High-quality education in the form of Honors Colleges in Public Universities is becoming ever more common. Within the University of California system most have, including UCLA, UCI, and five of the six colleges of UCSD, special honors programs.
The reason behind the growth of these honors programs is public universities want to keep their best students at home, in state, and challenged by a curriculum many believe can only be obtained from the most selective universities.
One of the eminent Honors programs was described in a previous column, the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. The column mentioned that the Public University Honors (PUH) organization has evaluated the top public honors programs in its book A Review of 50 Public University Honors Programs.
Like most rankings there is a bit of subjectivity, although the PUH rates programs by:
- The number of honors classes necessary to fulfill graduation requirements (the more, the better)
- The number of prestigious scholarships garnered by enrolled students (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, Fulbright, Truman, etc.)
- Special honors housing and facilities
- Select honors study abroad programs
- Priority registration
Yet the best means of understanding what an honors program is all about is to look closely at one. A university with a top 50 honors program that might prove accessible and affordable is the Honors College Program at the University of Utah.
To take advantage of tuition savings, Californians should apply through the Western University Exchange (WUE). Their tuition will then be 150% of the residential tuition rate, which is approximately $11,000, well below UC’s $14,000.
The University of Utah typically admits around 80% of its applicants. Most of the students admitted have unweighted GPAs of 3.6 to 3.9 with mean SAT scores of 1345/1600 or an ACT of 30. The Honors Program, in other words, is one of the most selective colleges in the country contained in large land-grant university.
Several of Utah’s departments are among the top 50 in the country including math (34), chemistry (35), computer science (40), earth sciences (42), and business (47). So if an honors student were to major in any of these departments, she would be arguably getting a superior liberal arts education coupled with one of the best department curriculum in the country.
Looking at the PUH honors criteria, to receive an Honors Bachelor’s Degree, a fifth of a student’s classes need to be honors classes. This could breakdown to four honors core courses, three honors elective and one thesis preparation class. The Honors Program features an ‘Intellectual Tradition’ series of seminars showing how key ideas have shaped humanity. The program also offers Praxis Labs, project based solutions to key social problems. Finally there is the thesis as a capstone to the Honors Program.
Utah Honors graduates have won 31 Goldwater (STEM fields), 22 Rhodes, and 23 Truman Scholarships over the years; the program ranks fifth among all public universities in wining Truman Scholarships.
The Marriott Honors Residential Community (MHRC) houses 309 students in mostly suite-style rooms. Students can choose to live in one of eight learning-themed areas, such as business or engineering. Each apartment suite has its own kitchen, and the community has an honors library, high speed internet, and a ski wax room.
There is also the Hinkley Institute for gaining honors credit through Hinkley internships; the UROP to obtain funding for research; the Marriott Library to get thesis and research advice from honors librarians; and more than 100 study abroad programs with intensive language programs in Kiel, Germany or Saratov, Russia.
The Honors Program at the University of Utah is not perfect, however: it doesn’t offer its students priority registration.
If you are an exceptional student in search of a place to help you excel on a budget, the Honors Program at the University of Utah is worth considering, and, to add icing on the honors, within 45 minutes of the campus is some of the best skiing in the country — all for a tuition price 20% lower than the UCs.
Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC, has been counseling students for the last 10 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800, (714) 734-8100.