University of Washington Honors Program: Best Overall in the West

The University of Washington Honors Program is the best overall among those in the Pacific Coast states, according to our recent publication, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs.

UW Honors ranks 6th in the major category of Overall Excellence and 13th in the other major category, Honors Factors. The other leading honors program in the region is at UC Irvine, ranking 20th in Overall Excellence and 7th in Honors Factors. The University of Oregon’s Clark Honors College is also an excellent choice.

Overall Excellence includes university-wide data on the attainment of prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, etc.), along with data on honors curriculum, graduation rates, study-abroad, and honors “perks” such as special residence halls and priority registration.

Honors Factors excludes the metric for prestigious scholarships, and increases the impact of the other components, especially honors curriculum. UW has a lower ranking in Honors Factors than in Overall Excellence primarily because the program does not offer priority registration for honors students. If priority registration were available, UW Honors would rank as high as 3rd in Overall Excellence and 6th in Honors Factors.

This may or may not be important to those looking at the best public honors options in the country. UW, along with programs at Wisconsin, Illinois, and UCLA, do not offer priority registration because, in most cases, the programs want participants to be motivated by academics rather than by perks. All four of these programs would be ranked significantly higher were it not for the choice to exclude priority registration.

In addition, among these four programs, UW alone offers separate housing for honors students. The lack of designated honors dorms also reduces the rankings of the other programs. We emphasize in our book that parents and prospective students who do not place much value on these components should adjust their use of our rankings accordingly.

Admission to the program (1,450 total students) is selective: the average SAT is 2082, ACT 31, and GPA 3.86, unweighted.

The academic excellence that is available to honors students at UW is evident.

  • Faculty.  In 15 academic departments ranked in a national survey, the average departmental rank at UW was 20.07, giving the university the sixth highest ranked faculty among the 50 universities we reviewed.  Stellar departments include computer science, education, psychology, earth sciences, biology, business, and engineering, although there are no departments at UW among the 15 in the survey that fall below number 34 nationwide among all major universities, public and private.
  • Credibility.  An analysis of recent winners of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Grants shows that graduates of prestigious private universities, including those in the Ivy League,  who go on to to graduate study at public universities, favor UW above any other public institution except UC Berkeley.  The same analysis shows that UW is tied for fourth among public universities in the number of NSF recipients it sends to prestigious private universities for graduate work.
  • Curriculum.  The curriculum is flexible but extensive and challenging, depending on the option chosen.   UW Honors is also a leader in requiring honors portfolios from its students, a proven way to get students to organize and reflect upon their honors course work and experiences.  This, in turn, is designed to promote retention of knowledge and more productive focus on career and scholarship.
  • Prestigious Awards.  UW students, many of them in honors, have an impressive record of earning major scholarships. The university ranks number 3 in the attainment of prestigious scholarships among the 50 universities under review.  UW students rank third among the 50 universities in winning Rhodes Scholarships, and above the median for Gates, Marshall, Churchill, Fulbright, Truman, Udall, and Goldwater scholarships.   UW students added two more Goldwater awards in 2012 alone.  UW also ranks third among public universities in winning NSF grants, and 2nd in Fulbright Student Fellowships.


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