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  • Writer's pictureJason Flurry, CFP

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Everything you need to know about Honors Colleges

If you've ever been upgraded for a flight or a hotel room, you know how awesome it is! What if you could get the same VIP treatment at college too? Fortunately, YOU CAN by being accepted into a university's Honors College.

So what is an Honors College? An Honors College is a community of the university’s best and brightest students. These motivated students perform at high levels and cultivate strong leaning experiences for the university’s community. They are the rock stars on campus and because of it they get some of the best perks and privileges of anybody on campus.

You can find out if the colleges you’re considering have Honors Colleges by Googling the name of the university and then the words “Honors College” after that. Not every college has an Honors College and some of the one who do don’t always call it an “Honors College” directly. But if you search for it that way, you’ll likely find it anyway. The colleges know it’s their Honors community and Google will help you make the connection.

If you find that your prospective colleges do have Honors Colleges, read as much as you can about them and plan to visit them when you’re on campus. In most cases, the regular tour you schedule when you visit a college does not include anything related to the Honors College. Be sure to look for a separate tour that will show you all the benefits being an Honors student offers. You’ll feel like a VIP, or at least you should, as they show you around, shower you with personal attention, and make a deliberate effort to get to know you on a more personal basis.

Sounds good – How can I get in? At some colleges you’ll find that they automatically accept students with very high academic numbers into their Honors College. There’s no application needed in those situations. For everyone else though, you’ll have to manually apply. Look for those applications when you’re searching and pay special attention to their deadlines. They can be earlier than the regular admissions deadline. And in some cases you also have to be accepted through admissions first before you can apply, which means you’ll need to apply in an early action round to stay on their timelines.

Honors Colleges are typically offered at public universities, and if that college is a large university, the Honors College will operate almost like a small private university within the larger public university’s campus. Because of this community within a community approach, colleges look for strong character traits, enriching experiences, outstanding academic success, a track record of rigor, and a history of leadership and service to others in their ideal applicants. With all of these qualities, most Honors candidates are also good candidates for top tier private universities, including Ivy’s and others who are known to be very prestigious.

To compete with those types of colleges, public universities offer a more hands-on opportunity that gives top students options they wouldn’t necessarily get at a college where the whole university was basically the equivalent of an Honors College.

Some of these bonuses include the following:

o Getting to register early (behind seniors and athletes) – that allows students to tailor their schedules better and get the classes and professors they want.

o Smaller class sizes – at a large university students may be in an auditorium-style class room with 300 other kids. But in an Honors class, there may be a cap of 50 students, allowing everyone to interact more closely and have better direct access to the professor.

o Better dorms – Honors dorms are usually significantly nicer than regular dorms and they can even be suite-style units (with kitchenettes) that resemble spacious apartments rather than cinder-block military barracks like some of the other students will live in on campus.

o First pick on internship and study abroad opportunities – being the best on campus often gives preferential access to the best opportunities off campus too. That can definitely enrich the college experience and help make valuable connections during college and beyond.

o Opportunities to participate in undergraduate research and be published – most universities save research projects for their grad students, but as an Honors student, you may be able to participate during your undergraduate years too. I’ve met students who were already published in more papers than most of their professors because they got involved and made a contribution to the school’s research efforts!

o Graduate with distinction and show extra rigor as they apply for grad school, law school, med school, or for a job after college – who isn’t going to love the fact that you went above and beyond, maintained a strong GPA during college, engaged in meaningful activities, and grew personally under the watchful eyes of mentors and advisors who helped you earn much more than just a college degree?

Who is a good fit for an Honors College? I usually see two situations that warrant special consideration for Honors Colleges.

The first is when I find a highly motivated, well-accomplished student whose family is determined to have little or no financial need according to the school’s financial aid process. These students can likely get into some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, but without significant merit scholarship, which most of the top tier schools don’t offer, and no need-based financial aid in the mix, the cost of college is overwhelming for them.

By looking at an Honors College opportunity, that same student can get an A level experience that’s similar to what he or she would receive at the other elite universities - and maybe even more because of the access they’ll have to get involved in areas that will benefit them academically and personally. Their good grades, high test scores, and demonstration of rigor will also help them eliminate the out-of-state portion of the school’s tuition and maybe some or all of the in-state portion too. That leaves only room and board, books and fees, and walking around money to cover on their college bill and that could save a fortune over 4 years! Then that extra money saved can go to pay for whatever comes next and allow that student to embrace that chapter of their life debt free!

The other situation where I see an Honors College make sense is when someone has a high performing student who loves a challenge. Maybe they are already planning to attend a rigorous, well-respected private university – but they want more! They love to learn and the Honors College is just what they need to satisfy their academic curiosities and hunger for knowledge.

If you have either of these situations, or maybe you simply have a strong student who would benefit from a more personalized approach to learning in college, learning about Honors Colleges could be the door that opens up a whole new world of opportunities for your family. Obviously the colleges on your list need to have other important factors too, like the right location and setting and the major, or majors, your kids are interested in studying, but going the Honors College route could be just the upgrade you need to match a wonderful opportunity with an unbelievable value.

Most people don’t know about these Honors College options because they are often hidden in plain sight. But now you do, so share them with somebody who could benefit from it. Something like this could be a game changer for you and for them. And, I’m glad you found about it in time to use it to your advantage!



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