What to Know About Honors Colleges & Residential Colleges
By Erin Barnes on October 16, 2020
If you’re in the process of selecting and applying to colleges, it’s important to be aware of certain opportunities that aren't well-publicized and aren't captured by the typical size-type-location selection criteria. If you’re looking to put your exceptional academic abilities to the test, you may want to consider an honors college or residential college.
Each of these options provides a more personalized, intimate college experience that might drastically alter your perception of fit within a university offering such programs. Below, we’ll take a detailed look at what these options offer to help you determine if they might be the right fit for you.
What is an Honors College?
An honors college is a distinct entity within a larger university. Typically, they are designed to provide academically motivated students with the more personalized experiences and faculty access one might find at a smaller, private college (minus the higher price tag of a private college).
What are the Benefits of an Honors College?
- Smaller class sizes mean a closer relationship with professors
- The equivalent of a private college education at a public university cost
- Some universities provide these students with priority registration
- Honors college housing allows you to be surrounded by like-minded peers
- Still allows you to be part of a larger university
- Contain separate organizational structures with dedicated resources
- The authority to act independently, usually under the leadership of their own dean
- Greater support for research opportunities
- Increased opportunity for scholarships and financial resources
What is the Difference Between an Honors College and Honors Programs?
While honors colleges are separate entities, honors programs aren’t part of any particular college. Instead, these are programs that you participate in while you complete your degree in another college within the university. Honors colleges are more common at larger, public universities; honors programs are more common at smaller colleges and universities. Both types of programs are great options for academically ambitious students.
What are Some Drawbacks of Honors Colleges?
- Not all courses you take will be honors courses. You will sit through some large lecture-hall classes
- High focus on academics means less time for extracurricular activities
- Highly selective application process
How to Apply to an Honors College
The process for gaining admission to honors colleges vary. Some require students to specifically apply for admission to the honors college, often with additional essays, but most invite applicants based on their high school academic achievement and standardized test scores. Students applying to an honors college might need to submit applications earlier than regular decision deadlines.
What is a Residential College?
Residential colleges are divisions of a university that provide a more intimate community experience. Students of a residential college often live together (at least for one or two years), attend classes together, and share meals with each other and their faculty.
Honors Colleges vs Residential Colleges
While some honors colleges might also include a similar residential experience, students of a residential college need not take advanced courses or related majors. In fact, many residential colleges specifically group cross-sections of students to enhance diversity. The more intimate cohabitation experience of residential colleges provides students greater familiarity with faculty (some residential colleges have students integrate what they’re learning in the classroom with personal and social growth) and engender the development of stronger support networks.
What are Some Drawbacks of Residential Colleges?
Students considering residential colleges should remember that these focus more on building a tight community among students and faculty - not providing challenging academics or honors courses.
How to Apply to a Residential College
Students may need to put indicate on their application that they intend to join a residential college, but some colleges automatically assign students to residential colleges.
A Final Word
While the exhaustive research into finding that "perfect fit" college can be overwhelming, it is important to recognize and understand the opportunities Honors Colleges and Residential Colleges provide. Both offer students unique college experiences and important networking opportunities that will help them find success in college and throughout their futures.