The Academic Reputation Ranking in U.S. News: What It Means for Honors Students

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 15, 2017, to include new honors class size averages based on our most recent data.

In a previous post, Based on Academic Reputation Alone, Publics Would Be Higher in U.S. News Rankings, we write that many public universities have a reputation in the academic community that is much higher than their overall ranking by U.S. News.  In this post, we will summarize the reasons that prospective honors students and their parents might consider paying more attention to academic reputation than to other factors in the oft-cited rankings.

(Another related post: Alternative U.S. News Rankings: Lots of Surprises.)

First, these are factors to consider if the state university’s academic reputation is much stronger than its overall ranking:

1.  The overall rankings penalize public universities for their typically larger class sizes, but the average honors class size in the 50 major honors programs we track is 26.3 students, much smaller than the average class size for the universities as a whole.  Most of these honors classes are lower-division, where the preponderance of large classes is often the norm. First-year honors seminars and classes for honors-only students average 19 students per section.  Result:  the relatively poor rating the whole university might receive for class size is offset for honors students.

2.  The overall rankings hit some public universities hard for having relatively low retention and graduation percentages, but freshmen retention rates in honors programs are in the 90% range and higher; meanwhile six-year grad rates for honors entrants average 89%–much higher than the average rates for the universities as a whole.  Result: the lower rates for the universities as a whole are offset for honors students.

3.  All public universities suffer in the overall rankings because U.S. News assigns ranking points for both the wealth of the university as a whole and for the impact that wealth has on professors’ salaries, smaller class sizes, etc.  This is a double whammy in its consideration of inputs and outputs separately; only the outputs should be rated.  Result: the outputs for class size (see above) are offset for honors students, and the wealth of the university as an input should not be considered in the first place.

4.  For highly-qualified students interested in graduate or professional school, academic reputation and the ability to work with outstanding research faculty are big advantages. Honors students have enhanced opportunities to work with outstanding faculty members even in large research universities, many of which are likely to have strong departmental rankings in the student’s subject area.  Result: honors students are not penalized for the research focus of public research universities; instead, they benefit from it.

5.  Many wealthy private elites are generous in funding all, or most, need-based aid, but increasingly offer little or no merit aid.  This means that families might receive all the need-based aid they “deserve” according to a federal or institutional calculation and still face annual college costs of $16,000 to $50,000.  On the other hand, national scholars and other highly-qualified students can still receive significant merit aid at most public universities.  Result: if a public university has an academic reputation equal to that of a wealthy private elite, an honors student could be better off financially and not suffer academically in a public honors program.

But…what if the academic reputation of the public university is lower than that of a private school under consideration?   In this case, the public honors option should offer the following offsets:

1. The net cost advantage of the public university, including merit aid, probably needs to be significant.

2.  It is extremely important to evaluate the specific components of the honors program to determine if it provides a major “value-added” advantage–is it, relatively, better than the university as a whole.  Typically, the answer will be yes.  To determine how much better, look at the academic disciplines covered by the honors program, the actual class sizes, retention and graduation rates, research opportunities, and even honors housing and perks, such as priority registration.


UT Austin Alum Leaves $35 Million to Engineering School for Scholarships

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from Alcalde, the alumni magazine of the University of Texas at Austin.

The late T.W. “Tom” Whaley, Ph.D. ’68, who quietly served his country in the CIA during the Cold War, surprised UT leaders this year with a $35 million bequest to create engineering scholarships at the Cockrell School of Engineering.

In 2014-15, the new endowment’s first year, 34 students from across Texas will receive Whaley Scholarships and pursue studies in all seven engineering departments at the Cockrell School.

“Dr. Whaley’s parents instilled in him the value of an education, and he wanted young Texans to have the same opportunities to learn and contribute to their state and nation,” said Whaley’s attorney and friend David Anderson, the executor of his estate. “I believe he made this extraordinary gift to change these students’ lives.”

The T.W. Whaley, Jr. Friends of Alec Endowed Scholarship is now one of the largest endowments for undergraduate and graduate financial aid at the Cockrell School. The endowment, projected to provide $1.6 million in annual merit scholarships and fellowships, increases the school’s total scholarship and fellowship funding by 25 percent.

Incoming freshman Marshall Tekell is from Whaley’s hometown of Waco. “Receiving the Whaley Scholarship changed my life in a radical way,” said Tekell, who plans to major in chemical engineering. “Not only does it remove an enormous burden from my family, it allows me to envision my education far into the future. Dr. Whaley gave me the freedom to follow his example.”

He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering from UT Austin where he studied signal strength of electromagnetic waves, and he was recruited by the CIA after graduation because of his expertise in antenna technology. Later, he returned to Texas to help manage his family’s farm, which he helped expand to 4,000 acres. Whaley’s wealth originated from oil and gas royalties, and it grew as he accumulated and oversaw a portfolio of stocks and bonds.


Merit Aid: Publics that Fund at least 50% of Freshmen Tuition and Fees

Thanks to the availability of a 2012 NY Times Table on Merit Money, we have identified the public universities that meet two criteria for providing non-need based merit aid to students: (1) at least 10 percent of freshmen receive the merit aid and (2) the merit aid covers at least 50 percent of the cost of in-state tuition and fees. (It is likely that many of the universities listed below also provide excellent merit aid for highly-qualified out-of-state students.)

The merit aid is not limited to National Merit Scholarships.  For information regarding those scholarships, please see Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding and PSAT National Merit Qualifying Scores and SAT Equivalencies, by State.

After identifying the universities that meet the two criteria listed above, we then ranked and scaled them.  Finally, we weighted the results so that the dollar amount of merit aid counts for two-thirds of the total.  We weighted the results in this way because the 10 percent threshold for freshmen receiving aid is already high.

Here are the public universities with the best merit aid for in-state students:

1. Alabama–108% tuition and fees; 27% of freshmen

2. College of Charleston–104% tuition and fees; 23% of freshmen

3. Mississippi–100% tuition and fees; 24% of freshmen

4. Alabama Huntsville–92% tuition and fees; 27% of freshmen

5. SUNY Plattsburgh–91% tuition and fees; 28% of freshmen

6. Truman State–78% tuition and fees; 41 % of freshmen

7. LSU–91% tuition and fees; 25% of freshmen

8. UT Dallas–98% tuition and fees; 12% of freshmen

9. Arizona State–91% tuition and fees; 19% of freshmen

10. Maryland Baltimore Co–87% tuition and fees; 16% of freshmen

11. Idaho–79% tuition and fees; 23% of freshmen

12. Alabama Birmingham–76% tuition and fees; 25% of freshmen

13. Nebraska–75% tuition and fees; 25% of freshmen

14. Indiana–81% tuition and fees; 18% of freshmen

15. Arizona–73% tuition and fees; 23% of freshmen

16. Auburn–71% tuition and fees; 24% of freshmen

17. UT Permian Basin-65% tuition and fees; 28% of freshmen

18. South Carolina–53% tuition and fees; 37% of freshmen

19. New College Fla–51% tuition and fees; 36% of freshmen

20. Southern Miss–72% tuition and fees; 11% of freshmen

21. Mississippi State–56% tuition and fees; 24% of freshmen

22. Ohio State–53% tuition and fees; 24% of freshmen

23. Connecticut–60% tuition and fees; 11% of freshmen

24. Georgia State–55% tuition and fees; 14% of freshmen

25. Colorado State–56% tuition and fees; 12% of freshmen

26. Cincinnati–53% tuition and fees; 15% of freshmen

27. Kansas State–51% tuition and fees; 15% of freshmen

28. Texas A&M–53% tuition and fees; 10% of freshmen

Also notable are the following:

Michigan–46% of tuition and fees; 46% of freshmen

Purdue–75% of tuition and fees; 9% of freshmen





PSAT National Merit Scholar Qualifying Scores for 2018, by State

Update December 11, 2017: The PSAT Class of 2019 is just now receiving score reports from the PSAT in October 2017. Please note that the qualifying selection index scores for the 2019 class will not be available for several months. Here is a map showing when class of 2019 scores (not qualifying scores) will be released. 

Compassprep has estimated ranges of qualifying scores, by state, for the Class of 2019.

For the Class of 2018, which does have selection index scores for the PSAT taken in October 2016, please see this post at Compassprep with selection index scores for this newest class.) We are also listing the scores for 2018 below with a comparison to 2017 scores. 

If you took the test in October 2017, please see a detailed discussion of PSAT score interpretation on our page PSAT Scores and NMS. 

Below are the Selection Index semifinalist qualifying scores for the Class of 2018, according to privately reported scores gathered by the Compassprep site. The selection index score is the sum of your three PSAT scores, maximum of 228. The first score listed is for 2018; the second was the score required in 2017.

Alabama 216, 215
Alaska 217, 213
Arizona 220, 219
Arkansas 215, 213
California 222, 221
Colorado 220, 218
Connecticut 221, 220
Delaware 221, 218
Dist Columbia 223, 222
Florida 219, 217
Georgia 220, 219
Hawaii 220, 217
Idaho 216, 214
Illinois 221, 219
Indiana 219, 217
Iowa 216, 215
Kansas 219, 217
Kentucky 217, 215
Louisiana 216, 214
Maine 215, 214
Maryland 222, 221
Massachusetts 222, 222
Michigan 219, 216
Minnesota 220, 219
Mississippi 213, 212
Missouri 217, 216
Montana 214, 210
Nebraska 215, 215
Nevada 217, 214
New Hampshire 217, 216
New Jersey 223, 222
New Mexico 215, 213
New York 221, 219
North Carolina 219, 218
North Dakota 211, 209
Ohio 219, 217
Oklahoma 216, 213
Oregon 220, 219
Pennsylvania 219, 218
Rhode Island 216, 217
South Carolina 217, 215
South Dakota 215, 209
Tennessee 218, 218
Texas 221, 220
Utah 216, 215
Vermont 217, 215
Virginia 222, 221
Washington 222, 221
West Virginia 211, 209
Wisconsin 217, 215
Wyoming 213, 209
Commended 211
Territories 211
International 223

To qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT must be taken in the student’s junior year of high school.  Many parents may not be aware that there is no single nationwide score on the PSAT that will qualify a student to become a NMS semifinalist, a critical preliminary step on the way to becoming a finalist and then perhaps a merit scholar.

Students are classified according to the state in which they attend high school, not the state of actual residence.

For more information about confirmation scores, please see PSAT Scoring and NMS (for a detailed explanation of scoring); The National Merit Journey: What You Need to Know, Part One; and The National Merit Journey Part Two: The Parent’s Role.

(See also Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding and Merit Aid: Publics that Fund at least 50% of Tuition and Fees.)

Semifinalists emerge from the top 3-4% of students (50,000 or so) taking the test, by virtue of the PSAT score alone.  The top 3-4% of students earn “commended” status, and there is a national uniform score for commended students=209 for 2017.  (See below for SAT equivalent.) Semifinalists, on the other hand, account for fewer than 1% of all students, or about 16,000 nationwide.

From these students, the merit scholar foundation, using state allocation levels, selects about 15,000 to become finalists; and from this group, about 9,000 are actually selected as merit scholars, based on both PSAT and SAT scores and a letter of recommendation from the high school principal.  Therefore, many students who meet the semifinalist thresholds listed below do not go on to become finalists or merit scholars (two different things, though for some schools being a finalist is sufficient to earn support).  We speculate that meaningful improvement on the SAT, taken in the spring of the junior year, relative to the PSAT score from the preceding October, may help in identifying students who go beyond finalist status and become merit scholars.

Each state has its own threshold PSAT score, which is the baseline for students to be considered as semifinalists in a given state.  The scores vary widely for the NMS class of 2018, from 2011 in West Virginia to 223 in New Jersey. States with significant increases are Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota (+6), and Wyoming.

UT Dallas McDermott Scholars: An Exciting Free Ride for Four Years

Editor’s Note: The following post is from UT Dallas…

The UT Dallas McDermott Scholars Program has selected 21 students to make up the 2013 incoming class.

The entering cohort was chosen from nearly 1,200 high school students in 30 states and five countries who had initially expressed interest in the program. Fifty-eight applicants were invited to the annual selection weekend, from which the final 21 students were chosen.

The incoming class of 2013 will include eight students from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Ten others are from out of state, and one is from Romania. Collectively, this group has an average two-part SAT score of 1520. Eighteen of the 21 have received recognition from the National Merit Scholar program, five were high school valedictorians, and two were Presidential Scholar nominees.

“UT Dallas and the McDermott Scholars Program have again proved their ability to attract some of the nation’s best and brightest students,” said Molly Seeligson, director of the McDermott Program. “I am so pleased that our institution and program will have the opportunity to benefit from the contributions of these remarkable young people while we help them to realize their potential.”

As McDermott Scholars, the students will have educational expenses covered for the next four years and will participate in a wide variety of cultural and educational enrichment experiences in the Dallas area and beyond.

The McDermott Scholars Program is carefully designed to incorporate various aspects of experiential learning:

Freshman year includes an orientation trip to Santa Fe, N.M., weekly leadership development seminars and a trip to Washington, D.C., for an immersion in government operations.

During their sophomore year, scholars take leading roles on campus, and experience state and local government during a trip to the Capitol in Austin.

Junior year is focused on study abroad and/or internships.

Senior year centers on final preparations for the next phase of scholars’ lives and includes traditions such as a class retreat, capstone service projects and the passing of the McDermott Scholars Program torch in the “Lighting the Legacy” ceremony.

The arrival of this year’s class will mark the program’s 13th class. The incoming group will join the 62 scholars already in attendance at UT Dallas. The program has 142 alumni.

The McDermott Scholars Program was made possible by a $32 million gift from Margaret McDermott, wife of the late Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments (TI). McDermott and two TI co-founders, Cecil Green and Erik Jonsson, founded the research institution that in 1969 became UT Dallas.

For more information on the McDermott Scholars Program or the application process, visit the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program website.

Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding

Editor’s note: This list is now updated effective June 28, 2017, to include data for 2016 compared to 2015.  This is the most recent data available.

Below we list enrolled merit scholars, by university, for both years so that readers can gauge any trends in university support for the scholarships. Please know that “sponsorship” by a university of one or more National Merit Scholarships often means that the actual funding is $2,000 or less, although there remain a few universities that tie very generous awards to National Merit Finalist status.

For more specific information about more than 100 generous merit scholarships, please see this separate post Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Sponsorship–Part Two.  As you will see in that post, many generous merit awards are not linked directly to National Merit status.

Nowadays, winners of merit scholarships whose families fall into that broad range of being moderately well off but not comfortably well to do need to know which universities still place a premium on National Merit Scholars. The universities that continue to recruit NM scholars typically do so because (1) they want to compete with the Ivies for the best students and/or (2) they want to raise the profile of their undergrads so that national rankings will show a higher degree of selectivity.

Most of the highly-ranked private universities that continue their relationship with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation fall into category (1) above. Foremost among these in 2016 are the University of Chicago with 277 merit scholars (185 of them with university sponsorship); USC with 230 merit scholars (189 with USC support);Vanderbilt with 220 scholars (166 with university support); and Northwestern with 168 scholars (125 with school support).

It is noteworthy that some of the above private elites have reduced the total number of NMS scholars enrolled and the number of scholars receiving university sponsorship. Indeed, Washington University in St. Louis had 212 merit scholars enrolled in 2014, 159 with university sponsorship. In 2016, this number fell to 33 scholars enrolled, none with university sponsorship.

This is also a trend for most, but not all, public universities listed below. Of the 23 public universities listed, only 8 have increased their sponsorship of national merit scholars year over year. One can sense a university’s receptiveness and willingness to buck the trend against awarding merit scholarships by view the year over year list below.

A longer list of public universities appears below.

The excellent private universities still awarding merit aid are willing to take the heat for sponsoring non- need-based students based on merit alone at a time when the inequities of scholarship funding have led to a greater emphasis on allocating funds mostly or entirely on a need-based scale.

Again, for many families, that trend is a good one; but for families with incomes in the mid six figures, for example, the ability to qualify for need-based aid may be negligible while the pinch on the family budget is still significant.

Many public elites have joined the Ivies in not providing their own funds to match or pay entirely for merit scholarships.  Among these schools are all the UC campuses, Virginia, Michigan, UT Austin, Washington, and more recently North Carolina, Ohio State, Illinois, and Georgia Tech.  At these universities, merit scholars may still receive non-need-based assistance, but it will not be in the form of university-sponsored merit funds.  These and other universities may also have some scholarships for valedictorians and other highly qualified scholars.

Of these leading public universities that do not sponsor merit scholars, UC Berkeley had the most enrolled merit scholars, 161, followed by UT Austin with 74. Among private universities, Harvard enrolled 233 merit scholars, Stanford 179, MIT 154, Yale 147, and Princeton 117.

The University of Wisconsin only sponsored 5 merit scholars in 2016, out of 17 enrolled at the university.

The University of Oklahoma returned in 2016 to the number 1 position in enrollment of national merit scholars among all universities public or private (279) and the number receiving university sponsorship (236).

Below is a list of public universities that still match or fund National Merit Scholars, regardless of need, and that had 25 or more university-sponsored merit scholars in 2016. We will list the university, followed by the total number of merit scholars in the 2015 report, followed again by the number of those scholars that also received school support based on the merit scholarship. Then we do the same for merit scholars in the same universities in 2016.

As a general rule, the higher the number of school-supported merit scholars, the greater the recruitment is for merit scholars. Colleges with a year over year increase in sponsored scholarships are in bold. All colleges are listed in order of their total merit scholar enrollment in 2016. A total of 16 of the 23 universities are in the South or Southwest.

Oklahoma (2015): 288 total, 240 with university sponsorship, (2016): 279 total, 236 with university sponsorship (still most in the nation).

Alabama (2015): 148 total, 120 with university sponsorship; (2016): 155 total, 135 with university sponsorship.

Florida (2015): 146 total, 113 with university sponsorship; (2016): 158 total, 119 with university sponsorship.

Minnesota (2015): 147 total, 115 with university sponsorship; (2016): 150 total, 113 with university sponsorship.

Purdue (2015): 94 total, 68 with university sponsorship; (2016): 125 total, 98 with university sponsorship.

Texas A&M (2015): 142 total, and 120 with university sponsorship; (2016): 122 total, 90 with university sponsorship.

UT Dallas (2015): 101 total, 78 with university sponsorship; (2016): 119 total, 94 with university sponsorship.

Arizona State (2015): 112 total, 94 with university sponsorship; (2016): 109 total, and 89 with university sponsorship.

Kentucky (2015): 111 total, 93 with university sponsorship; (2016): 99 total, 88 with university sponsorship.

Univ of Central Florida (2015): 69 total, 59 with university sponsorship; (2016): 77 total, 68 with university sponsorship.

Auburn (2015): 64 total, 51 with university sponsorship; (2016): 60 total, 52 with university sponsorship.

Maryland (2015): 61 total, 48 with university sponsorship; (2016): 52 total, 42 with university sponsorship.

Indiana (2015): 68 total, 50 with university sponsorship; (2016): 52 total, 38 with university sponsorship.

Cincinnati (2015): 44 total, 38 with university sponsorship; (2016): 50 total, 36 with university sponsorship.

Arkansas (2015): 37 total, 31 with university sponsorship; 2016: 45 total, 38 with university sponsorship.

Arizona (2015): 65 total, 57 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 37 with university sponsorship.

Clemson (2015): 55 total, 41 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 36 with university sponsorship.

Ole Miss (2015): 40 total, 34 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 30 with university sponsorship.

Georgia (2015): 42 total, 28 with university sponsorship; (2016): 39 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

Mississippi St (2015): 37 total, 33 with university sponsorship; (2016): 37 total, 29 with university sponsorship.

Nebraska (2015): 47 total, 41 with university sponsorship; (2016): 36 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

South Carolina (2015): 46 total, 33 with university sponsorship; (2016): 36 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

Michigan State (2015): 43 total, 36 with university sponsorship; (2016): 34 total, 30 with university sponsorship.





Gates-Funded Reform Plan: More Low-Income Aid, Fewer Merit Grants, No Tax Credit

More than five years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to fund projects and research aimed at doubling by the year 2025 the number of low-income students who graduate from college or from some other post-secondary institution.  The Gates-funded proposals that have come forward in recent weeks share this profoundly egalitarian focus and, if implemented, would have a revolutionary impact on higher education.

While the egalitarian goals are laudable, it is also true that if all the recommendations are implemented, middle-class parents and students will for the most part find it more difficult to pay for college.  The message we receive from these initiatives is that the foundation believes that the nation as a whole is at great risk because too many low-income students are falling behind, and that ameliorating this problem is worth some sacrifice on the part of the middle class.

One such initiative is from the Committee for Economic Development, which proposes that current federal non-loan programs (e.g., Pell Grants) be replaced by need-based federal-state matching programs.  This proposal has received some media attention, but after reading the entire 32-page report, we believe its potential impact has been insufficiently understood.

The CED report argues that the current higher education system is inefficient because too little financial aid goes to those who are most in need.  There is an implicit recognition in the report that “broad-access” institutions will be the most affected, while elite public and private institutions will have to make fewer adjustments.

The report is critical of colleges that regard federally-funded grants and loans as the only means of increasing access to low-income students, meanwhile preferring to use state and institutional funds for the purpose of merit-based aid to high-achieving students who will raise college profiles.  Middle- and even upper-class students who now enjoy merit aid may find that the matching requirements recommended by the CED will dramatically reduce the availability of merit funds.

“Our concern,” the CED says, “is that institutions are engaged in a kind of ‘arms race’ for academically qualified students….This drives an ongoing process of increasing financial aid to students who will go to college regardless of the level of aid they receive.”  One reason for this “arms race” is the focus on student selectivity in college rankings, especially the U.S. News annual best college issue.  Bill Gates has directly criticized this emphasis on “inputs” versus “outputs,” such as improving the skills of under-prepared students.

Clearly the rising cost of attending college has hit low-income students the hardest.  The CED recognizes that state cuts to public colleges and higher operating costs are the principal factors driving higher costs, but sees little on the horizon to change the current lack of public support.  Therefore, the only option is to use student aid funds more efficiently.

The aid funds themselves cannot be increased to cover the increasing costs.  The CED notes that two presidents in a row have funded Pell Grants at record levels (now $35 billion), but the proportion of tuition and fees covered by the grants has gone down.

The specific recommendations of the CED report would transform the college financial aid system, especially grants:

  • Grant funds for a state would be determined by the number of low-income young people in the state, not by the number of high school graduates or college students.
  • Individual grant aid would be determined by the IRS based on tax returns.
  • Grants would be portable across state lines.
  • In-state tuition would not increase more than median family income.
  • State and institutional grant funds would have to match federal funds at 20 percent.
  • Merit-based awards could still exist, but only after this 20 percent matching level has been met.
  • States could refuse to participate, but then would lose the 80 percent federal grant contribution.
  • The tax credit for families with college students would be eliminated and the $18 billion in savings would be used for incentive programs (using financial aid to increase graduation rates; tying financial aid work-study to local job market).
  • Aid applications would be simplified.
  • Loans would be repaid based on income.

The report acknowledges that reduced merit aid and the elimination of the college tax credit will hurt middle-income families, but says that some of this harm will be offset by the requirement that colleges could increase tuition and fees only to the extent of any increase in median family income.

The CED says that this requirement will force state legislatures and college administrators to reach “durable” agreements about how much state appropriations may change or about how much tuition and fees might increase.





Arkansas Honors College Awards 50k Fellowships to 72 Students

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas Honors College has selected 72 outstanding high school students who will make up the 2012 class of Honors College Fellows.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the historic $300 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation that was announced in April 2002, a portion of which funded the Honors College and its generous scholarship program.

“Including this latest group, we have provided $50,000 fellowships for 879 students. It’s incredibly rewarding to see them explore their interests, both on campus and abroad,” said Maribeth Lynes, assistant dean and director of recruitment at the University of Arkansas Honors College. Lynes recalls that administrators had to scramble to fill the roster of Honors College fellowships back in 2002.

“Nobody knew about the fellowships that first year,” she said. “We contacted national merit finalists and other top test takers in the state. Our goal was to keep the best and brightest students in Arkansas.”

Today, the word is out on the generous funding that the University of Arkansas Honors College offers to its fellows, and applications are coming in from across the U.S. and abroad. More than 500 top high school students applied for the fellowships, and the 72 new fellows who will arrive on campus next fall are a stellar group. They will benefit from fellowship funds of $50,000 over four years that largely cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books and a computer. The fellowship funds can also be combined with other scholarships and grants, such as the $500,000 to $1 million in study abroad and research grants that the Honors College awards to students each year.

Top grades and test scores are a given: students must score at least 32 on the ACT exam and have a 3.8 grade point average just to apply. The rigor of applicants’ high school course work, their letters of recommendation and community involvement also count.

Though the fellowship program is still relatively young, evidence of its success is solid. Alumni fellows are pursuing advanced degrees at top graduate and professional programs around the country and landing jobs in competitive fields. Summer Scott, a member of the second class of Honors College fellows who earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, particularly appreciated the opportunities to study abroad.

“I participated in a business program in Greece, and also traveled to Egypt, Italy and China,” she said. Scott now heads a plant for Dow Chemical that is the world’s largest producer of epichlorohydrin, a key ingredient in epoxy resins that are used in adhesives, paints and other materials. She emphasized that study abroad prepared her well for work with global teams.

“You have to respect that other cultures are very different from ours; you do your homework, and go in with an open mind. I can’t put into words how important those experiences were for me, both in terms of my career and personally,” she said.

Alumni fellows also appreciate the freedom to pursue their goals without being burdened by student loans. Dwayne Bensing was weighing scholarship offers from American University, the University of Virginia and Hendrix College when he received the invitation to join the first class of Honors College fellows.

“When the Honors College fellowship came in, it seemed too good to be true. It made the decision pretty easy,” he recalled when reached on the telephone. “The U of A offered me the opportunity to explore all of my interests without the overwhelming burden of managing student loan debt.” Bensing studied abroad in Mexico and England, completed two degrees in political science and communication and picked up numerous awards, including a Truman Scholarship. He said that working closely with faculty mentors such as Steve Sheppard, Bill Schreckhise and Stephen Smith prepared him well for law school at University of Pennsylvania, where he recently completed his Juris Doctor. He begins work at a law firm in Washington, D.C. this fall.



Univ of Oklahoma Honors College: Not Only about the Money

The University of Oklahoma at Norman is well-known for the generosity it shows to National Merit Finalists and other applicants of exceptional ability, and the McClendon Honors College at the university appears to be as generous while offering enhanced living and learning opportunities as well.

Although the honors program at OU goes back to 1962, a series of reorganizations that resulted in the Honors College did not occur until 1997.  We estimate that the college now enrolls approximately 2,000 students, placing it in the category of “large” programs with enrollments greater than 1,800.

The college requires a minimum SAT of 1330 or a score of 30 on the ACT, along with a GPA of at least 3.75 or a high school class rank in the top 10 percent. Freshman applicants must also submit a 400-500 word essay. Transfer students and those with more than 15 hours of credits at OU may apply if they have a college GPA of at least 3.40.

The honors college is unusual because of the extent of financial grants that it can bestow on especially talented students. Among the scholarships available (even to out-of-state students) through the OU Scholars office are the Award of Excellence Scholarship and the Regents Scholarship, each of which provides a tuition waiver of $2,500 per semester, up to eight semesters, for a total value of $20,000. The awards also provide up to $1,250 for summmer school tuition.

The Honor Scholars awards provide tuition waivers of $1,750 per semester for eight semesters, for a total value of $14,000. University Scholars can receive a $2,500 tuition waiver for one year.

As for non-resident National Merit Finalists, the term “free ride” comes to mind.  Here is what OU offers:

“The following scholarship package is guaranteed to every non-resident National Merit Finalist who names OU as his/her college of first choice with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation:

“Oklahoma Academic Scholars Programs $22,000

  • $2,750 per semester/$5,500 per year for four years to help offset the costs of fees, books, room & board
  • Funded by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
  • Funds will be deposited into billing account
  • Can be used toward any graduate/professional program at OU if funds remain after completion of undergraduate degree
  • Must maintain a 3.25 cumulative GPA and be enrolled full-time

“Non-Resident Tuition Waiver (estimated) $55,000

  • Waives 100% of non-resident tuition
  • May be used for five years (fall, spring and summer)
  • Can be used toward any graduate/professional program at OU if funds remain after completion of undergraduate degree
  • Must maintain a 2.8 cumulative GPA and be enrolled full-time

“Resident Tuition Waiver $10,000

  • $1,000 each fall and spring semester/$2,000 per year for five years
  •  Can be used toward any graduate/professional program at OU if funds remain after completion of undergraduate degree
  • Must maintain a 2.8 cumulative GPA and be enrolled full-time
  • National Merit Cash Stipend $5,000

But once the dollars stop swirling about our heads, the honors college itself has many advantages.  The curriculum requires about 25 hours of honors credit, including a thesis.  Honors students can choose to live in Boren Hall, where many honors classes are also held and where the honors college offices are housed.  Honors classes are generally limited to 22 students or less.

Boren Hall is a traditional double-room, corridor bath dorm, a part of Cate Center, which also has dining facilities.  Honors students may also choose to live in the Global Community, in Couch Center; in the National Merit residence in Walker Center; or in the Scholastic, Quiet Lifestyle, Co-ed Upperclass halls.  All but Boren appear to be suite-style.