What Are Honors Colleges? Are They Right For You?

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Honors colleges are tailored to high-achieving students, allowing them access to a more rigorous education than they might get in the rest of the university. Admission to these programs tend to be much more selective than admissions to the university itself. 

 

Putting down honors on your college resume will make you stand out to potential graduate schools and future employers, but participating in honors may also mean significantly more work. In this post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of enrolling in an honors program.

 

Note: “honors colleges” and “honors programs” are often used interchangeably since they have similar benefits and requirements, but they are technically different things. Honors programs encompass students across various colleges within a university. Honors colleges are a specific school within the university for high-achieving students.

 

Pros of Enrolling in an Honors College

 

Honors colleges entice students with many benefits upon admission. These can sometimes give honors students an advantage in areas like registration or housing. Honors students can also get access to special courses and various research and scholarship opportunities. 

 

Here are some of the main benefits of enrolling in an honors college.

 

Priority Enrollment in Courses

 

A significant benefit of honors colleges is priority registration: as an underclassman, when registration times are typically later than those of other students, registering for courses can be especially frustrating. However, enrolling in an honors college in freshman year can ease this process and guarantee a seat in highly-impacted courses.

 

Honors-Specific Courses

 

Many honors colleges also offer specialized courses reserved for honors students. For instance, UMass Amherst’s Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) offers inquiry-based Honors Signature courses, where students can discuss a variety of topics with their fellow honors peers in small-class settings. These courses can be rigorous, but college transcripts with a decent amount of honors courses tend to stand out from the rest.

 

Honors-Specific Housing

 

Many schools allocate specific housing for their honors students. For example, Boston University’s Kilachand Honors college offers specialized suite-style housing for honors students in Kilachand Hall. Specific honors housing creates a close-knit honors community, and many of these programs (like USC’s McCarthy Honors Residential College) include socials or activities to allow honors students to further connect with their peers. 

 

Greater Sense of Community

 

Another important benefit of enrolling in an honors college involves finding a community within a larger university. Shared housing, classes, and other academic requirements allows honors students to connect with and support each other throughout their undergraduate experience. 

 

Making such connections can be difficult at large schools, so enrolling in an honors college can offer that sense of a close community which might be otherwise missing. Schools with large freshman classes give honors students a taste of the small college experience while still being in a larger university.

 

Access to Resources

 

Many schools incentivize their honors programs by offering honors advising. This can be key at large public schools like UC Santa Barbara, which has a higher student-to-faculty ratio than most private universities. UCSB has specific honors advisors to help students navigate registration, their courses, and the honors program.

 

Honors programs can also grant undergraduate students more opportunities for research and field work. University of Pennsylvania’s University Scholars program encourages students to pursue research and assigns faculty members to advise them in their goals.

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Cons of Enrolling in an Honors College

 

Though honors colleges offer many incentives to apply, these programs do require a significant amount of effort both during the application process and the program itself. Honors students can be faced with having more requirements like an honors thesis or special courses, completing extra application essays or separate applications, and spending more time studying. 

 

Extra Requirements

 

Some honors programs include extra courses or an honors thesis. John Hopkins’ Honors Program in the Humanities requires students to take certain courses in their junior and senior years and complete and present a final thesis to their honors seminar. Duke University encourages honors students to conduct an interdisciplinary research project their senior year. 

 

Some honors programs may also not accept AP courses for credit, so if you were planning to graduate early, this may not be possible if you enroll in honors. 

 

Additional Application Processes

 

Students may be discouraged from applying to an honors college due to the extra application requirements. Most require at least an additional essay (if not more than one), and some may even require a separate application. 

 

Other schools extend applications to potential honors students after they have already been admitted to the university. For example, UCLA invites freshmen to apply for the honors program after they have been admitted.

 

Spending More Time Studying

 

Due to the nature of honors programs, students may spend more time studying. Access to special courses and research opportunities also means that more time will be required to complete school work.

 

For example, students who enroll in Rice University’s Undergraduate Scholars Program must conduct independent research and share their findings to their fellow classmates weekly. This research is completed alongside a regular course load, meaning that honors students may have to dedicate more time to academics than their non-honors peers.

 

How to Get Into An Honors College

 

If you’ve decided that the honors path is right for you, here are two things you’ll need to do to optimize your application.

 

1. Build a strong academic profile

 

Potential honors college students tend to be well-qualified for the university and have grades and test scores well above the average. This makes admissions far more competitive and selective. Making sure your GPA and standardized test scores stand out will boost your chances of admission.

 

For example, in Fall 2020, UMass Amherst’s Commonwealth Honors College had significantly higher averages than the rest of their class:

 

UMass Amherst First Year Students: 

 

GPA: 3.93

SAT score: 1290

ACT score: 3.93

 

UMass Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) Students:

 

GPA: 4.32

SAT score: 1401

ACT score: 4.32

 

Some honors programs also have minimum GPA and SAT requirements. UCLA requires honors applicants to have at least a 4.1 GPA and 1450 on the SAT or 31 on the ACT, along with submitting an additional essay.

 

When deciding on honors colleges, you should also consider your chances of getting into the associated university, as most honors college admissions are contingent on getting accepted to the university itself. Your grades and test scores should be above the 75th percentile of the specific schools you’re considering. To effectively weigh your options, you can use CollegeVine’s free Admissions Chances Calculator. This tool will estimate your chances of acceptance based on your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more. It will also give you tips for improving your profile!

 

 

2. Write engaging essays

 

Supplemental essays can carry a significant weight in the admissions process for honors colleges. They’re your chance to humanize your application and explain how the honors college can help you further your goals. It’s important to take the time to fine-tune your college essays to better ensure your chances of acceptance. 

 

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Short Bio
Nisha Desai is a second year student at the University of California, Riverside. She recently started working at CollegeVine, but has done application guidance and tutoring in a private capacity for a couple of years. She is in school to eventually get her Masters in Education and enjoys reading and running in her free time.

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