If you’re finding yourself torn between attending a large research university (with a wide range of majors and facilities) and a smaller liberal arts college with a close-knit learning community, you may want to look into public honors colleges and honors programs.
Honors colleges are housed within larger research universities–much like a university’s business or engineering college. They are academically rigorous learning communities where students live and study alongside some of the highest-achieving students at the school. They often have their own housing facilities, smaller class sizes than the university at-large, and dedicated faculty and staff who specifically teach honors college students. Sometimes, honors college students even get priority registration, which can be really helpful at a larger school. Many honors colleges also offer generous scholarships or are fully-funded for admitted students–what’s not to love about that?
As a student at the honors college, you’re also a member of the greater university community. You’re not limited to participating in activities only offered by the honors college or taking courses with other honors college students. Any of the clubs and extracurricular activities open to the entire university are available to you. Put on your face paint and go to the big game on Friday night. Take any courses for which you meet the prerequisites. Your access to resources isn’t limited by being in the honors college; it’s expanded. Honors colleges are distinct from honors programs within universities. Many university academic departments have honors programs; students can apply to join the honors track of their chosen major. In an honors program, you’ll have the opportunity to take more demanding courses and graduate with honors. While honors programs are smaller and less comprehensive than honors colleges, they still offer students the ability to pursue a more focused and challenging course of study within a larger research university.
If you’re considering applying to an honors college or joining an honors program, here are some to keep in mind:
Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University – Undergraduates at Barrett enjoy access to ASU’s Pre-Law program, where they can take law courses for honors credit. Barrett also hosts special partnerships with regional medical facilities for its pre-health majors and offers the option to complete internships or research projects for honors credit. One especially unique perk is Barrett’s T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development, where students can earn credit for taking courses that help them develop life skills.
Rutgers Honors College – All first-year students at Rutgers take part in a Living-Learning Community (LLC) and the Honors College is one of them. The College invites students from Rutgers’ professional and liberal arts schools (including the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and Mason Gross School of the Arts) to join its ranks and share ideas with one another. All Honors College students participate in The Forum, a mission course focused on collaboration, research, and social impact.
Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York (CUNY) – In the honors college of the largest public university system in the country, students at Macaulay enjoy access to a huge range of resources, as well as engage with New York City as a primary element of their education. Macaulay Honors College students enroll in one of eight CUNY campuses (Lehman, City College, Baruch, Brooklyn College, Queens College, John Jay, Hunter and the College of Staten Island) and take most of their classes there, but come to Macaulay’s Upper West Side center for events, lectures, and seminars. Admitted students who meet New York State residency requirements receive a merit scholarship that covers all four years of tuition.
University of Michigan LSA Honors Program – The Honors Program within Michigan’s School of Literature, Science, and the Arts grants students access to enriched academic opportunities at one of the nation’s best public universities. Students can opt into the Honors in Engaged Liberal Arts (HELA) program, which allows students to combine their academic pursuits with civic engagement in the Ann Arbor community.
Echols Scholars Program at the University of Virginia – Founded in 1960 in response to the large number of students enrolling in UVA under the G.I. Bill, the Echols Scholars program at UVA has long sought to provide academic resources for high-achieving students. One unique feature of the program is The Echols Interdisciplinary Major, an initiative within the honors program that allows students to create their own major.
University of California Irvine Campuswide Honors Collegium (CHC) – Students who join UC Irvine’s CHC take a more rigorous honors curriculum in their chosen major alongside other honors students and enjoy access to enhanced advising, workshops, and leadership opportunities. Each student’s academic experience culminates with a research project led by an honors faculty member.
In some cases–such as at UVA’s Echols Scholars Program–university applicants are automatically considered for the honors college or honors program. However, this is not always the case. Check if you need to apply directly to the honors program from the start, if you’ll be selected by the admissions committee without an additional application, or if the process for applying begins after your initial admission notification. As with many things in the application process, it all depends on the school! Turn to honors colleges or programs if you’re hungry for intellectual intensity and a supportive community in the midst of a large, well-resourced university.