What's the big deal about honors colleges, anyway?

University honors college

If you have an academically excelling student, they may be exploring expensive private or liberal arts colleges in search of a high-quality education. Those may be ideal choices for them, but have they researched honors colleges, too? If not, they’re worth looking into as a competitive option.

What is an honors college?

Honors colleges offer high-quality academics and special opportunities for students in a small community setting within a larger public university. 

Honors college benefits

Classes are usually smaller than average (although your student will still probably have to take some “lecture hall” classes). Normally there is a full-time honors faculty to support your student, and the academics are more rigorous — but that’s a good thing. After all, “honors college” looks great on a resume. Honors college students often have exclusive access to special internships, research projects, study abroad experiences, networking opportunities and more. And at many universities, honors students get first dibs on class registration.

How rigorous are the academics?

If your student is considering honors college but is worried about the academic commitment, they might not need to worry that much. Although they will be expected to perform well academically, most honors students don’t spend every night holed up in their residence hall studying until sunrise. The typical honors student is involved in clubs or intramural sports, attends college athletic events, and might even hold a job. Encourage your student to talk to an advisor about how much time they can expect to devote to academics during their honors college experience.

Other things to consider

Honors colleges are often more expensive than if your student attended the university as a regular student. This is to help keep classes sizes smaller, fund special opportunities and pay for facilities. But don’t forget about financial aid — it can be used to help pay for honors college fees.

Getting into an honors college

Some honors colleges might use GPA, test scores and letters of recommendation to admit students. Others don’t have a certain GPA or test score threshold your student needs to meet, but instead require evidence of well-rounded life experiences. This can include good grades, high school extracurriculars, leadership or community involvement, life experiences that give your student a unique perspective, and more. Encourage your student to closely read the application process and requirements, and to take their time putting together a strong application.

The bottom line

An honors college might be exactly what your academically excelling student is looking for. Encourage them to at least check out a few while they’re applying to the pricier colleges.

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