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What to Consider When Applying to an Honors College

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You have finally been accepted to your college and now are starting to debate if you should commit to that college or not. Or, you have already committed to attending the college in the fall and are looking into ways you can further enrich your college education.

One excellent way to do that is to consider applying to your school’s honors college or program. While there are a few distinctions between the two, honors programs can be a great addition to your education.

Here are some things you might want to think about as you consider if you want to apply to an honors college or not.

Honors College vs. Honors Program: What’s the difference?

You might have noticed that at some colleges, they offer an honors college and at others, they have an honors program. While these two might seem interchangeable, they actually mean two different things.

An honors college is one that you will typically only find at larger universities. Because it is called a “college,” it is exactly what it sounds like: a college within a college.

This means that if you are part of the honors college, oftentimes you will get specific housing compared to those of normal students as well as special advisors, facilities, classes, and much more.

In comparison, an honors program is typically one that is offered at smaller colleges. Unlike an honors college, the program is not a stand alone college. Instead, it is a curriculum that is integrated alongside the rest of the college courses.

This means that instead of having classes that are exclusively for honors students, you might instead be taking the honors version of the course alongside your other non-honors peers.

However, both allow you to further improve upon your education and are great options if you determine that they are the right fit for you.


Of course, to be admitted into the honors college or program, you have to meet some minimum requirements. Most colleges have a high GPA standard, typically 3.7 or higher, although it may depend on the university and the major.

Similar to a normal college application, you will also likely be required to fill out additional essays and short answer questions. 

It is also important to keep in mind one of the key requirements that is not explicitly listed: motivation and self-discipline. If you want to be a part of an esteemed program, then you must be willing to put in the time and work associated with it.

While there are undeniably benefits associated with pushing yourself to be in this kind of program, you also have to know yourself and understand if you will be able to keep up with the rigorous course load.

Harder Classes

As a student within an honors college or program, you will be enrolled in harder classes. While the way those classes are delivered to you may differ depending on the college, at a minimum, you will be doing more volume and more in depth work than your peers.

As mentioned previously, within an honors college, you are likely to take classes specifically for honors students so they will be tailored to you with your rigorous and motivated capabilities in mind. At the same time, in an honors program, the professor is likely to keep the curriculum the same and simply just assign you more work.

Regardless, know that to get the recognition of an honors student, you must do the work to accompany that.

Pros and Cons of Honors College

Motivating Environment

As a student within this program you’ll be surrounded by many other students like you. Everyone is motivated and passionate about their academics and being around people of a similar mindset and work ethic allows you to push yourself past your limits and can help you produce some of your best work. 

Have you ever had a friend that always wants to relax and puts their work off until the last minute? Do you ever find yourself imitating that behavior if you spend enough time around them?

Other people’s behaviors will rub off on you. So, for better or for worse, you will likely mirror what the people around you are doing. 

This is not to say that non-honors students will not be academically motivated or focused. Simply keep in mind that within the honors program, you are almost guaranteed that every student will be continuing to push themselves and others forward.

One more thing to consider is that at many colleges, honors students will typically all live together in dorms. So, not only will you be in class with your peers, but you will also live with them! This creates a more academically focused environment and you might find that you are more likely to succeed when surrounded by so many motivated students.

Time Management

As mentioned above, signing up to be an honors student means that you are also signing up for harder classes, and harder classes means more time spent on them. If you do not already have excellent time management skills, you might find yourself struggling to not only keep up with the workload, but also to remember everything you have to do.

Honors students not only have more homework, but they usually also have bigger projects, more events to attend, and more research to do.

For instance, at my college, Penn State, the students of the Schreyer’s Honors College are required to do an honors thesis in order to graduate. Obviously this is not something that professors will give you time to do in class and must be done on your own free time.

If you think you have the time management skills to keep up with the rigorous curriculum, then the honors student track might be perfect for you.


For all the hard work you put in, you will surely receive the recognition you deserve. If you graduate as an honors student, you are typically recognized at the graduation ceremony and receive special recognition on your diploma.

Beyond this however, depending on the program you are coming from, your potential employers may recognize your achievements and you might have a leg up on your competition. 

Extra Benefits

While it varies from college to college, there are typically many benefits associated with being an honors student. One of the most common and key benefits is early registration. Alongside student-athletes, honors students will be able to register for classes earlier than their other peers.

This is a huge deal because it means you are more likely to get both the classes you need and the times you want. Do you want to be stuck in a 3 hour lecture at 8 am? I don’t.

Furthermore, being a part of the honors program means that you will be able to network and rely on the connections of honors alumni. Just as alumni from a college have a bias towards students from the same college, honors alumni will favor those who are also in the program. This networking opportunity is one of the most valuable benefits of becoming an honors student.

In addition, honors students typically gain access to scholarships or study abroad opportunities that are only available to them. Keep in mind, if there are less students competing, you are more likely to obtain that scholarship!

Do Your Research

I have mentioned this over and over again throughout this article, but every college is different so it is important to thoroughly research. You might find that while it might be worth it to apply to the honors program at one college, and at another college, it might not be for you.

One of the best ways to hear about the college is to talk to actual honors students who participate in it. At the same time, you might find it valuable to talk to students who are not in the program to see why they decided against applying to the honors program. Look beyond the website, and try to look at peoples’ experiences.

Final Thoughts

While the pros and cons vary from college to college, overall, an honors experience typically enhances your college education. In some cases, you might even have the chance to receive an Ivy League-level college education for half the price!

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, but if you think you can keep up with the rigorous curriculum and are motivated to push yourself, then the honors college or program might be the perfect fit for you.

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.