (course-based experience; Focus area depends on course focus)
- Completion of company training sessions on ethical business practices (course-based experience; Contemporary Ethical Issues)
2. What is the difference between a “course-based” and a “non-course” experience?
- A “course-based experience” is an educational experience that involved professional training or one or more classes taken outside of the U.S.A., and for which a Focus designation was not possible. A course taken at another U.S. institution is not considered extraordinary, as over half of UHM students graduate with transfer credits.
- A “non-course experience” is an educational experience that did not involve a course, training session, or other formal instruction.
3. Which Hallmarks do I use?
- If the experience involved a course, workshop, training session, or similar educational experience, use the Focus Exemption: Hallmarks for Courses.
- For non-course experiences, use the Focus Exemption: Hallmarks for Non-course Experiences.
4. How do I demonstrate that my experience was both extraordinary and educational?
In your statement of no more than 750 words, give evidence for how your experience is not possible to obtain at UHM. Explain what you learned as a result of the experience. The knowledge you gained must be directly related to the Hallmarks of the Focus area(s) for which you are seeking an exemption.
5. How do I provide evidence that the experience met the Focus Hallmarks?
Consult the Focus Exemption: Hallmarks for Courses or Hallmarks for Non-course Experiences on the UHM General Education website: www.hawaii.edu/gened. In your statement, include detailed examples from your experience that illustrate how each Hallmark was met. Be sure to address each of the Hallmarks.
6. Are there samples that I can follow?
Each statement will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, not only in terms of the factors mentioned above, but also on the degree or intensity of the experience. Students must present compelling arguments to receive an exemption from the Focus area(s) requested.
7. Who can be a sponsor?
The Focus Exemption requires a sponsor who can verify that the student has completed the extraordinary educational experience.
- For course-based experiences, the sponsor should be the course instructor or trainer.
- For non-course experiences, the sponsor can be the director, employer, mentor, or equivalent person who supervised the experience.
8. What happens after I submit my form, statement, and sponsor verification form?
Faculty members on the UHM General Education Committee or the appropriate Focus Board(s) will review the documents. You should receive a response to your application approximately four to six weeks after submission during the Fall and Spring semesters, or in September/October if the application is submitted after the April 1 deadline. (Please see above for due dates.)
9. What if I’ve missed the deadline?
Applications that are submitted after the published deadline may be accepted, but it is likely that the request will not be reviewed until the following semester, after registration for that semester has closed. This poses a problem for students if their requests are not approved, as they will not be able to add the additional Focus course they need in order to graduate that semester.
+ Statement Writing Tips
Focus Exemption: Tips for Writing the Statement
Faculty members on the General Education Committee or relevant General Education Board will evaluate the statement you submit along with your application form and sponsor verification form. Below are tips to help you craft your statement.
- Write an argumentative, compelling essay. Start with an introduction that contains a clear thesis statement, include several body paragraphs with supporting evidence and examples, and end with a convincing conclusion.
- In your statement, clearly describe the experience or course and explain how it was an educational experience.
- In your statement, provide good reasons why the experience was extraordinary when compared to the average student at UHM.
- To help you write your first draft, turn each of the Hallmarks from the appropriate Focus area into questions and then answer the questions. Your answers can be integrated into the body paragraphs of your statement.
- Hallmark: The experience involved a contemporary ethical issue. Question: What contemporary ethical issue did I learn about?
- Hallmark: Through the experience, the student learned about one of the following: an intersection of Hawaiian culture with Asian culture. Question: What cultures did I learn about? What was the specific intersection(s) that I learned about?
- Hallmark: Individual feedback and critique of performance was given by a mentor, supervisor, director, employer, and/or audience members. Who gave me feedback? What feedback did I receive? What did I do with that feedback?
- Hallmark: Writing contributed to learning in the experience. What did I learn through the writing?
- In your statement, provide detailed examples from your experience that show how your experience meets each of the Hallmarks.
- Revise your draft. Ask a friend to read it and point out areas that are unclear.
- Proofread and edit. Ask a friend to read it and point out errors. Careful attention to language use, clarity, grammar, punctuation, and spelling is important.
- Verify that the statement is 750 words or less (Microsoft Word users: under the File menu option, choose Properties, and then select Statistics).
+ Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences
Focus Exemption Hallmarks
Students who are applying for a Focus exemption based on a non-course experience should use the Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences below.
Students with an extraordinary experience tied to a course (for example: a college course, business workshop, training course, military course) should use the Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences. Please note that activities associated with a course such as a course’s service learning project fit under the course-based category.
Contemporary Ethical Issues: Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences
1. The experience involved a contemporary ethical issue.
Examples of contemporary ethical issues include (but are not limited to): medical research;
bioethics; ethical business practices; the withholding of information from employees by
employers; the sale of personal information; product safety; stem cell research; immigration laws
and policies; political campaign contributions; child labor; use of non-lethal weapons; access to
technology; plagiarism, copyright, and open source issues.
2. The student learned a way of responsibly analyzing and dealing with ethical issues. Ideally, the
student learned a framework for deliberating on ethical issues.
3. The experience provided practice in how to identify ethical issues.
4. The duration of the experience was at least 32 hours.
Hawaiian, Asian, & Pacific Issues: Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences
- Through the experience, the student learned about one of the following:
a. an intersection of Hawaiian culture with Asian culture
b. an intersection of Hawaiian culture with Pacific Island culture
c. an intersection of Hawaiian culture with Asian and Pacific Island cultures.
An intersection occurs when aspects of the cultures combine or influence each other.
- The student learned about the cultures from the perspectives and voices of Native Hawaiians and
the indigenous people(s) of Asia and/or Pacific Islands.
To demonstrate that the student learned from the native perspectives, the student should include
in their statement (a) the names of the Native Hawaiians and (b) the names of the indigenous
Asians or Pacific Islanders studied or involved in the experience. Please note that a nonindigenous
person’s interpretation of native perspectives is insufficient.
- The experience dealt with at least one topic that is crucial to an understanding of the histories,
cultures, beliefs, arts, or the society, political, economic, or technological processes of the regions
involved in the intersection. For example, the relationships of societal structures to the natural
- The experience resulted in greater cross-cultural understanding.
- The duration of the experience was at least 32 hours.
Oral Communication: Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences
- At least three oral presentations were given.
Oral presentations include (but are not limited to) speeches, panel discussions, debates,
interviews, facilitation and participation in community gatherings, participation in service
learning and outreach activities (tutoring, teaching, coaching), press conferences, creative or
aesthetic performances (storytelling, performance of literature, dramatic performance, readings).
- Instruction and guidance on how to give an oral presentation was provided by a mentor,
supervisor, director, employer, or similar person.
- Individual feedback and critique of performance was given by a mentor, supervisor, director,
employer, and/or audience members.
Writing Intensive: Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences
- Writing contributed to learning in the experience. For example, the writing enhanced the
understanding of the experience or encouraged self-reflection during the experience.
- Individual feedback was given during the writing process. For example, before completing a
piece of writing, a mentor, employer, or supervisor, commented on the writing and then the
student revised the writing.
- At least 16 pages (4,000 words) of finished writing were completed.
- Writing was a significant part of the experience. For example, the writing was published for an
audience or the writing was “high-stakes” in that poor writing resulted in an unsuccessful
experience in the eyes of a mentor, employer, supervisor.
+ Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences
Focus Exemption Hallmarks
Students who are applying for a Focus exemption based on a non-course experience should use the Hallmarks for Non-Course Experiences.
Students with an extraordinary experience tied to a course (for example: a college course, business workshop, training course, military course) should use the Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences below. Please note that activities associated with a course such as a course’s service learning project fit under the course-based category.
Contemporary Ethical Issues: Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences
- E1. Contemporary ethical issues were presented and studied in a manner that was fully integrated
into the main course content.
- E2. The disciplinary approach(es) used in the class gave students tools for the development of
responsible deliberation and ethical judgment.
- E3. Students achieved basic competency in analyzing and deliberating upon contemporary ethical
issues to help them make ethically determined judgments.
- E4. The contemporary ethical issues experience was equal to one semester credit-hour or 30% of a
- E5. A minimum of 8 hours of class time was spent in discussing contemporary ethical issues.
- E6. The course/workshop/training level was the equivalent of a 300- or 400-level college course.
Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Issues: Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences
To fulfill the Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Issues Focus requirement, at least two-thirds of a course-based
experience must satisfy the following Hallmarks:
- H1. Content reflected the intersection of Asian and/or Pacific Island cultures with Native Hawaiian
- H2. Used any disciplinary or multi-disciplinary approach provided that a component of the course
used assignments or practica that encouraged learning that from the cultural perspectives,
values, and world views rooted in the experience of peoples indigenous to Hawai‘i, the
Pacific, and Asia.
Note: Identify in the syllabus or explain in the statement where exposure to or engagement with the
native voices that represent the cultural perspectives, values, and world views rooted in the
experience of peoples indigenous to Hawai‘i occurred. Include the names of the native voices.
The native voices can be readings, videos, guest speakers or field trips. Both the native
Hawaiian voice and the native voice from the indigenous people of the area of intersection
must be included.
- H3. Included at least one topic that is crucial to an understanding of the histories, or cultures, or
beliefs, or the arts, or the societal, or political, or economic, or technological processes of
these regions; for example, the relationships of societal structures to the natural environment.
- H4. Involved an in-depth analysis or understanding of the issues being studied in the hope of
fostering multi-cultural respect and understanding.
Oral Communication: Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences
- O1. Each student conducted or participated in a minimum of three oral communication
assignments or a comparable amount of oral communication activity during the class. In
addition, at least 40% of the final grade or evaluation for a 3-credit course was a function of
the student’s oral communication activities (30% for a 4-credit course; 60% for a 2-credit
course; 100% for a 1-credit course).
- O2. Each student received explicit training, in the context of the class, in oral communication
concerns relevant to the assignment or activity.
- O3. Each student received specific feedback, critiquing, and grading of the oral communication
assignments or activities from the instructor.
- O4. If instructor feedback primarily involves individual or paired students, enrollment was limited
to 20 students. If instructor feedback primarily involves groups of students, enrollment was
limited to 30.
- O5. The course/workshop/training level was the equivalent of a 300- or 400-level college course.
Writing Intensive: Hallmarks for Course-Based Experiences
- W1. The class used writing to promote the learning of course materials.
- W2. The class provided interaction between the instructor and students while students did assigned
- W3. Written assignments contributed significantly to each student’s course grade or evaluation.
- W4. The class required students to do a substantial amount of writing—a minimum of 4,000 words,
or about 16 pages.
- W5. To allow for meaningful professor-student interaction on each student’s writing, the class was
restricted to 20 students.
Credits for Previous Language Experience
All students under the current General Education requirements with experience in a language other than English (including native speakers) may earn “back credits.” These students may take any UH Mānoa course appropriate to their level of proficiency in which there is significant use of that language. (Appropriate level is determined by a placement exam or an advisor; significant use is determined by the course content.) Upon completion of this course, students will receive between 3 and 16 back credits if they earn a letter grade of C (not C-) or better. (The course must be the first Hawaiian or second language course taken since high school; and it must be taken for a letter grade, not CR/NC.) Back credits may be earned for only one language. Other restrictions apply. Check with the appropriate language department for details and forms.