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Last updated January 24, 2024

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What is an Honors College?

Key Takeaway

Honors colleges offer a unique blend of small classes, research opportunities, and a vibrant social life. They provide a close-knit college experience with the resources of a large university, making them an excellent choice for motivated students seeking an affordable and enriching college education.

Torn between the social scene of a large university and the small, discussion-based classes of a liberal arts college?

Two words: honors colleges.

Honors colleges give you the best of both worlds. And if you attend an honors college at a public university in your home state, you can also save a ton of money on tuition.

Let’s get into what honors colleges are and why you should add them to your list.

What is an Honors College?

So at a large research university, you usually find different schools or colleges. You might have a College of Arts and Sciences, a School of Engineering, or even a College of Design.

In addition to those “schools” and “colleges,” you can also find what are called “honors colleges.”

Unlike a College of Arts and Sciences or a School of Engineering, honors colleges aren’t for specific disciplines. Students who study lots of different disciplines can be part of them.

Instead of a particular subject, honors colleges focus on more advanced coursework and research, smaller class sizes, and closer relationships with faculty members. Often, honors colleges will have particular academic requirements and specific classes you have to take. You also have a built-in network of peers in your cohort (which is a fancy way to say “honors college group”) since you’re taking the same classes with the same people.

Why Should I Look into Honors Colleges?

So, why look into an honors college to begin with?

If you want a place that feels like a small, close-knit college but has the resources of a big university, an honors college could be right for you.

The small classes and access to professors are big benefits. Professors – not grad students – are usually the ones teaching, so you can build a strong relationship with them. If you love research, honors colleges often offer unique research opportunities. Sometimes, they even provide funding, which means you get paid to pursue your research interests, which is a great way to set yourself up to be a good grad school applicant, if that’s something you’re interested in.

But it's not all about the academics either. Honors colleges also offer lots of social activities and clubs. You might even have special study abroad programs or internships to choose from compared to the rest of the student body. These experiences can really enrich your time in college.

Many students overlook honors colleges, especially the ones at state universities. But remember, these colleges can give you an education that's just as good as the ones at more well-known schools, and often at a lower cost.

How do I apply to an honors college?

Honors colleges can add a little extra work to your application process, so you should plan accordingly.

Many programs require a separate application that has additional requirements, like a certain GPA threshold and extra essays or short answers. For some, you may also need an additional letter of recommendation or college supplement.

But not all honors colleges require you to submit extra materials. Some automatically consider you for their honors college if your grades and application stand out.

As you’re building your school list, be sure to research what requirements each honors program has.

Schools with Honors Colleges

Need some inspiration to get started? Here’s a short list of popular schools that also include honors colleges.

  • Arizona State University
  • Auburn University
  • Clemson University
  • George Mason University
  • Indiana State University
  • James Madison University
  • Purdue University
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Vermont
  • Virginia Tech

Now get started on that school research!


Honors colleges offer a strong academic environment with benefits like small classes, close interaction with faculty, unique research opportunities, and a lively social life. They're often overlooked, but they could be the perfect fit for motivated students looking for an affordable, enriching college experience. If you're working your way through the college application process, considering honors colleges could expand your options.

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