What is Honors College?

    September 23, 2021 | Admin

    If you are an high achieving student in high school who is looking into post-secondary education, some of the universities you’re applying to may invite you to join an honors college.

    Universities only offer admission to their honors colleges to top-tier students. With that can come access to certain academic programs and scholarships that are restricted to members of honors college. Having attended an honors college might also look good to future employers. 

    This all sounds great, right? Enrolling in an honors college can be an amazing opportunity, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect fit for you. Before accepting your offer to enroll in an honors college, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

    What exactly is an honors college, and what can you expect when you join one? Keep reading to find out!

    What Is an Honors College?

    An honors college is an on-campus school that is part of a university system. An honors college is still attached to a university but may have its own campus and facilities. In the same way that large universities may break down into different schools, such as Tisch School of Arts as NYU, an honors college is a separate school for exceptional students.

    Honors College vs. Honors Program

    You’ve probably heard both the terms honors college and honors program used before. While the idea behind both terms is similar, there is one key difference to keep in mind while preparing for college

    Honors college is a separate school within the university, while honors programs are usually not separated into different schools in the university. Honors colleges are found at large universities that use separate colleges as a means to break up and organize their student body, departments, and programs.

    Smaller universities usually aren’t big enough to break down into colleges. Instead of having honors colleges, they have honors programs. Honors programs are curriculums made for student who demonstrate academic excellence and may result in a thesis, major research paper, or capstone project. Students enrolled in honors programs still receive a distinction, they just usually don’t have access to extra amenities or facilities on campus.

    Both honors colleges and honors programs offer high-achieving students great opportunities, it’s just a matter of how big of a university you decide to attend.

    What is the purpose of honors college?

    An honors college is meant to give exceptional students an environment where they can continue to excel. Honors colleges make the lives of students on campus a little easier and often provide additional resources.

    If you plan on attending a large university, it may seem daunting to think about the campus size and the number of new things to consider. Attending an honors college may make that change less overwhelming. 

    Honors colleges are usually found at big universities that have a lot of resources. Honors colleges occupy their own campus in the university and may include facilities meant only for those attending that honors college, such as libraries or labs. 

    Ask any university student, and they will have stories on how they struggle to find a good spot to study in the library. With fewer students occupying honors college campuses, you’ll find that you have easier access to the resources you need.

    When you graduate from honors college, you will be given a special distinction recognizing your hard work. This distinction may give you an advantage in your career when first applying for jobs straight out of college. When you graduate, you might also receive special regalia when you cross the stage.

    How does an honors college change your college experience?

    Being at an honors college is a unique experience. You’ll most likely become part of the on-campus community at your honors college, which would include various student-life activities. You will also encounter some leadership opportunities, such as joining your student council. 

    Depending on your school, you may receive many perks that will make your college experience easier. These perks may include additional scholarships reserved for honors college students or early registration for classes so that you aren’t stuck with an 8:00 am Monday morning lecture. However, due to the rigorous nature of studies in the honors college, be prepared to have a little less free time than your peers who aren’t enrolled in the college.

    You will likely become close with your peers in your honors classes. These classes limit enrollment to honors students, so the class sizes are generally small and seminar-style, which is great if you like participating in class and interacting with your professors and peers, which is harder to do in a lecture hall full of 400 of your peers.

    Depending on the degree type you pursue, honors college will require a lot of work and many hours of studying. It may become stressful and a challenge to maintain a good balance between study and leisure. However, your honors college peers will be going through the same challenges as you, and you will end up developing friendships based on your shared experiences. You’ll become part of a tight-knit community where everyone supports one another.

    Benefits of Attending an Honors College

    There are a number of benefits to attending an honors college. Some of those benefits include:

    • Smaller class sizes due to limited available spots
    • More one-on-one time with professors
    • You (probably) get to enroll in classes early – meaning you get first dibs at those classes that fill up quickly
    • Access to more rigorous courses that will challenge you
    • Additional scholarships and financial aid reserved for honors college students
    • Housing benefits

    How does attending an honors college help you pursue continuing education opportunities?

    When you enrolled in an honors college, you will most likely be going through a more rigorous program than the average undergraduate student. Therefore, attending an honors college is a great idea if you have plans to pursue graduate studies. Your experience as a grad student will probably be as rigorous and similar to your experience at an honors college.

    As well, because so few students are offered enrollment into honors colleges, your classes tend to be smaller and seminar-style. You are expected to interact more with your peers and your professors, similar to what your classes would be like if you decide to pursue a master’s degree or a Ph.D. Furthermore, many honors colleges require their students to complete a thesis at the end of their studies, such as what you would complete at the end of a master’s program.

    The honors college is also a good environment to figure out how you would want to continue your education and what you would like to study. Graduate studies often require a more specialized area of study than undergraduate studies. You will most likely have had to focus more on certain subjects in the honors college, especially to complete your thesis, which will make it easier to choose your specialization for graduate studies.

    How can being in an honors college help career prospects?

    Honors college requires their students to be disciplined, organized and self-motivated. These are transferable skills that will serve you well when you graduate from honors college and begin your career.

    The honors college fosters an environment that encourages students to make connections that may include networking opportunities that later lead to career prospects. Community activities in your college may give you the chance to network with your peers and any alumni that may come to campus to host or participate in campus activities.

    During your time at honors college, you will receive opportunities for career development. Some schools offer internships only to their honors college students. Many schools that offer honors college have connections and agreements with big companies. When it comes to finding internships, there are limited placements available. Honors college students would have the advantage of accessing these internships first. 

    The internships you land in honors college can often lead to full-time employment with the same company or a recommendation that will get you noticed by another company. Employers will see that you have attended an honors college and consider the rigorous nature of your college experience.

    How does being in an honors college help to prepare you for life after college?

    In honors college, you won’t just focus on academia. You’ll learn real-life skills. Some of these skills include:

    • Communication from communicating with your professors and peers
    • Teamwork through collaboration with your peers
    • Leadership through participating in campus life or joining student unions

    Some universities offer exclusive study abroad opportunities to their honors college students. Studying abroad provides students with the opportunity to leave their comfort zone and broaden their understanding of the world. They participate in an exchange of culture and language and often meet new people from various countries. The skills students learn during a semester studying abroad are skills they will be able to apply to many aspects of their lives in the future.

    Administrative Requirements For an Honors College

    Now that you know all about honors college, you probably have an idea of whether or not attending one is right for you. Before you make a final decision, you must first determine if you’re eligible to apply to an honors college by meeting the basic criteria for admission. 

    How can you determine if you meet the administrative requirements for honors college?

    Check with your school of choice to see what their requirements are for admission to their honors college. You can usually find this information on the admissions page of the university’s website

    It’s also a good idea to make an appointment with an academic advisor on campus, and, if you’re in high school, meet with a counselor or advisor. An advisor can help you determine whether you’re a good candidate for honors college and how you can improve your chances for admission.

    Here is what a strong honors college candidate looks like:

    • Have a high GPA: GPA requirements vary per school, but maintaining a 3.7 and above is a good reference.
    • Score high test score (high SAT or ACT score).
    • Participate in extracurricular participation in activities both in and out of the classroom to demonstrate that you are well-rounded and have multiple interests.

    Depending on the university, you may be required to present additional documents with your application, such as a personal statement, an essay, or a letter of recommendation. Some schools will invite you to do an admissions interview before making their final decision.

    Meeting these basic criteria does not guarantee admission into an honors college, especially to a very competitive school. Check out the criteria in your desired school’s admission page to get a better understanding of the requirements.

    How can you prepare for an honors college?

    If you’re still in high school, the best way to prepare for honors college is to maintain good grades and high test scores. If your GPA as it is right now isn’t high enough, then it’s time to get to work. Ask your academic advisor about your options when it comes to increasing your GPA. If you haven’t taken the SAT yet, make sure to study for it!

    If your GPA is excellent and you want a taste of what honors college will be like, then consider taking advanced courses while you’re still in high school. For example, if you plan on attending a psychology program, you might want to take an advanced biology course before starting university as preparation. Taking advanced classes also looks good on your application. 

    If you are already in university, you might still be able to get into honors college. Some universities allow current students to apply and enroll in honors college during their sophomore or junior year. You will still be subject to the minimum GPA requirement, and the college may take into consideration your extracurricular activities.

    Honors colleges want students who love to learn and are intellectually curious, so make sure you demonstrate that in and out of the classroom. If you have no extracurricular activities, consider joining a club or sports team. Demonstrate your interest in leadership by running for your student council. Volunteering is also a good way to give back to your community and enhance your application.

    If you’ve already been admitted to honors college, then congratulations! You’ve taken that first step, so now you need to know what to expect. Continue being that focused, hard-working student that got you this far, and you will succeed. Once you’re in honors college, you will be expected to maintain a GPA that is to the college’s standard, as well as take certain courses and complete an honors thesis.

    How do you apply to an honors college?

    Every university has a different application process for their honors colleges. Universities will often require you to fill out two applications–one for admission into your program of study at the university, and a separate application for admission into honors college. 

    Some universities only require you to apply to your program of study and will consider every applicant for admission into their honors college. In this case, honors college admission is invitation-only. It is possible that a university accepts you into your program of study, but not into honors college.

    Make sure to start looking into applying to honors college a year before you plan on attending. Applications close anywhere between early November and late January. Determine the application close dates for your desired school early, take all of the classes you need, and gather all of your documents in advance. You don’t want to miss a deadline!

    How to Choose an Honors College

    Now that you know everything there is to know about honors college, you can begin to look into which one you’d want to attend! Here are some factors to consider when choosing an honors college:

    Program of study

    You’ll want to have an idea of what you want to study before you start looking, as it will make it easier to narrow down what colleges you want to apply to. A good planning guide can make this easier, as it will help you navigate what your undergraduate studies may look like.


    If you’re attending an honors college, you will most likely be living on campus. You want to make sure that your campus is in a city that you like. How far you’re willing to move from home is also a factor. Since honors college usually requires rigorous study, it can be a stressful experience and you may want your friends and family close by as a support system. 

    In contrast, maybe moving further from home will rid you of distractions and give you more of an incentive to get to know your fellow honors college students, resulting in networking. It’s all about figuring out what’s right for you.

    Size of Student Population

    The number of students on campus can play a big factor in choosing an honors college. Because they are usually a part of big universities, most honors colleges house fewer students on their campus. Nonetheless, they can still be quite big with hundreds of students. You want to have an idea of whether you’ll be comfortable with hundreds of peers, or if you would prefer dozens instead. 


    The good news is that honors colleges are often more affordable than elite colleges and universities. Honors colleges are often found in large state schools and provide a rigorous curriculum comparable to that at Ivy League schools. Therefore, students can attend honors colleges at the fraction of the price of an Ivy League school, while receiving just as good of an education.

    Despite the affordability compared to Ivy League schools, attending an honors college can be costly, but one of the perks of honors college is that you often have access to more scholarships. Plus, if your academic performance was good enough to gain you admission to an honors college, you will probably have access to many scholarships already.

    How do you know if you are suited for an honors college?

    Did you love learning in high school, and are intellectually curious? Honors college will be similar, but better because you get to study what you want to learn. However, be prepared to have a lot more work than you did in high school, both in the classroom and as homework. Your tests and papers will probably be graded tougher in honors college than they would be in a traditional undergraduate program.

    If you were a hard worker in high school and loved doing schoolwork to learn, then you’ll probably succeed in honors college. You just have to be up for the challenge and ready to push yourself to be your very best.

    What do the best honors college programs have in common?

    Honors college programs usually take four years to complete, although some colleges offer accelerated learning that may help you complete your degree in three years. Likewise, under extenuating circumstances, you may be allowed to take an extra year to complete your degree in an honor college. An extra year may also be required if you choose to study abroad or take on an internship any time during your studies.

    Below details some of the best honors colleges in the United States and their requirements.

    The University of Arizona – Honors College

    At the University of Arizona, students enrolled in honors college usually spend their first year living in “Honors Village” – the on-campus housing made especially for honors college students.

    Additional requirements to Arizona’s honors college include  an honors admission essay, an activities resume and one letter of recommendation. Almost every faculty and discipline is represented in Arizona’s honors college, and many students choose to do dual degrees.

    Like many honors colleges, the University of Arizona requires its honors students to complete an honors thesis or capstone. Students who maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout their studies receive a Silver Award at the Honors College Convocation ceremony.

    The University of Arizona outlines the following requirements for its currents honors college students:

    • Must maintain a GPA of 3.4 or higher
    • Completion of honors courses
    • Completion and submission of an honors thesis

    The University of Utah – Honors College

    The University of Utah offers a couple of different options for their honors college students. 

    Firstly, they offer integrated minors, which sees you joining a small cohort of your peers to complete a minor in either ecology and legacy or health. This is a great option if you want to collaborate with your fellow honors students.

    U of U’s honors college also has a “build your own pathway” option, where you can work with special advisors to create personalized plans of study. This is an interdisciplinary studies option, where you can use multiple disciplines to create a major that suits your interests and career goals.

    U of U’s honors college prides itself on the interdisciplinary nature of its programs. One honors-only perk that makes Utah’s honors college stand out is the opportunity to participate in a year-long theory into a practice lab (Praxis). 

    All honors college students must maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher to remain in the program.

    Michigan State University – Honors College

    At Michigan State University, you can’t apply for admission to honors college, you must be invited. Every incoming freshman student is considered for admission to honors college, which is highly competitive.

    MSU outlines their past admission requirements in detail:

    • A cumulative GPA that places students in the top 5% of students in their graduating class
    • Completion of rigorous courses such as AP and IB courses
    • An average of 1440 SAT score
    • Demonstrated leadership
    • Demonstrated research interests
    • Community service involvement (volunteering)

    Meeting all of these criteria will not guarantee you admission to MSU’s honors college, but it will make you a great candidate. MSU’s honors college boasts many programs to choose from, as well as opportunities to participate in unique activities both on and off-campus.

    What are considerations for selecting an honors college?

    When selecting an honors college, think about what perks are important to you. 

    • How size university do you want to attend?
    • Do you want access to enhanced facilities? 
    • Would you like to be considered for more scholarships?
    • Where do you want to live?

    These are all important questions to consider when selecting an honors college–don’t make this decision lightly. The best way to find out what it’s really like at your desired honors college, reach out to current honors students to get a first-hand account of what to expect.

    The Takeaway

    Honors colleges are a great option for top-performing students who want to continue to be challenged. Even if you have the grades and impressive background that honors colleges are looking for, you’ll want to thoroughly consider your options. It’s possible that attending a traditional school might better suit the college lifestyle that you want to experience.

    Before applying to the honors college of your choice, you’ll want to do enough research to make sure that it’s the right decision for you. If you determine that honors college is for you, and find the right school, then you will embark on a very fulfilling intellectual experience!

    Find the program that’s right for you

    Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

    Woman in graduation cap and gown
    Scroll to Top