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What’s an honors college?

Published March 18, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    As you embark on your college search, you may start coming across something called an honors college. In simple terms, an honors college exists at some colleges and universities as a college within a college, offering unique classes and opportunities to its students.

    In this article, we'll dive into what an honors college is, the pros and cons of attending an honors college, and answers to other questions prospective students may have about honors colleges.

    Honors colleges in a nutshell

    An honors college is a separate college within a larger college or university. Think of it like this: some colleges or universities have a business or an engineering school, and in the same vein, some colleges have an honors college.

    Honors colleges are designed to provide students with an enhanced educational experience, often with smaller classes and more rigorous academic requirements. Sometimes, honors colleges offer specialized seminars, independent research projects, and other advanced academic opportunities that go beyond the college's standard curriculum, which may appeal to some students.

    Now, you may wonder what the difference is between an honors college and an honors program. While some schools may use these two terms interchangeably, they mean different things at other schools.

    As covered above, honors colleges tend to operate as a school within a school and offer courses across various majors. An honors college may offer its students a separate living community specifically for honors college students, and there may be additional requirements students need to fulfill to stay in the honors college.

    At schools that define honors colleges and honors programs differently, honors programs tend to exist within specific departments at colleges. For example, a communications department at a school may have its own honors program. These programs may offer students high-level courses and additional projects.

    If you're exploring honors programs and colleges, it's important to do your homework on exactly what that means at a specific school, as it can vary.

    Colleges and universities with honor colleges

    Below is a sampling of colleges and universities that have honor colleges. This isn't a comprehensive list but is a sampling of colleges and universities that offer this.

    • Albert Dorman Honors College - New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ
    • Campus Honors Program, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
    • Clemson University Honors College, Clemson, SC
    • Echols Scholars Program, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
    • South Carolina Honors College - University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
    • Macaulay Honors College, City University of New York, New York, NY
    • Ohio University Honors Program - Ohio University, Athens, OH
    • Plan II Honors Program, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
    • Honors College Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Brunswick, NJ
    • Schreyer Honors College - The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA
    • Honors College - The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
    • Honors Program, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
    • University Honors Program, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

    What are the admission requirements for an honors college

    Admission requirements for an honors college vary depending on the school, but some of the criteria can include:

    • Admission to a parent college or university.
    • Many honors colleges require a certain minimum high school GPA for admission or a certain college GPA for those who want to transfer.
    • Applicants may be required to submit essays or personal statements that demonstrate their academic achievements, interests, goals, and fit for the honors college.
    • Letters of recommendation from teachers and others may be required.
    • In some cases, an honors college may require interviews as part of the admissions process to assess an applicant's fit for the program.

    It's important for prospective students to carefully review the specific admission requirements for each honor college they're interested in, as these requirements can vary widely.

    Additionally, meeting the minimum requirements doesn't guarantee admission, as honors colleges often have limited spots and may be highly competitive.

    Potential pros and cons of attending an honors college

    Just like with any decision regarding where to attend college, it's important to weigh some of the potential pros and cons that can come with attending an honors college.

    Pros of attending an honors college may include:

    • Challenging and engaging coursework: Honors colleges may offer more rigorous and intellectually stimulating classes, allowing students to delve deeper into their areas of interest.
    • Smaller class sizes and personalized attention: Students in honor colleges may benefit from smaller class sizes, personalized interaction with professors, and a tight-knit academic community.
    • Opportunities for research and creative projects: Honors college students may have the chance to engage in independent research and pursue creative projects.
    • Access to specialized academic and career resources: Honors colleges may provide additional academic support, such as specialized advising, priority registration, and exclusive internships or study abroad programs.

    Cons of attending an honors college may include:

    • Intense workload: The rigorous nature of honors college coursework can be demanding and may require additional time and effort in comparison to a non-honors college.
    • Additional costs: Some honors colleges may have extra fees or expenses associated with participation, which can add to the cost of attending college.
    • Some courses outside of the honors college may be required: If you pick attending an honors college because of smaller class sizes and more individualized attention, be aware, depending on the school, that you may need to take some classes outside of the honors college.

    Final thoughts

    Although attending an honors college may provide you with benefits, it's important to weigh your options and ensure you know what the program entails to assess whether you can handle the responsibility and workload often involved.