Is Applying to an Honors College Worth the Extra Effort?

I have a question about honors colleges. I sent out one rolling application and was accepted to the college, along with an invitation to the school's honors program. In addition, I'm applying Regular Decision to another school and my parents want me to also do that school's honors college application. It requires another essay which I don't want to write, and I don't understand the honors college benefits anyway. What does this entail and is it worth it?

Don't shoot the messenger here, but "The Dean" sides with your parents, as heinous as that extra essay may seem right now. Why?

Well, admittedly, honors programs vary considerably from college to college, so I can't give you a guarantee that your essay efforts will pay off. Most honors programs offer some but not all of these benefits:

  • Special scholarships only for honors students
  • Special housing for honors students (often snazzier and/or better located than the general-population dorms)
  • Course registration priority
  • Access to honors-only courses (sometimes smaller than the standard ones which can translate into stronger faculty recommendations at grad-school or job-hunt time)
  • Honors-only events that range from lectures and book discussions to football tailgates.

And honors programs almost always enable bright, motivated students to find each other quickly ... a perk that can be especially useful at large public universities where there may be a broad abyss that separates those who came for the classes from those who came for the keg parties.

Yet, before you write that essay, you may want to research what the honors college will offer at your Regular Decision school. You might also seek answers to a few questions:

1. Is there a minimum GPA to remain in the program?

2. Are there specific classes that every honors college student must take? If so, do the topics appeal to you?

3. Is a thesis or some sort of Capstone project required?

4. Are students eligible to graduate with Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) without participating in the honors program?

While this research should provide a clearer sense of whether this honors program will be of value to you, it may actually take more time to do it than writing that one remaining essay will take. Thus, The Dean's advice is to bite the bullet and do the essay. Down the road, if you are offered a place in the program and if this university ends up on your short list, you can then examine the honors benefits and demands more carefully. But, meanwhile, jump on that essay now!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at