Honors Testimonials: Georgia Honors Program

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.


Nivita Sharma (Class of 2018)

As only a sophomore at The University of Georgia, I can confidently say that in another two years from now I will define my undergraduate career by the opportunities that have been presented by the Honors Program. I have been given the privilege to attend the first state chartered university in the nation with a student body of 36,000, while also receiving specialized attention through the small liberal arts college atmosphere of the Honors Program.

Honors classes are taught by world-renowned professors who have the genuine desire to foster intellectual growth inside and outside the classroom. But what has made my college experience particularly unique is the cutting edge research I have been conducting with the unwavering support and guidance of a UGA faculty member. As an Honors student, I was able to engage in research in an area of my own interest through the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) from the very first day I set foot on campus.

Besides the academic endeavors I have embarked on with the support of the Honors Program, the motivation and core values provided by the intimate community of faculty, administrators, fellow students, and alumni is unparalleled by any other institution in the nation I know of. The social support and many activities sponsored by Honors student groups, especially the Honors Program Student Council, add to the strong community that Honors students enjoy.

The University of Georgia Honors Program has gone above and beyond to help me achieve goals that I could have only dreamed of before.

Torre Lavelle (Class of 2016; Udall Scholar and Schwarzman Scholar)

The UGA Honors Program is incredible in its commitment to undergraduate research and connecting some of the university’s (and world’s) leading professors with students. During my second year at UGA, I was able to pursue research on anthelmintic resistance through CURO. Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa, my Honors research mentor, played an invaluable role that went far beyond the usual job description, a common depiction when Honors students talk about their faculty mentors—UGA professors value undergraduate research in a manner that I have found to be unmatched at any other institution. She even connected me with an internship this past summer at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Virginia.

Honors-funded travel grants have been invaluable in allowing me to delve into my academic interests undeterred. From presenting my research to other students at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference to spending part of my summer in Fiji, where I studied human-environment interaction and participated in a homestay in the coastal village of Waitabu, my adventures have always begun with a simple phrase of support from Honors administrators: “What’s next?”

I have also always been struck by the Honors Program’s ability to serve as a strong yet diverse community, and constant source of support and inspiration. It has built its alumni portal in a manner that allowed me to connect with a graduate who works at the State Department, and covered the cost of many a lunch during networking events.

Lastly, the support of the Honors Program as I applied for, and ultimately was awarded, multiple national scholarships is the reason why I have the life-changing opportunity to pursue my graduate work internationally, and why I feel confident in the academic direction I have taken.

Karishma Sriram (Class of 2016; Goldwater Scholar)

Entering college as a Foundation Fellow–UGA’s top academic scholarship which is housed in the Honors Program–I was immediately immersed in an encouraging and creative environment. Through the Fellowship, I have been able to participate in intriguing book discussions, dinner seminars and conversations that helped me shape my understanding of the world around me.

Further, the Fellowship afforded me the ability to travel during my career. Through its aid, I’ve taken a class under a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford University, traveled to Harvard College to present my stem cell research, ventured to Bolivia to observe the health care conditions in the impoverished La Paz, and studied abroad in Morocco and Bali with cultural and religious immersion experiences.

Beyond the extensive travel and enrichment opportunities, the Fellowship has provided me with a community of peers and advisers that have guided and aided me in my growth as a student, friend and person.


Dr. Marcus Fechheimer, University Professor of Cellular Biology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

The academic rigor at UGA has risen dramatically in the last decade. The average undergraduate student at UGA today would have been in the Honors Program 10 years ago, and students in the Honors Program today would have been in the top 1% 10 years ago. It is truly impressive that our Honors Program continues to recruit and engage these outstanding students! This is the view of a faculty member who is completing his 30th year at UGA.

The characteristic that best describes the UGA Honors Program is engagement of faculty and students working together to learn, discover, and create. This engagement is most patent in Honors classes that feature smaller sections and advanced material. Some courses employ an Honors option so that students earn Honors credit by doing extra work such as (in my cell biology class) writing analytical reviews of recent publications in the primary literature. I also regularly teach an Honors seminar in the area of neurodegenerative diseases- a topic too specialized for the regular curriculum. This type of class utilizing exclusively primary sources represents a level of scholarship and mentoring that is expected at the 8000 level for doctoral students. In the UGA Honors Program, sophomores engage at this level.

Finally, undergraduate research promotes engagement of Honors students across every discipline at the University. Research transforms students who develop persistence, creativity, teamwork, and communication skills. Engagement in research promotes self-confidence that emanates from authentic accomplishment. The Honors Program promotes research participation and engagement in many ways including CURO scholars, Gateway seminars, Summer Fellowships, CURO Symposium, Theses, and the CURO Scholar transcript notation.

By providing such opportunities for engagement and discovery, the Honors Program is the engine for both the transformation of students and for the rise of UGA to the elite among public universities.

Dr. Loch Johnson, Regents Professor of International Affairs, School of Public and International Affairs

Having been a University faculty member for almost forty years, I have many wonderful memories of campus life. My happiest moments, though, have been the many semesters when I have been engaged in the UGA Honors Program. The students in the Program are uniformly first-rate: smart, engaged in student and community activities, active in classroom discussions, and always punctual in the completion of assignments with a high level of excellence. These students have also been amenable to experiences beyond the classroom, whether discussions of current events over coffee, longer conversations over lunch, or coming to my place for a home cooked meal (as my Honors classes always do). The size of the class–always less than twenty–makes it possible as well to have rich dialogues among the class members and the instructor, which is more difficult in our typically larger classes.

I have also enjoyed the diversity of the Honors classes, with students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Often many of the students are immigrants, or their parents are, which brings a wonderful international dimension to the classroom—especially valuable for my International Affairs Department.

Finally, I would note that the administrators of the Honors Program are top-draw in every way: the classes are well-organized and thoughtfully scheduled, the students come with an outstanding work ethic and a lively interest in intellectual matters, and the “home office” in Moore College is invariably a font of sound counsel and encouragement.

The UGA Honors Program is a five-star operation!

Dr. David Mustard, Meigs Associate Professor of Economics, Terry College of Business

Throughout my career at UGA, I have taught Honors classes, mentored Honors students, and advised students through CURO. In these capacities I have had the privilege of interacting with a cadre of extremely smart, interesting, and motivated students.

Over the past ten to fifteen years, UGA Honors students have been extremely successful in national and international scholarship competitions. I have myself taught and advised two Rhodes Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, two Fulbright Scholars, a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, a recipient of the top university-wide Ph.D. assistantship at Duke University, many winners and finalists of other prestigious scholarships, and also multiple Olympians, including one gold medal winner.

Such students exhibit enthusiasm for learning, are intellectually inquisitive, engage the readings and class material, and work extremely hard, which fundamentally changes the manner in which I teach classes. For example, in my education policy Honors class, instead of using a textbook, the required readings are largely articles from peer reviewed academic journals. In that class I also assign group research projects that have generated many excellent papers. Many of these students leverage that opportunity to do research into additional undergraduate research experiences that have produced five CURO Best Paper Awards, book chapters, and a co-authored publication in an influential economics journal.

My participation in the UGA Honors Program has truly been one of the highlights and most rewarding aspects of my professional career.


Honors Testimonials: Delaware Honors Program

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

The approachable Honors staff has fostered an Honors community since freshman year and has personally helped me take my undergraduate research to a global scale through Honors enrichment and Fulbright advisement. (Michael Karavolias, Class of 2016, Chemical Engineering Major)

Housing has definitely been an advantage of the Honors Program. Louis L. Redding is one of the newer buildings and the rooms are nice and spacious. Also, we get priority scheduling, which is awesome. (Megan Aidoo, Class of 2017, Medical Diagnostics Major)

There are community-building and stress-relieving activities such as hot chocolate and cookies and ice cream on the porch, and every time I’ve gone, I’ve become more familiar with the Honors Program staff and have been able to talk to other Honors students who I had never met before. (Mackenzie Campbell, Class of 2017, Foreign Languages and Literatures and International Business Studies Majors)

The Honors Program has allowed me to take smaller classes where I can reach my full potential and push myself further in my studies. (Jessica Sugarman, Class of 2016, Foreign Languages and Literatures Major)

Honors faculty are personable and always eager to further a student’s understanding of a subject. They are eager to create a community within their class and encourage every student to succeed. (Sarah Hartman, Class of 2017, Environmental Engineering Major)

Through the Honors Program, I received unparalleled attention and mentoring when applying for scholarships to continue my education. (Timothy D’Agostino, 4+1 Program, Environmental Engineering)

The UD Honors Program attracts an extremely high-quality student. They are a pleasure to teach because they are so intelligent, motivated and diligent. (Philip Mink, Professor of English)

An Honors course is one where students are expected to think at levels far beyond what I ask them on the syllabus, which I regard as a starting point for our work. (Victor Perez, Professor of Sociology)

Honors courses–colloquia, separate sections, add-ons to regular courses, provide a unique collegiate setting within which students can build meaningful learning relationships not only with faculty, but with each other. The small class sizes allow a deep and sustained level of interaction, and permits the class to delve more substantively (and organically) into subject matter or particular interest to the students. (Matt Weinert, Professor of Political Science and International Relations)

Honors Testimonials: UConn Honors Program

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

What did you like most about your years as a UConn Honors student?

Living in Buckley, I was able to make friends with like-minded people and hope to continue these friendships after graduation.  I think the Honors Program in general encourages students to get involved and be leaders, which is something I definitely did.

What aspect of your Honors experience has had the greatest impact on you personally?

The honors culture of achievement inspired me to be a leader and do many things that shaped my college career.

How did your thesis experience contribute to your academic development?

It taught me to value academics and the pursuit of knowledge, and I was able to develop relationships with faculty.

Sarah Levine, B.A. in Communication, 2016


What did you like most about your years as a UConn Honors student?

I felt that I was more challenged, and therefore learned more, than the average college student. I also felt that I was surrounded by kids in class who were as intellectually curious, and cared, as much as I did.

What aspect of your Honors experience has had the greatest impact on you personally?

The challenge of the Honors Program gave me confidence to compete with strong students at interviews. … I was never hindered by intimidation, and I actually had more project work to talk about in interviews due to my honors’ experience.

How did your Honors major advisor affect your UConn Honors experience?

My Honors major advisor had an incredible impact upon both my Honors Program experience and my overall college experience. When Professor Clapp approached me about joining the Honor’s Program, I felt truly honored. In efforts to make the most of the opportunity he gave me, I have grown more intellectual than I thought was possible. Working on my thesis, in particular, I have challenged myself greatly and have consequently gained much more confidence and knowledge.

How did your thesis experience contribute to your academic development?

My thesis was the greatest challenge of my academic career. In taking months to synthesize massive amounts of data, articles, and political perspectives I was able to develop a rich and cohesive response of my own. I take great pride in both having accomplished such a large project and also developing a work that is truly my own. Having successfully completed the thesis–which examined, and proposed some solutions to, Connecticut’s fiscal challenges–I now feel equipped to solve complex real-world problems in both my full-time job and as a concerned citizen.

Benjamin Scheller, B.S. Finance, 2016


What did you like most about your years as a UConn Honors student?

I like the opportunities that are available to honors students, like the Honors classes and conversion projects that help you apply your knowledge from lecture in a meaningful way. I also think the Honors community is very supportive, especially the faculty.

What aspect of your Honors experience has had the greatest impact on you personally?

The thesis project has had the greatest impact. As I read scientific papers in my classes, I do not realize how much work and detail goes into writing a paper for a journal. So, it was rather eye-opening to do it myself. Also the research I did was directly related to my field, and I would not have had the advantage I did when it came to applying to doctorate programs had it not been for the push to pursue a research lab.

How did your Honors major advisor affect your UConn Honors experience?

My Honors major advisor made my UConn experience worthwhile. She encourages me to make right choices and she is always realistic and resourceful….I could not have been successful without her. She always treats every one of my questions with great importance, and she has never let me down.

How did your thesis experience contribute to your academic development?

My thesis made me realize the dynamic of working in research, and it definitely made me realize that going to graduate school for research or to pursue a PhD is not for me (which is a positive lesson in the end). I am still glad I pursued research for my thesis because I had a chance to learn specialized information specific to my field and to make good networking connections.

Name withheld, B.S. Biological Sciences, 2016


What did you like most about your years as a UConn Honors student?

The tightly-knit Honors community in Buckley ended up being where I would meet the friends who I’ve been closest with in my years as a Husky; having the common experience of Honors has been a fantastic bonding experience.

What aspect of your Honors experience has had the greatest impact on you personally?

The challenge of conducting my own research and synthesizing it into a thesis has helped me develop my analytical and writing skills far beyond what my regular courses pushed me to do.

How did your Honors major advisor affect your UConn Honors experience?

My Honors major advisor has been consistently helpful and provided very useful guidance — particularly in the process of writing my senior thesis.

How did your thesis experience contribute to your academic development?

The senior thesis was a challenging but also fulfilling finish to my time at UConn. The challenge of conducting an independent research project helped me grow as a learner, and it’s also very satisfying to look back on a finished project of that size.

Name withheld, B.A. Political Science, 2016


What did you like most about your years as a UConn Honors student?

The feeling that I was going above and beyond and challenging myself academically.

What aspect of your Honors experience has had the greatest impact on you personally?

Knowing that I can reach the higher goals that I set for myself.

How did your Honors major advisor affect your UConn Honors experience?

My Honors major advisor helped me find joy in doing research and have a better understanding of the research process.

How did your thesis experience contribute to your academic development?

My thesis experience contributed to my academic development significantly.  I made more connections in the community, learned new passions, and gained a better idea of how the research process works.

Why was [Analysis of Social Welfare Policy and Social Service Delivery Systems, a first-year MSW course] one of your favorite Honors classes?

I ultimately want to get my Master’s in Social Work.  Having the opportunity to take a graduate level social work class, and enjoy it, made me feel confident in my decision.

Name withheld, B.A. Human Development & Family Studies, 2016


Honors Testimonials: Virginia Commonwealth Honors College

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

The following testimonials are from the Virginia Commonwealth University Honors College:

Rishabh Khatri–Each and everyday I feel confident in my growth at the VCU Honors College, that not only offered a window to the future but also an endless hall of open doors, inviting and demanding that I engage with the world in order to enrich my own understanding and become a positive agent of change. The Honors College community, students, and faculty have fostered my personal maturation as a student, a leader, and humanitarian because of this belief. I hope to continue to mature as an individual and eventually spread the positivity and freedom of education I have cherished at VCU over the past four years.

Jamie Shive–Now that I have almost successfully completed my degree, I could not imagine earning it without the Honors College in the picture. The inspiration to excel academically, the ability to distinguish myself and my accomplishments through the Honors College among other students, and the friends and bonds I have made are completely invaluable. When I began my studies at VCU, I never felt myself worthy of such a special opportunity, and I joined simply because I wanted to work harder and learn more. Looking back, I had no idea how important my acceptance would be. I can say with certainty that without the Honors College, I would not have been able to grow into the sophisticated, hard-working academic and individual that I am today.

Janine Matthews–Being a member of the VCU Honors College has transformed me personally and academically. I am in awe of my instructors and my fellow students, especially my peers in the Honors Graduating Class of Spring 2016.  To be surrounded by such intelligence and standards of excellence has pushed me to meet and surpass the benchmarks VCU has established for obtaining my degree.  I have risen to the challenges posed by my professors and peers. For the first time in my life, I achieved an A in an honors-level mathematics class, which is an accomplishment this numbers-phobic art major never dreamed possible.  I am grateful to be included in the amazing group of motivated, supportive scholars and staff of the VCU Honors College. The drive of my fellow students has spurred me on to achieve my own levels of excellence.  I have loved the honors courses. I wouldn’t be the woman or student I am today, if it weren’t for my participation in the Honors College.

Kathleen Vermillera–As a member of the Honors College, I was able to interact with professors and study subjects I never expected to enjoy. I found a love for interactive studying and smaller class sizes. Students in the Honors College actually have the ability to share their voice in each class. This helps provide each student the opportunity to feel confident in their public speaking abilities and feel more comfortable talking to superiors. On top of the studying aspects the Honors College offers, the community that is the Honors College represents a diverse student body and allows members to interact with students of various backgrounds. I have loved every opportunity the Honors College has provided for me to expand my borders and share my experiences with other students. Overall, being a member of the Honors College has given me the opportunity to not only better myself, but also to help other students feel more comfortable within such a large university.

Michael Walker and Leslie Pyo–Being honors students and graduating with honors represents a lifelong commitment to honesty, integrity, curiosity, and heart. Living in the Honors community for four years has taught us how to manifest these principles both inside and outside the classroom. However, it is our ability to extend these ideas beyond the university that gives the Honors experience profound and lasting meaning.

Honors Testimonials–ASU Barrett Honors College

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

The following testimonials are from ASU, Barrett Honors College:

Raquel Camarena–In the fall of 2013, I began my awesome journey as a student at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University.  I have also had the opportunity to live in the honors residential campus for the past three years.  I love calling this place my “home” and have been spoiled by the fantastic residence halls where I resided and the wonderful friendships that I have made.  This year I have the opportunity to be an engineering peer mentor and am just one more advocate that students have while living as a resident here.  I love the social lounges, dining center, coffee shop, courtyards and the outdoor fireplace where friends can study and hang out together.   I really enjoy being challenged with the honor classes offered and the help of our Barrett advisers.  The Human Event classes were a welcome challenge where I learned to think and express myself in ways I had not expected.  I value the rigorous academics, the connections with faculty, staff and students and the impact of the many internships and service opportunities.  I especially enjoyed traveling to Chicago, Seattle and Portland through the Great American Cities Program.  It was fun to explore and do community service in these cities with Barrett peers and staff.  I love everything about Barrett, the Honors College and am one proud Barrett student!

Edward Joseph Nolan–Probably one of the most stand-out features of Barrett have to be the Human Event professors and their classes. I’ve had a wonderful experience in my class, discussing literature, its relevance, and the composition of argument, having been lucky enough to have a class full of interesting and surprisingly insightful peers. One of my worries before beginning at Barrett had been whether or not there would be people who would not just share my interests, but who could challenge them and make me think critically about my preconceptions. Not only was I able to find such in the students in Human Event class, but in the professor, as well. My professor, Dr. Barca, not only had higher expectations of us as students, but wanted us to actually put what we’re learning to use, encouraging us to edit and change or our work for the better and increasing our effectiveness as writers. As well, I very much enjoy the tie-ins to current events and society, bridging the gap between the abstract and theoretical concepts studied in class and making it applicable in the modern context. Not only that, but Dr. Barca’s kindness and enthusiasm for the class very much increases not just the propensity for learning, but the desire for learning in the Human Event. For those reasons it is the Human Event class, and the professors behind it, in my opinion that make Barrett an overall unique and formative experience.

Jessica Hocken–In the beginning, I thought the Honors thesis would be this scary beast, but with the help of my Director, Dr. April Miller a Human Event professor, she walked my thesis partner and me through the process.  I was able to cater the creative project to the nonprofit I co-founded, and use it for our national expansion in August to start up new student chapters.  The creative project was an incredible experience, especially because I could address an actual need and provide a solution to students struggling to start up human trafficking awareness organizations.

In addition, the Honors Advising office, specifically Matt & Kelly, were so helpful to Erin and me because they guided us through the initial process despite the fact we were sophomores.  They were so great about letting us know that you can start the Honors thesis whenever you want, and Barrett will be on your side.  The feeling Erin and I felt from first walking into their office to leaving was astronomically different.  The Honors Advisors are the best because they are so focused on your success.  Completing my creative project on something I love was such an incredible experience, and I am so glad that Barrett gave me this opportunity.

Shannon Ertz–Barrett was ultimately the reason that I chose to come to ASU. Coming from a small rural community the sheer size of ASU was overwhelming and intimidating. When I toured ASU I told my mom that we could go back to our hotel because I didn’t need to tour Barrett because I wasn’t going to go to school here. But after a persuading conversation with my mom we stuck around for the Barrett Information Session and Tour. I walked back out the front gates of Barrett grinning ear to ear and ecstatically telling my mom about how I could totally go to school here. Coming from a small area it was the sense of community that Barrett offered me, within the bigger picture of ASU, which ultimately led me to decide to go to college here. It is that same sense of community that drew me, that is one of my favorite things about Barrett. I love walking through the complex and seeing people that I not only recognize but feel comfortable stopping to say hello to. I love meandering into the office of my club advisor to ask random questions, grab a piece of candy, and discuss the latest plans for the club. I love walking into the dining hall and being greeted by Vicki’s smiling face as she says hi to all her “Barrett Babies”. I love the feeling of being a part of the Barrett community because at the end of the day ASU is still big and a bit intimidating. I love being an ASU Sun Devil but being able to walk into Barrett and feel recognized is such a huge part of why I love ASU.

Natalie Volin–The Barrett honors thesis project is by far the most rewarding part of my undergraduate career. The Barrett advisors worked with me to narrow my interests and create a plan for approaching professors. Once I found my thesis director and defined my project, I was able to proceed without limitations because I knew that Barrett offered substantial funding to support my endeavor. Now, as an undergraduate, I can say that I co-founded a nonprofit literary magazine and printed a 125-page inaugural issue! I am immensely proud of this accomplishment and it could not have been done without Barrett’s support. Thank you, Barrett, for pushing me to challenge myself and for helping me to celebrate my accomplishments!

Dr. Jacquelyn Scott Lynch–Barrett’s travel programs have long been an integral part of our students’ education. Since 1995, Honors faculty have designed, implemented, and evaluated these programs with an eye toward preparing our students to understand and operate effectively in a global context.  A standing honors faculty Travel Programs Committee establishes standards and norms for Barrett travel programs, supports Barrett faculty as they develop new programs, and evaluates existing programs to ensure that they contribute to Barrett’s culture of excellence and access. These programs have enjoyed astounding success; in the last twenty years, over 3000 Barrett students have traveled to over fifteen countries on six continents to participate in programs designed, taught, and overseen by Honors Faculty Fellows. Recently, the Travel Programs Committee helped Program Directors reimagine Barrett Travel Programs to include an online component, so that Barrett can offer travel experiences to students in a variety of income brackets. Since the inception of the Barrett Travel Programs, Honors Faculty Fellows have produced travel programs that prepare our students to understand their world in all of its cultural complexity, another way in which Barrett sets the gold standard for honors education.

Update No. 2: It’s Complicated–the 2016 Edition of Honors Ratings and Reviews

By John Willingham, Editor

Honors colleges and programs are complex. If you think about it, how could they not be? Take a (generally) large public research university with many thousands of students, sprawling campuses, hundreds of professors, and the huge football stadium somewhere close at hand–and then create an honors program, or even a college within a college, a hybrid for high achievers who might have gone elsewhere.

Any book that attempts to rate or review honors programs can skim the surface and use only a handful of criteria that are relatively simple to assess, or the book can go inside honors in order to explain the more subtle differences. My first book on honors programs was, in retrospect, simplistic. The second was much more in-depth, but did not capture or explain precisely the many types and actual sizes of honors classes, especially sections that are “mixed” or “contract” sections. (A mixed section has honors students as well as non-honors students, the latter often majors in the discipline; in a typical honors contract section,  only one or two honors students receive credit for doing work in a regular section.)

The third book will be the best, and I hope will do justice to the complexity of honors education. But beware: the new book will somewhat complicated itself.
(And getting it out is complicated, too. I am hoping for mid-September. There will be 50 in-depth rated reviews, plus either 5 or 10 summary reviews, time permitting.)

A big reason involves a prospective student who has received an acceptance letter from the prestigious first-choice private college or public elite–but the need-based aid falls short. The “safe” public university, typically in-state or nearby, now receive more serious attention. It is at this point that the honors program or college can incline a student one way or the other.

It is obvious that prestige often plays a large role when it comes to first and second choices of a college. Now with the need-based aid falling short, the cost of prestige has become a problem for the prospective student. If the safe school does not have the same prestige, then what exactly does it have that would is most important to the student, prestige now set aside? Here is the time that parents and students look at the nuts and bolts.

Of course cost is still a huge factor. I will have a much-improved section on merit scholarships at each honors program.

How about small classes, the types of classes, the range of honors classes across disciplines? The data I have this time around is far better than I was able to receive for previous editions; the ratings will be much more precise for class size, type, and range.

But this is the main reason the new book will be somewhat complicated itself. In order to define these types of classes, there are additional categories: Number of Honors Sections; Honors Sections in Key Disciplines (15); Level of Enrollment–the extent to which honors students remain active in the programs; Honors-only class sizes, and the percentage of these actually taken; mixed class sizes, with the same information about the percentage of students; and contract sections, also with the percentage.

How about honors housing? Many prestigious private colleges have residence facilities that are outstanding. Now I will report not only the amenities for honors housing but also the availability of that housing. The rating will now show the reader the ratio of honors dorm space to the number of first- and second-year students in the program.

Did I say ratio? Yes, and some of the ratings can veer into wonkish territory. So…please be patient with the details, for they are where the decisions are made. The student who loves and thrives in small classes needs that detail, and the additional information about mixed and contract classes. The student who wants honors seminars and dozens of honors classes in his or her discipline, will focus on those details; the student who doesn’t have time for seminars will want the straight-from-the shoulder program. And the students who not only desire high-quality dorms but actually want to know if there is space in those dorms, will focus on that detail.

For many students and families, the merit aid and total cost will be the deciding factors. Notice that I did not say “detail.”

While the idea that an honors program “offers the benefits of the liberal arts experience along with the advantages of a major public research university” is generally true, the ways in which honors programs try to meet this goal vary greatly. The new book will be the best effort yet to light up the ways honors works in public institutions.

Inside Honors: Class Sizes, Classes by Discipline, Sections Per Student

By John Willingham, Editor

I thought it was time to raise my head from the ocean of data I am crunching for the 2016 edition of our Review.

Since we have much more–and much better–data this time around, the book itself will be even more data-driven than its predecessors. We will still have narrative profiles for each program/honors college under review, but it’s likely that within each narrative there will be a table that summarizes our findings.

Here is some of what readers will see in the new edition:

Class Sizes–Instead of reporting only the average class size for honors-only classes, we will show, in addition to honors-only class sizes, the average class sizes for mixed sections (classes with honors credit but including some or many non-honors students), and even the class sizes for honors contract sections (regular classes in which honors students do extra work for honors credit). What I can say at this point is that the total class size metric will be based on a combination of the above. This change alone could result is some significant changes in our ratings.

Contract Sections–In the past, we have focused on regular honors sections, and we are somewhat tardy in giving some attention to a fairly widespread practice in honors education: contract sections. These are sometimes called honors options, honors enhancements, etc. As noted above, these sections generally feature an agreement between the honors student and instructor (as approved by honors staff) according to which the student does extra work to earn honors credit. In a few programs, honors contracts may account for more than 30% of the total honors class enrollment in a given term. The 2016 edition will present views on the relative value of these types of classes. There are many pros, as well as some cons. Stay tuned.

Course Offerings, by Academic Department–In the 2014 edition, we tried to give readers an idea of the general range and type of honors classes offered by each honors college or program. Although we did approximate estimates of honors classes by academic discipline, I thought that that aspect of the 2014 ratings was surely the most subjective. This time around, the number of classes by discipline will be strictly quantified so our readers can know how many honors sections are available, and in a ratio to total honors participants.

Courses in “Key” Disciplines–It goes without saying that one person’s choice of “key” academic disciplines will probably not be the same as another person’s choice. What we plan to do is emphasize the classes in disciplines that we believe should be offered by honors programs, regardless of how popular the discipline might be as a major. For example, relatively few college students major in philosophy and many students (and parents) might not place much “value” on courses in that discipline. But honors students are supposed to be different–more motivated, more curious, more open, and more capable of in-depth critical thinking. From the more obviously practical perspective, we also place speech and communications classes in the key group. (One reason we favor small classes for honors students is that those classes typically require students to develop argumentation and group communication skills.)

Other “key” disciplines that we will quantify are biology; business and related disciplines; chemistry; computer science and related disciplines; economics; English; engineering; history; math; physics; political science; psychology; and anthropology/sociology.

So, if you want to know how many honors chemistry sections a program offers, or how many of those relatively scarce honors polysci, econ, or physics sections are available, we will tell you how each program stacks up.

The New Yorker on the Real Value of a College Education

The title of New Yorker writer John Cassidy’s insightful article in the September 7 issue of the magazine is College Calculus–What Is the Real Value of a College Education? The use of the word “calculus” is more than a nod to the subject many college students dread; it is also an accurate term for the subtlety and complexity facing students and parents as they try to sort out what makes the increasingly expensive college experience worthwhile.

Cassidy describes the evolution of concepts that have defined the value of a college degree.  Once upon a time a degree, in almost any subject, from almost any college, was a “signal” of achievement, the degree itself providing sufficient entree to a broad range of vocations as well as to widespread respect in society.

Then came the concept of “human capital,” a term defining the instrumental value of a degree. The more one learned in a discipline with vocational promise, the more one’s “capital” increased.

But how does either term apply now in a nation where about half of the citizens aged 25 to 34 possess some form of college credential? The “signal,” once loud and clear, has become attenuated as it has spread. And even the idea of human capital, still ascendant, is subject to the whims of a world economy in which today’s dream vocation is tomorrow’s robotic solution. Added to this is the demand by employers for the lowest cost employees, with the most recent take on what is sure to be a passing bit of expertise. We want you now, they say, knowing that once your moment has passed–or your pay has risen–you will be gone.

The signal that the degree now conveys for all too many graduates is that they are likely to be more employable than people without degrees for jobs that in fact…do not require a degree.

Are there exceptions? Yes, but they are reassuring to only a few. Graduates of the most prestigious colleges still carry a strong signal to employers and the world. Is this because the graduates are in fact better educated, more articulate–or just more efficient cognitive machines?

Citing the work of Lauren Rivera of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, Cassidy writes that the “recruiters didn’t pay much attention to things like grades and majors.” Instead, as Rivera says, “It was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige.”

So prestige alone works if a student can get into a college that rejects 80-95 percent of its applicants, with about three-fourths of those rejected applicants actually possessing the requisite ability to succeed at those institutions. And this at a time when many colleges gin up the number of applicants to they will look more selective by rejecting almost all of them.

No wonder many parents and students opt for the seemingly safer “human capital” approach. Cassidy writes that Peter Cappelli of Penn’s Wharton School is skeptical about this concept of value, too, his work showing that only about a fifth of recent STEM grads find jobs in their fields.

“The evidence for recent grads suggests clearly that there is no overall shortage of STEM jobs,” Cappelli said. (Here we should add that most engineering grads are, for the time being, much more in demand than “overall” STEM degree holders, many of whom have degrees in biological sciences.)

Faced with this situation, even students among “the talented tenth” need to plan very carefully. With no pretense of capturing the calculus of Cassidy’s informative piece, we argue that students should develop what we will call, inelegantly, “differentiators.” Unable to win the lottery of gaining admission to a super prestigious college, where the signals are a legacy to grads who may or may not be individually deserving, students can still develop a formula for developing real, lasting skills and knowledge that might make them more balanced and successful in their lives. In the end, the seeming disadvantage of not gaining the automatic cred of a degree from Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Virginia, or Yale could turn into an array of advantages, all of them earned.

  • Go to the best public or private college that you can afford, really afford.
  • If there is an honors college or extensive honors program, apply.
  • If you are an engineering or tech major, regard the liberal arts, sciences, and social sciences as critical elements in your development.
  • If you are a humanities or social/behavioral science major, regard math and the sciences as critical elements in your development.
  • Give serious thought to pursuing a minor that contributes to your personal growth or provides more career potential.
  • Take advantage of seminars and discussions. Learn to think about what you say, understand and accept criticism, and anticipate arguments against your own.
  • Pursue an honors option that includes a thesis or a capstone project. It’s more work, but that’s the point. They are hard evidence of persistence, depth, and sophistication. They are “signals.”

At the end of his article, Cassidy quotes Cappelli, the Wharton scholar, and the quote is worth remembering:

“To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

Honors News: August 14, 2015

FAFSA Will No Longer Share Your College Choice with Other Schools

In what is welcome news to college applicants and their parents, the musical chairs game of prioritizing your list of school on the FAFSA form–and hoping that schools will not hold it against you if don’t list them first–now seems to be over.

“…it’s all behind us,” says consultant and web columnist Nancy Griesemer. “In the single biggest change for 2016-17 federal financial aid programming, the list of colleges a student includes on the FAFSA will not be shared except with the student’s state agency—not with other colleges.”

But if you are applying to an in-state public university, you would be wise to list that choice first in order to qualify for state aid. According to the FAFSA website:

“For purposes of federal student aid, it does not matter in what order you list the schools. However, to be considered for state aid, several states require you to list a state school first. Therefore, if you plan to list a state school in your state of residence as one of the schools in this section, you might want to list it first. After the first school, you may wish to list additional schools in alphabetical order.

So far, I have been unable to identify the states that require applicants in-state to list an in-state university first. So…if you’re applying to one in your state, why not go ahead and list it first, especially since your other choices won’t receive that information now.

“You can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA or up to four schools on a paper FAFSA. (You can add more schools to your FAFSA later.) Schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your FAFSA results electronically.”

Here Are the Public Universities That Award the Most Non-need-based Aid

A report by the New America Foundation, The Out of State Student Arms Race, is the subject of another post on this site, How Much Should Public Universities Spend on Merit Aid? Although we have some disagreements with the New America report, it contains interesting arguments against the excessive use of non-need-based aid by public universities along with a list of those universities that provide the highest percentages of non-need-based aid to incoming freshmen.

The report would find full agreement from this quarter if it had been produced at a time past, when public universities received most of their funding from state appropriations and could maintain lower tuition rates for all. Now, unfortunately, many public institutions are forced to use merit aid more “strategically,” sometimes as part of the recruitment of out-of-state students and the greater revenue they bring, even after merit funding. To the extent that this use of merit aid works to deny access to merit-worthy, low-income applicants in-state, we do agree with the New America Foundation.

(Please note that separate posts discuss National Merit Scholarship aid, by institution. This post address the availability of all types of merit aid.)

In any event, the list below should be helpful to some parents with FAFSA income levels that are relatively high but that may still be stretched to the limit without non-need-based aid. We are not listing all the public universities on the list, but most of the larger ones are listed. After the university name, we will list the percentage of freshmen receiving non-need-based aid, followed by the average dollar amount of that aid per student. Most of the data is from 2013-2014. Schools where at least 20%  of freshmen receive at least $4,000 in average merit aid are listed in bold.

Public universities below with the highest average per capita merit aid are UT Dallas ($13,766); Alabama ($11,919); Colorado ($9,497); Vermont ($9,283); Arizona ($8,137);  Alabama Birmingham ($8,020); and New Hampshire ($8,020). Please note that some schools may sponsor very high numbers of National Merit Scholars (e.g., Oklahoma), but not provide as much merit aid in other forms. Still other schools (Alabama) fund both NMS aid and other merit aid at generous levels. And then there are the public elites that fund little or no aid that is not need-based.


North Dakota–41.73% of freshmen–$1,173 per student

Truman State–40.5% of freshmen–$4,693 per student

South Carolina–39.1% of freshmen–$5,253 per student

Vermont–33.3% of freshmen–$9,283 per student

Iowa State–32.6% of freshmen–$3,049 per student

Miami Ohio–31.3% of freshmen–$8,174 per student

West Virginia–30.7% of freshmen–$2,604 per student

Ohio State–29.9% of freshmen–$6,757 per student

UT Dallas–29.8% of freshmen–$13,766 per student

Auburn–29.6% of freshmen–$5,976 per student

Montana–29.3% of freshmen–$3,250 per student

SUNY Plattsburgh–28.9% of freshmen–$6,237 per student

Clemson–27.4% of freshmen–$7,456 per student

Alabama Huntsville–27.1% of freshmen–$7,494 per student

Oklahoma State–27% of freshmen–$6,291 per student

Colorado–26.9% of freshmen–$9,497 per student

Michigan Tech–26.7% of freshmen–$5,367 per student

Troy Univ–26.5% of freshmen–$5,132 per student

Arizona State–25.7% of freshmen–$7,733 per student

Col School of Mines–25.6% of freshmen–$7,391 per student

Mississippi–25.6% of freshmen–$6,876 per student

Alabama Birmingham–24.7% of freshmen–$8,020 per student

Delaware–24.6% of freshmen–$6,074 per student

Salibury–24.5% of freshmen–$2,127 per student

South Dakota–24.5% of freshmen–$4,505 per student

Southern Utah–24.5% of freshmen–$3,863 per student

Alabama–24.4% of freshmen–$11,919 per student

Arizona–24% of freshmen–$8,137 per student

Kansas State–24% of freshmen–$4,145 per student

Mississippi State–24% of freshmen–$3,527 per student

Iowa–23% of freshmen–$4,115 per student

Oklahoma–22.7% of freshmen–$4,540 per student

Kentucky–22% of freshmen–$7,789 per student

Missouri–21.1% of freshmen–$4,763 per student

Idaho–21.1% of freshmen–$3,133 per student

Maryland–19.9% of freshmen–$6,451 per student

Michigan–17.9% of freshmen–$4,938 per student

Indiana–17.6% of freshmen–$7,671 per student

Minnesota –17.4% of freshmen–$5,875 per student

Kansas–17.4% of freshmen–$3,235 per student

Arkansas-16.3% of freshmen–$4,145 per student

LSU–15.2% of freshmen–$3,233 per student

Alaska Fairbanks–15% of freshmen–$4,306 per student

Tennessee–13.8% of freshmen–$1,571 per student

New Hampshire–13% of freshmen–$8,020 per student

UC Berkeley–13% of freshmen–$4,583 per student

Maine–12.8% of freshmen–$4,030 per student

Connecticut–12.8% of freshmen–$7,045 per student

Rutgers–12.1% of freshmen–$4,300 per student

Massachusetts–11.8% of freshmen–$4,386 per student

Nebraska–11.6% of freshmen–$5,589 per student

Illinois–10.9% of freshmen–$3,980 per student

Rhode Island–9% of freshmen–$6,354 per student

Penn State–7.8% of freshmen–$3,230 per student

Utah–7.7% of freshmen–$7,917 per student

Wisconsin–7% of freshmen–$3,989 per student

Georgia–6.9% of freshmen–$2,019 per student

Florida–5.4% of freshmen–$2,000 per student

Oregon–5.3% of freshmen–$5,207 per student

North Carolina–3.2% of freshmen–$8,393 per student

Univ at Buffalo SUNY–2.6% of freshmen–$6,030 per student

Virginia–2.5% of freshmen–$5,821 per student

Washington–2% of freshmen–$7,000 per student

UT Austin–1% of freshmen–$5,586 per student