Honors colleges within larger universities–the best of both worlds?

February 26, 2020

If you are looking at colleges, you’ve probably noticed that many schools, especially larger universities, have honors colleges or honors programs.  Honors colleges claim to offer the atmosphere and attention of a small liberal arts school and to create a tight-knit community within an otherwise large and overwhelming university.  So what are the perks of attending an honors college within a large university? Is it worth it to go to an honors college at a large state school instead of a more prestigious, smaller private college?

We’ll start with the perks, and according to the websites of these schools, there are quite a few.

Many honors colleges offer smaller class sizes than those typical of large universities. Rather than a lecture hall of 200 people, the honors college may offer some classes with fewer than 20 students, allowing for more individualized attention and a small college feel.  

 Another perk is housing options. Some honors colleges require or offer specialized housing for honors students. Some students may feel that this makes for a more conducive environment for learning since they are surrounded by like-minded peers who similarly prioritize learning. Alternatively, special housing options for honors students can just mean better, newer dorms and dining facilities.   

And perhaps the most important difference is cost. If you are choosing between an honors college at a large state school and a private liberal arts college, the difference in price will likely be quite different. Large state schools tend to be cheaper, and honors college admission can either come with or open doors to hefty scholarships. 

Despite their marketing materials, it is important to note that some honors programs will not be all they’re cracked up to be. Honors colleges, regardless of perks and tangible benefits, are meant to attract qualified students who would otherwise attend higher ranked schools. Some will be marketing ploys, while others offer transformative opportunities. 

Honors college candidates will likely have tons of solid options for college. If you find yourself choosing between an honors college and a higher ranked university, you should consider fit, cost, and your goals.   Consider whether going to a higher ranked or more elite school is the best way to realize your dreams. You can read more about prestige and whether it matters, here. 

Speaking to current students at a honors college is the best way to learn if the honors program offers a truly unique experience or if it’s just a meaningless distinction. Talk to these students about what schools they were deciding between, how they made their decision, and how they feel about that decision now.  

Given all the advertised perks, you’ll really need to do your due diligence to figure out if an honors college offers tangible benefits (and, no, nicer dorms shouldn’t be the only deciding factor!).  

We’ve compiled a list of the best honors colleges in the United States and the advantages that come with attending them.  For your benefit, the list includes the average test scores and GPAs of students attending so you’ll know where you need to be to get accepted.

Arizona State—Barrett 

The honors college offers a great deal of perks. For example, Barrett students are supported by a great deal of scholarships, grants, and awards and Barrett offers special funding to students whether it be for a special project throughout the year or academically enriching program during the summer. Furthermore, with 1800 honors faculty across the university, Barrett is distinguished by its 4:1 student to faculty ratio. 

Since the average scores of students in the honors college at Arizona State is a 29 on the ACT or a 1360 on the SAT, you should aim to score this or higher in order to be a competitive applicant. Furthermore, with an average unweighted GPA of 3.82, getting mostly A’s throughout high school will improve your chances of getting into the honors college. 

The City University of New York (CUNY)—Macaulay

Students in this honors college receive full-tuition scholarships for New York State residents, have the ability to apply for grants to pursue global learning and other experiential learning, and have access to intensive mentoring and advisement. 

In order to be a competitive applicant, it’s important that you score around a 33 on the ACT or a 1460 on the SAT. Furthermore, with an average GPA of 94 out of 100, you should be putting a lot of effort into your grades throughout high school. 

 Penn State-Schreyer

This honors college offers a great deal of perks such as small class sizes in honors courses, fellowships, specially trained honors advisers, priority registration for scheduling classes, honors housing, and a $5,000 Academic Excellence Scholarship

In order to be a competitive applicant for Schreyer you should have anywhere from a 30 to a 33 on the ACT or a 1340 to a 1490 on the SAT and a 4.0 to 4.33 weighted GPA. 

 Temple University Honors College

 Being a student at Temple University Honors College means that you’ll have priority registration, the option of four-year on campus housing, access to Honors Student Organizations, engaging service experiences, and more. 

Ideally, a competitive applicant should have a 33 on the ACT or a 1460 on the SAT. Furthermore, they should have around a 3.95 unweighted GPA. 

University of Connecticut Honors College

The Honors Program at the University of Connecticut supports a tight-knit community of learners who benefit from faculty mentors, honors courses, priority class registration, Honors housing, and opportunities to lead and engage through Honors organizations, research, and internships. 

Competitive applicants have at least a 32 on the ACT or a 1460 on the SAT and rank near the top of their class. 

At these schools, the honors colleges provide students with some real benefits that the larger university doesn’t offer.  If you are interested in attending any of these schools, get your test scores up so have you a chance of matriculating into the honors program! 

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