College Admissions

The Advantages of College Honors Programs

One way to have the advantages of a small college while attending a large university is through an honors program. Many public and some private universities offer honors programs that provide great benefits, including preferential class registration, special honors classes, enhanced advising and enrichment programs.

Honors classes attract top professors who enjoy teaching bright, motivated students. In most programs, students are not required to take all honors courses, and often take one or two honors classes each semester along with their other courses. Honors classes are smaller and can pursue a subject in more depth. Some programs require students to complete a senior project to receive an honors designation on their transcript.

Some schools offer separate honors housing. Having a residential community where students take their studies seriously (while still having fun) can be especially important at schools that are known for a party atmosphere. Honors students are generally not required to live in honors housing, but it’s nice to have the option.

UC Irvine’s Campuswide Honors Program offers interdisciplinary core courses, taught by faculty from different departments. Students in this program are required to do research and produce a thesis or senior project. Special housing and activities with faculty are some of the benefits of the program. Priority enrollment in classes is another great perk at a large public university, where students may have difficulty getting the classes they want.

The University of Arizona and Arizona State University, both popular choices for Southern California students, offer honors programs. These are such large universities, each with more than 30,000 students, that an honors program is a way to create a sense of community and to be assured of having real contact with professors. Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College creates a living-learning community featuring classrooms, advising center, computer room and residence halls. Honors advisors help students find opportunities for research, internships, and study abroad. Students who are interested need to apply both to the ASU and the Barrett Honors College.

Some honors programs provide financial incentives. Penn State University’s Schreyer Honors College offers a renewable Academic Excellence Award of $3,500 to all first-year students, and provides research, internship and study abroad grants. The school offers more than 200 honors courses each year. As is the case at many universities, the honors program boasts of high placement rates in graduate and professional schools.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland may sound like a religious institution, but it is the state’s honors college. With about 2,000 students, this liberal arts college offers a private school education, with small classes and lots of faculty interaction at public school prices. The school has a lovely waterfront campus, and students who enjoy sailing or canoeing have daily access to boats. The tradeoff is that the scenic, peaceful location lacks the excitement of a more urban college.

Private schools can also have honors programs. At Boston’s Northeastern University, students have access to separate honors sections of courses, as well as interdisciplinary honors seminars. They can live with other freshmen honors students, and enjoy excursions to the theater and symphony.

These are just a few examples of the many honors programs available at colleges and universities across the country. While a few schools require a separate application, most will invite applicants with top grades and test scores to join their honors programs. These programs can offer terrific benefits, but as always, it’s important to do your research and make sure the school is a good match.