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  • Louise Franklin

The Honors College

Male student of color and a desktop-sized robot.

As students begin to investigate their options in higher education, one option to consider is a university honors college or honors program. These specialized academic tracks offer an enriched and rigorous blend of educational experiences designed to challenge high-achieving students.

Not all universities offer an honors college or program, and those that do offer offer these programs are not identical to each other. But these programs often offer distinct types of opportunities to their students. These offering might include:

  1. Advanced Coursework: Often honors programs require students to take honors courses or seminars. These courses are more discussion oriented to encourage critical thinking. Many honors colleges or programs encourage students to approach their learning from an interdisciplinary perspective to gain a deeper understanding of complex challenges in today’s world.

  2. Enhanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Often honors students are invited or required to engage in research projects under the mentorship of faculty. This work can further a student’s academic understanding and make graduates more competitive in job markets or graduate school applications.

  3. Thesis or capstone requirement. At many honors programs and colleges, students are required to write a thesis or do a capstone project, which often involve original research and result in the creation of an original student writing or presentation.

  4. Special Educational Opportunities: Many honors programs organize events, seminars, and workshops exclusively for honors students, which allow them to engage with faculty, guest speakers, and peers in a more intimate setting. Some honors programs or colleges provide special experiential learning opportunities, internship support, or study abroad programs.

  5. Priority Registration: Honors students often enjoy priority registration, ensuring they can enroll in the classes they need and graduate in four years.

  6. Housing or Honors Living Communities. Many honors colleges and programs provide the option of honors housing, where honors students live and learn with each other in an environment that fosters interdisciplinary sharing of ideas and meaningful connections. Many honors students enjoy the cohort of smart, hard-working students who reinforce their own desires to challenge themselves and excel.

  7. Advisers for Prestigious Scholarships. Some honors programs have special staff dedicated to preparing and mentoring students as candidates for prestigious scholarships, such as the Goldwater, Rhodes, Truman, or Marshall Scholarships.

  8. Additional fees or special scholarships. Some universities have additional fees associated with their honors programs or colleges. At other universities, students enrolled in the honors program or college receive special scholarships or tuition rates.

While the terms "honors college" and "honors program" are often used interchangeably, they do carry distinct characteristics. An honors college is a standalone institution within a larger university, offering a comprehensive curriculum and dedicated faculty to its honors students. An honors program, on the other hand, is integrated into the larger university structure while still providing opportunities to enroll in enhanced courses, engage in research projects, and benefit from personalized mentorship. Although honors program students may not have the same level of separation from the general student body as those in an honors college, they usually still enjoy a tight-knit community in their program.

Admission to honors colleges and programs is typically more competitive than it is to the larger university, often requiring a strong GPA and demonstration of intellectual curiosity. Sometimes students apply to the honors college or program as part of their freshman application for admission, and often applicants are asked to write additional essays. At other institutions, students are invited to consider joining the honors community after they have been accepted to the larger university.

An honors college or program is not right for every student. However, students for whom this type of learning sounds appealing should investigate the amazing opportunities available in honors colleges and programs across our country.


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