Public Honors Colleges

Public Honors colleges offer students many perks from scholarships to small classes to specialized housing. Understand what this choice may offer your homeschooler.

Indiana University Living LearningOne option many homeschoolers consider for college is attending an Honors College program within a public university. Some students find Honors Colleges offer many of the features of a more selective smaller liberal arts college within a more affordable and more accessible public university setting. Typically students in the Honors College are in the top 5-10% of the university population statistically, including high test scores and well-developed academic records. At some colleges admissions to the Honors College is automatic for students with a certain statistical profile, others may require students to complete a separate admissions process.

Honors Colleges vary widely from one school to another. Some programs are more comprehensive and well defined; others may offer little other than a first year seminar or two. Here are some features your student should look for in a public Honors College.

Smaller classes: This may include small seminars to substitute for some general education or core requirements. These seminars are typically taught by full time faculty rather than part time or adjunct faculty. These classes may be taught at a more challenging level and may provide opportunities for students to engage in more writing than may be found in a large section course.

Specialized housing: Many Honors programs offer the opportunity for Honors students to live on the same hall or floor of a dormitory. This may make it easier for strong students to make connections early in college. Dorm environments may also feature study groups or special speakers. Some modern dorms are also being built with classroom space to facilitate classes in the dorm environment.

Dedicated sections of core classes: Some colleges offer honors only sections of core classes such as biology or calculus. Most courses will be taken with the general population of the university, but some specialized opportunities should be offered.

Interdisciplinary studies: Honors Colleges may offer their students specialized courses which allow students to make connections between traditional disciplines.

Advising: Honors students may receive specialized support in planning their college classes and applying for nationally competitive scholarships and graduate school. Students in STEM fields in Honors programs often apply for nationally competitive REUs (National Science Foundation funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates).

Priority registration: At most universities registration is determined by amount of credits earned. This means students with lower standing can struggle to get into needed courses. Some Honors programs will allow students to register first which can be a significant advantage at a large university.

Peers: As a member of a smaller college within a large university, students may more quickly find intellectual peers who are also highly motivated. Research consistently demonstrates that peers and a strong social fit are a crucial part of happiness and success in college.

Senior projects: Many Honors Colleges require students to complete a senior thesis or research project. Capstone projects may offer a student the opportunity to work one on one with a faculty member. Completion of a major project can be excellent preparation for graduate school.

Scholarship opportunities: Some Honors College programs offer scholarships for students enrolled in their programs. Students may receive additional support for research or study abroad.

Check out these examples of public university Honors Colleges.

University of Maryland


University of Alabama

University of North Carolina

Texas A&M

Arizona State



  • This is very helpful! The honors college at one school was not very appealing to my son, but he found an honors program at another school that is very interesting.

    • Great question. I would suggest the student takes time to meet with the Honors College when they visit a college campus. They can ask if the typical Honors student need to put in more hours or if their workload is pretty similar to other students. Most often Honors courses will meet general requirements so the workload should not be heavier, though it may be more writing intensive. If your student meets the entrance requirements for the Honors College that also suggests they are probably well prepared to be there.

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