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If you’re like me, you probably completely disregarded the term “honors college” when looking at colleges. I thought “honors college” was just some sort of label that didn’t actually hold much meaning; I thought it meant that people who had high GPAs in high school could go around saying they were in the “honors college.” Maybe I’m the only person who had this mindset, but when I went to some information sessions about honors programs at local colleges, I realized that I had been completely wrong. Before you overlook honors colleges, consider what they have to offer.

Getting In

Of course, admission into honors colleges varies by university. Some universities, such as Purdue University, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Michigan State University, automatically consider high-achieving students for the honors program when they apply to the university. At the University of Michigan, students can apply for the honors program after being accepted to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The University of Oregon requires extra application materials for students interested in the honors program. At some schools, such as Central Michigan University, students may have to attend a competition on campus. Regardless of application processes, honors programs typically require a combination of a high GPA, high test scores, extracurricular involvement, and strong personal characteristics as demonstrated by essays and other application materials.

Usually, students interested in an honors program have to apply to the university by November 1st or earlier, so it’s important to look at deadlines if you’re even considering applying. Some schools, such as the University of Virginia, invite students to the honors program or allow students to apply to the honors program after a year or two on campus.

Some students dismiss public universities because they want to go to a more prestigious school. If prestige is something that concerns you, know that admission into honors programs is still competitive.

Affording College

Many honors programs have scholarships available specifically for honors students. These often require separate applications. At Michigan State University, honors students may be invited to attend a two-day event which includes a test covering a wide range of subjects. The students who score the highest on the test are then interviewed. This competition allows some students to achieve full-ride scholarships. Michigan State University also offers scholarships specifically for out-of-state honors students.

Indiana University has a Selective Scholarship Application that students invited to the honors college can fill out. For this application, students have to submit letters of recommendation, essays, and other application materials. Central Michigan University’s honors college competition also serves as a scholarship competition, awarding some students full-ride and full-tuition scholarships. However, some honors programs do automatically consider students for scholarships.

Before deciding that you don’t want to even apply to a public university, think about how you plan to pay for college. While the list prices for private colleges don’t always represent the prices you have to pay, tuition can still be pretty steep. Public colleges offer some great scholarships for honors students (and other students, too), and even if you don’t end up deciding to attend a public university, it might be worth your time to apply.

Being a Member

Being a member of an honors college usually means living with other honors students and taking some honors classes, which typically are smaller than other college classes. Many honors programs heavily encourage studying abroad and getting involved on campus. Advisors work with students to make sure they can study abroad and still graduate in four years. Many schools also offer study abroad scholarships designed specifically for honors students.

Most schools, including Oklahoma State University, give priority enrollment to honors students beginning in the second semester of freshman year or beginning after freshman year, meaning that honors students choose their classes before other students(even seniors!) There are also research opportunities available for honors students, with many honors students being required to complete a senior thesis. By the end of their third year of college, honors students at UC Davis must complete a research course in an area of interest, must complete one of three types of service projects, and must complete “one further aspect.” Possibilities for “one further aspect” include studying abroad or interning in Washington DC. The University of Delaware even offers a private music study program where experienced musicians who are in the honors program but are not majoring in music can receive instruction in vocal or instrumental music.

If you’re in an honors program, you might find yourself going to potlucks, charity dances, fireside chats, or study breaks. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill holds “Food for Thought” events where students eat dinner and engage in thoughtful, inspiring conversations.

Basically, honors programs are close-knit communities that allow you to explore your interests and do amazing things!

Staying a Member

In order to stay in the honors program, students usually have to maintain a certain GPA and take a certain number of honors courses. Most programs require a senior thesis for honors students. In addition, honors programs often emphasize academic integrity and require students to sign some sort of “honor contract” or “honor pledge.”

With so many opportunities available, and often for a lower cost than at a private college, students have accomplished incredible things both while in school and after graduation. Honors programs at public universities are not for everyone; whether or not you are a good fit in an honors program at any given university completely depends on what you’re looking for in a program. However, honors programs at public universities provide a great option for students looking for a close-knit community within a larger school. Though you may decide that a public university is not for you, you may want to look into the available programs before making that decision.



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the author

Paige Sheffield is a student at Central Michigan University. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes for her campus newspaper, You On Top Magazine, and more. She is also a TP Editorial Internship Co-coordinator. She loves poetry, coffee, statement jewelry, zumba, politics, and the Great Lakes. She is passionate about arts education and currently volunteers and interns with organizations that provide art-related programming to underserved populations. You can follow her on twitter @paige_sheff.

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