Bigest bang for your buck: honors colleges at public universities

by | Jun 2, 2021

This article is for those of you who are looking into building a “smart” college list this fall. Let’s see…you want small classes, great professors, special residential living communities, school spirit and sports, a relatively large college with lots of options…all of this at a relatively low (or low-er) tuition. Hmmm…can you have it all? You can, in an honors college at a public university.

Admission to an Honors College is usually based on the review of a candidate’s college application or meeting a minimum high school GPA and standardized test score. An Honors College is typically designed to keep the “high achievers” together in a more rigorous academic environment and to provide a personalized education experience for its students.

Let’s hear how the University of Maryland describes their own honors program: “Small College Atmosphere. Large Research Institution Advantages. The Honors College combines the best of two educational options: the sophisticated academic offerings and friendly residential environment of a small liberal arts college nestled within the rich, diverse, boundless opportunities of a big research institution with the extra perks of the dynamite Terp spirit.”

How does this play out? Honors colleges are often an “oasis” in a large campus, with special courses taught by selective faculty members. Most honors programs require research, capstone projects, and a minimum GPA throughout the four years in the school. The benefits? Exposure to research with professors, internships, special programs, and advanced classes…a beautiful HONORS in your resume, at a lesser tag price. Talking about the best of both worlds..

How much less? Even for out-of-state students, these Honors Colleges typically charge $10,000-25,000 less than highly selective private universities, with merit and financial aid also available.

Here are five excellent Honors Colleges at Public Universities around the country:


University of Maryland

Honors College

Honors Invitation: comprehensive

OOS Sticker Price: $48,776

Merit Scholarships: Banneker / Key Scholars

Deadline: November 1



University of Alabama

Honors College

Honors Invitation: minimum GPA 3.5 + test score of 28 ACT / 1250/1310 old/new SAT

OOS Sticker Price: Tuition/Fees $27,750 + Room/Board $13,050 = $40,800

Merit Scholarships: Presidential Scholar, UA Scholar

Deadline: February 1 but 12/15 for Merit per above


Indiana University

Hutton Honors College

Honors Invitation: matrix of grades or rank and test score

OOS Sticker Price: $52,566

Merit Scholarships: separate application

Deadline: November 1


Arizona State

Barrett, The Honors College

Honors Invitation: comprehensive

OOS Sticker Price: (approx) $45,300

Merit Scholarships: New American University Scholar

Deadline: Early Action I & II, Regular Decision


University of Oregon

Robert D Clark Honors College

Honors Invitation: comprehensive

OOS Sticker Price:  $54,976

Merit Scholarships: Automatic based on grades/test scores

Deadline: Early Action & Regular Decision

Weil College Advising

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