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A More Affordable Alternative to Private College? Honors College

Too often parents can become stuck in a mindset that the only possible college for their student is an elite one. The recent college admission scandal is a great example of parents who are misinformed about the many different paths students can take. Families need to consider all the options that will lead to success for their students. One of these options are honors college programs.

Every year at every high school, many of the academically talented students set their hearts on elite private colleges and universities. Among the benefits of attending a private college are smaller class sizes, rigorous curriculum, and a close-knit community.

A drawback to a private college is the cost

You have probably heard us say many times that the sticker price of college is irrelevant. Which is true if you are a smart college shopper. Although it is true that many private colleges have more money per student to award talented or need-based students, the out of pocket cost to attend still ranges from $30,000 to $70,000 per year. Talented students that have the ability to get into top private colleges could potentially have the option of attending a public state school for a fraction of the cost and in some cases attend for free.

What if a student could get a private college experience at a more reasonable price?

Your clients may want to take a closer look at honors programs at their state universities. They shouldn’t rule out state schools without taking a closer look at the unique opportunity of honors programs. Honors programs at many universities continue to grow. If money is a concern and graduating with minimal student loan debt is important to your clients, private colleges may be out pricing themselves.

Colleges and universities offering honors experiences want to attract students who may otherwise attend a private institution. Honors programs are small learning communities of students within the larger university. Often times they have separate housing. The students in the program will be academically talented and will have a special environment to work together.

Colleges require honors students to complete separate coursework, which may be more unique and interesting as well as a senior thesis or project. The goal is to challenge the student to develop more critical thinking skills. Being a part of the honors program frequently comes with an academic merit scholarship and includes special research and internship opportunities.

The colleges offer smaller class sizes with more rigorous curriculum and full-time faculty rather than teaching assistants. Students get to know their professors, and the professors get to know them. Some offer early registration for courses enabling students to get into the classes they want.

Students can have both the benefits of a large university for sporting events and activities as well as large libraries and campuses together with the benefits of a small private university. In addition, a large school will have many more choices of majors.

Clients need to be aware of minimum GPA requirements. Also, that they need to plan schedules carefully to meet the course requirements for both the major and the honors program.

Clients will want to answer these questions about the programs they are investigating:

  • What are the requirements (GPA, ACT/SAT scores) to be admitted to the honors program? Is there a separate application?
  • How many credit hours of honor coursework are required?
  • What types of honors classes are available?
  • Are there special “perks” for honors colleges students like housing, early registration, and scholarships?
  • Are there minimum academic requirements to stay in the program?
  • What if you decide to quit the program before finishing?
  • What does the senior project entail (if there is one)?

So, how do you research a college’s honors program?

Many answers to these questions will be found on the college’s website. Institutions are proud of these special programs and want to share information about them. Here is an example from the highly rated honors programs at Ohio University.

When deciding whether to be part of an honors program, clients need to think carefully about their student’s strengths. Having a high GPA is not the only skill needed by a successful honors college student. The demands of the programs are best met by those students with a desire to learn, to push themselves, to stay organized, and to take advantage of the benefits these programs can offer.

If a student is a good fit, an honors college is a way to get the best of both worlds–smaller private college experience at a public university price!

Originally published 6/2017

Updated 6/2019