University Honors ProgramUniversity of Cincinnati

University Honors Program


What is Reflection?

Reflection is the act of thinking critically about an experience in order to gain greater clarity or understanding. When we reflect, we intentionally think about previous experiences in order to gain new insights. This process of evaluating our actions helps us learn from our experiences and deepens our understanding of the world.

Why Reflect?

Reflection provides an opportunity to analyze our thoughts, behaviors, and actions to gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world. We can isolate instances in which we were successful or we need to improve and learn from these experiences. Reflection also allows us to make connections between academic classes, experiences, and other aspects of our lives. 

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning. When you reflect, you should not merely summarize the activities you completed and opinions formed. Rather, your reflection should be thoughtful, integrative, and substantive and share what you learned. Whenever possible, provide specific examples from your experiences that support your thoughts.

On a very practical level, reflection helps us synthesize and articulate our learning. This is especially important when interviewing or applying for graduate school, jobs, internships, or nationally competitive awards/scholarships. Unlike a resume which outlines your list of accomplishments, an interview, personal statement, or competitive application process requires you to make connections between your experiences and articulate what you’ve learned as a result. This is an incredibly important skill and one that will help you stand out from others. The University Honors Program structure will help you do this.

How do I Reflect?

While there are numerous models of reflection, the University Honors Program relies most heavily on a very basic model: What? So What? Now What? By thoughtfully answering these three reflection questions, students gain a better sense of themselves, their learning, and the world.

As with anything, some people find reflection very easy whereas other need a bit more practice. There are several brainstorming activities you might already do that are considered reflective. Free writing, mind mapping, and creating a life trajectory of examples of reflective activities that you may help you get started.  It is our hope that students will begin to feel comfortable with the process so it becomes an intentional, regular part of their lives.

Examples of Reflection Formats

Although a written journal is very common form of reflection, there are many other ways you can reflect on your experiences. When reflecting, it is less important which format you use and more important that you are pushing yourself to balance sharing details with big picture take-aways. By answering all three reflective questions (what? so what? now what?), you are more likely to complete a thoughtful, integrated reflection. Please note that some methods of reflection may require a written explanation to help your audience interpret your work.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Maintain a written journal
  • Create a service contract and log
  • Participate in structured group dialogues
  • Maintain a written, audio, or video blog
  • Maintain a sketchbook
  • Maintain a lab notebook
  • Create a scrapbook
  • Develop a cookbook with personal narratives
  • Participate in and/or lead an online discussion board
  • Develop a collection of photographs with written captions
  • Create a short video
  • Write song lyrics, a musical composition, or a poem
  • Paint a picture or create a sculpture
  • Write a letter to a friend, member of the community, or public official
  • Interpretive dance or performance

If the format for reflection you choose is not self-explanatory, you must include 2-3 paragraphs explaining what you created and how it explains the what? so what? and now what? of an experience.

One of our current students, Christine Settembrino, created a video of a dance that she choreographed for her year-in-review. This is a wonderful example of alternative reflection! Notice that she included a written explanation to accompany her video.

Tips for Effective Reflection

To help you move beyond describing events and experiences, use these tips developed by UHP students:

  • Prior to beginning an experience, develop a list of questions that relate to your project that will challenge you to consider how you are impacted or changing as a result.  Guiding questions will help focus your response and ensure that you are addressing the three reflective questions (what? so what? now what?) Sample questions include “describe one success you experienced and explain what led to this success” or “what did I learned about myself as a result of this experience?”
  • If using an auditory form of reflection, use transitions (key words, numbers, etc.) to help the listener/viewer keep track of the points you are making.
  • Make sure your reflection is polished and professional. While you might start free writing to get started, your ideas must be cohesive, integrated, and thoughtful.

One of our current UHP students, Charles McCombs, created an audio blog to reflect on his self-designed experience titled “Career Exploration in Health Care.” You can listen to his audio blog entries and view his list of reflective questions.

References & Resources

Bringle, R.G., & Hatcher, J.A. (1996) Reflection activities for the college classroom. Paper presented at the National Gathering, June 21, 1996.

Learning Development with Plymouth University—Reflection. Retrieved from

Moon, J. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.

Reed, J & Koliba, C. (1997) Facilitating reflection – manual for leaders and educators. Retrieved from

Schön, D. (1991) The Reflective Practitioner. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.