Q&A Honors Programs

In a previous post you mentioned the type of academic environment offered by honors programs at state schools. I haven’t been able to find a lot of information about where any stands academically relative to another honors program and academically selective institutions. Could you provide any resources/details outlining the pros and cons of honors programs, any sort of ranking system, as well as any information about the difficulty of acceptance from an admissions standpoint? Thank you!

This is a great question! Honors programs vary tremendously from college to college thus making it very difficult to rank programs (the only ranking I could find is here, though I am wary of rankings in general). Some cities and states run completely independent honors college like University of Maryland at Baltimore County. Other programs, like Arizona State University’s Barret Honors College, are operated within a flagship university but are virtually isolated from the rest of the institution; they offer separate housing, separate courses, and even separate dinings halls.  Then, there are programs like University of Virginia Echols Scholars that don’t offer separate honors courses to honors students, but give them other perks like extra advising and priority course selection.

Similarly, selectivity of various honors programs also varies tremendously from school to school. Some programs like Macalauy Honors College at City University of New York are as selective, if not more so than Ivy League and other Tier 1 schools. Many institutions will publish admissions statistics or admissions requirements for their honors programs. Here are some examples:

Admissions Statistics

Admissions Requirements

This information should help you compare selectivity from institution from institution a little bit better. In many ways, though, it’s really good that honors programs rankings aren’t available. It forces you to examine each program for what it has to offer. Even though, this process certainly is time consuming, going through each program will help you to see what you are really looking for in a college.

As for the benefits and drawbacks of honors programs, again, it’s impossible to talk about honors programs in a vacuum. I will do my best here and list some “typical” pros and cons of attending an honors program over an equally selective private college:


  • Reduced cost State schools have significantly lower tuition and fees than most all private colleges and universities (even for out-of-state students). In addition, many students in honors programs qualify for aditional merit scholarships that reduce the costs even further. However, keep in mind that some private schools provide outstanding financial aid that could knock down the price to that of a state school. For those who don’t get as much financial aid as they would like or need, honors colleges can be a great financial decision.
  • Smaller, more challenging classes Many honors programs offer separate courses or discussion sections for honors students. Often, these classes are smaller, more challenging, and interdisciplinary in nature. They can prove much more intellectually satisfying than the typical “Introduction to X” courses.
  • Increased access to resources (including faculty) Oftentimes, honors students receive additional advising, smaller classes, separate facilities, and special opportunities. This allows many honors students the wonderful resources of large research universities but spread less thinly.
  • Living-learning community Again, while this is not applicable to all honors programs, many offer separate housing for honors students. This provides students with the intellectual stimulation they crave in an talented, dynamic community.
  • Large alumni network State schools typically have large, passionate alums. Honors students benefit from the name recognition and connections that stem from attending a large, state university.
  • Camarderie of attending a state college (often a flagship) State flagships have wonderful camarderie that many (though not all) private colleges and universities lack.


  • Potential lack of inclusion in typical university life Honors students in programs that operate in largely separate ways from the rest of in the institution run the risk of feeling excluded from typical campus life.
  • Elitism within the program Honors programs that operate within larger universities create a tiered system of top and “not top” students. This could lead to superiority complexes amongst honors students.
  • High GPA requirement Most honors programs require that their students maintain a certain grade point average to stay in the program.
  • More requirements Some honors programs require students to take additional courses or may even employ an honors core curriculum. Sometimes these requirements can feel tedious.
  • Less prestige Ultimately, this is what most prospective students worry about. Many students accepted to university honors programs have a handful of excellent college choices including Ivy League and similary selective institutions. Not to be cliche, but what’s in a name? Sure it’s wonderful to walk around with your Harvard sweatshirt or your Yale window sticker, but college is so much more than that. College is all about seeking out learning opportunities to stimulate your mind and prepare you for life after graduation. What college is best completely varies from person to person. Do not let your worries about prestige dictate where you choose to attend college. You could end up making a very poor academic, social, emotional, and/or financial decision for yourself and your family.

Have more questions? Use the comment box below or email Hope at hbrinn@thecollegiateblog.com. Look for a post soon on what students participating in honors programs have to say!