FAQ about the Purdue University Honors College Curriculum

Editor’s Note: This FAQ explaining Purdue’s revised honors curriculum is from the Purdue Honors College site.  We are constantly touting the importance of honors curriculum, and this is a good example of a clear and concise explanation of a solid curriculum.

Q: Why are 24 credits required to graduate with honors?

A: 24 credits represent a significant investment of time and intellectual energy in honors coursework. The number of credits—which amounts to an average of a single 3-cr. honors course per semester for 8 semesters—is sufficient to distinguish the honors degree and to allow for the completion of that degree within 4 years.

 Q: Why are HONR courses required?

A: The 5 credits of required HONR courses specify a minimally enhanced breadth of study, which can be further enhanced through elective Honors courses. HONR courses also build community and identity among honors students across the disciplines.

Q: Why must 9 credits of honors electives be taken after the first year of college enrollment?

A: To ensure that some of the additional breadth and depth is not just at the introductory level. This requirement is also intended to keep the Honors College students involved in honors activities during the time between their first year and the beginning of their thesis research. 

Q: Why are up to 12 credits specifiable by individual colleges?

A: To allow the Honors College curriculum to comply with the accreditation requirements of some colleges while not extending the major curriculum significantly beyond 120 credits.

 Q: Why is a thesis or scholarly activity required?

 A: The thesis requirement specifies a minimally enhanced depth of study, which can be further enhanced through elective Honors courses. The thesis demonstrates that a student has distinguished himself or herself in the chosen field of study and can help prepare a student for professional or scholarly life after graduation.

 Q: Is the thesis requirement different from college to college?

 A: Yes. The implementation of the thesis requirement is left to the colleges—with the option to delegate this to departments—which both simplifies its administration and leaves the experts within each college or department to judge the quality and appropriateness of student work.

 Q: Will students in every college be able to participate in the new curriculum?

 A: Yes. It is designed to allow students from every college across the university to be able to follow—and to graduate within normative time.

 Q: What are the differences among HONR courses, H courses, and H contract courses?

 A: HONR courses are interdisciplinary courses offered through the Honors College; H courses are honors sections of existing courses offered by the academic colleges; H contract courses are non-honors courses in which the instructor and student do an independent honors project together in addition to regular coursework.

We’re Considering a New Edition–Nominate a Regional University!

Our current publication, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs,
is going to be updated, possibly as soon as the latter part of 2014 if all goes according to plan.

That plan is for the second edition to include evaluations of 100 public honors colleges and programs, although we will use a two-tiered approach for the new edition.  One tier will likely include most of the 50 institutions that we reviewed in the 2012 edition. (A few might not be included, while some new ones are likely to be added. The selection process for this tier will be one reason for the minor changes.)

The other tier will cover regional public university honors colleges and programs.  A few of these have already been profiled on this site (please see, for example, Western Kentucky Honors College: Regional Excellence, International Impact and East Tenn State Univ: Exemplary Honors Coordination).

For regional universities to be competitive, the honors curriculum should be strong and comprehensive.   Although the examples above signal their regional nature by their very names, there are certainly other, similar schools that do not have similar “regional” names.

We have several of these institutions in mind already, but we are open to suggestions, preferably from the senior staff of a prospective honors college or program, on a confidential basis.  One important element in our consideration of universities for both tiers will be the extent to which a college or program is inclined to be reasonably cooperative and forthcoming with data that meet our category requirements.

(Please contact editor@publicuniversityhonors.com to make inquiries or to suggest an honors college or program for inclusion.)

In particular, we need accurate data for six-year graduation rates, freshman honors entrants only (not honors completers), and data showing the percentage of honors students who study abroad for at least one full summer term or longer.

Although we will look very closely at curricula and honors housing ourselves, these are two categories that can be clarified through dialogue.  As we did for the 2012 edition, all universities will receive advance copies of both their narrative profiles and statistical data prior to publication.  This was a very effective means of obtaining the best information in 2012, at least from the programs that participated in the dialogue.

One critical improvement over 2012 is that there will be a firm, detailed, and uniform questionnaire sent to selected programs–none of that “evolving” stuff that characterized our first, tentative effort.  We are open to suggestions for ways of making the questionnaire as effective as possible.

We hope to hear from you soon!

John Willingham, Editor


Business Insider’s Fifty Best Colleges According to Readers

For the fifth year, Business Insider has published its own rankings, called “The 50 Best Colleges in America .”

The rankings are based on the responses of 1,500 Business Insider readers, most of them from the finance and tech sectors.

“Almost 30 percent of the respondents work in finance, 22 percent work in technology, 9.9 percent work in education, 9.9 are current students, 9.2 percent work in media and marketing, and 8 percent work in law,” according to the publication.

Also interesting is that BI combines national universities and liberal arts colleges in the same list, just as Forbes does.

Please to to the BI link to see comments from the respondents.  In the meantime, here is the list of the top 50:

1. MIT

2. Stanford

3. Harvard

4. Princeton

5. Yale

6. Caltech

7. Columbia

8. Penn

9. Dartmouth

10. Cornell

11. Chicago

12. West Point

13. Annapolis

14. Johns Hopkins

15. Duke

16. UC Berkeley

17. Northwestern

18. Carnegie Mellon

19. Georgetown

20. Brown

21. Michigan

22. Virginia

23. Williams

24. NYU

25. UCLA

26. Notre Dame

27. Amherst

28. Georgia Tech

29. North Carolina

30. Harvey Mudd

31. Vanderbilt

32. UT Austin

33. Emory

34. Washington U

35. Rice

36. Boston College

37. Tufts

38. Swarthmore

39. RPI

40. Middlebury

41. USC

42. Wisconsin

43. William & Mary

44. Wellesley

45. Boston University

46. Washington

47. Bowdoin

48. Claremont McKenna

49. Wesleyan

50. Penn State

UC Irvine Remains Top U.S. University under 50 Years Old; UT Dallas Makes Big Gains

The Times Higher Education: Top Universities in the World Under 50 Years Old publication was released today, and the same U.S. institutions that made the list in 2012 also appear in the latest edition, with UC Irvine at the top.

Even though the same eight U.S. universities are among the top 100 “young” institutions worldwide, their places relative to similar universities have changed: UC Irvine dropped only one place, from number 5 to number 4, while UT Dallas leaped from number 29 to number 15.

It is important to bear in mind that all of the world university rankings emphasize research far more than typical domestic rankings, such as those by U.S. News, which reflects research quality only as it influences the academic reputation component of the magazine’s methodology.

Here is the methodology used by Thomson Reuters and the Times are these:

Research: volume, income and reputation (30 per cent)

  • Citations: research influence (30 per cent)
  • Teaching: the learning environment (30 per cent)
  • International outlook: people 
  • and research (7.5 per cent)
  • Industry income: innovation (2.5 per cent).

Top U.S. Universities Under 50 Years Old (2013):

UC Irvine–2013 rank 5; 2012 rank 4

UC Santa Cruz–2013 rank 11, 2012 rank 7

UT Dallas–2013 rank 15; 2012 rank 29

Illinois Chicago–2013 rank 19; 2012 rank 11

George Mason–2013 rank 59; 2012 rank 57

UMD Baltimore Co–2013 rank 60; 2012 rank 63

UT San Antonio–2013 rank 70; 2012 rank 53

Florida International–2013 rank 84; 2012 rank 84






At UVA You Can Be Both an Echols Scholar AND a Jefferson Scholar

In our book, A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs (2014), the Echols Scholars program at the University of Virginia was one of seven programs to receive the highest overall rating–five “mortarboards.” (Please see our Methodology page for more information about these two categories.)

The Jefferson Scholars program at UVA was not rated as an honors program because it is primarily a generous financial support program coupled with enrichment activities for only about 30 students each year.  The good news is that you can be both an Echols Scholar, which allows you almost total freedom in course selection along with housing and priority registration benefits, and a Jefferson Scholar, fortunate enough to receive the outstanding financial benefits and enrichment features of that program.

Admission to each program is, however, separate, so some students invited to be Echols Scholars do not receive Jefferson Scholarships, and some Jefferson Scholars are not in the Echols Program.

Admission to either program is highly selective, pretty much on a par with top Ivy standards.  UVA attracts quite a few students who have also been accepted to the most elite private institutions.  But here is what you receive in the way of support as a Jefferson Scholar:

“Intended to cover the entire cost of attendance for four years at the University of Virginia, the Jefferson Scholars’ stipend includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, and personal expenses.  In 2012-13, Jefferson Scholars from the Commonwealth of Virginia will receive over $25,000 each year, and out-of-state or international Jefferson Scholars will receive an annual stipend of over $50,000.  In addition to the financial component of the Scholarship is an extensive enrichment program which aims to support and nurture these students throughout their four years at U.Va.  Also an important part of the program is the community that develops between Scholars, Graduate Fellows, staff, and alumni.”

In a separate post and in our book we have estimated the admission requirements for Echols; the stats below are from the Jefferson Scholars site, and the admission requirements appear to be about the same as our estimates for Echols Scholars.   Class of 2016:

31 accepted

17 states represented, plus the UK

2260 average SAT

23 scholars had a perfect score of 800 on at least one section of the SAT

88 scores of 5 on AP exams

16 varsity athletes




Western Kentucky Honors College: Regional Excellence, International Impact

The Honors College at Western Kentucky University came to our attention while we were doing our regular review of the number of prestigious national scholarships won by public universities, such as Truman, Goldwater and Fulbright awards.  For this and other reasons, the honors college at WKU is the third we will profile from among the increasingly important regional state universities.

We follow Goldwater awards closely because they are awarded to undergraduates only, and only to students in the STEM subjects.  The undergraduate focus points to the level of research and faculty support that students receive in order to win the highly competitive Goldwater scholarships.

Since 2008, WKU students have earned 15 Goldwater scholarships or honorable mention.  This would be a high level of achievement even for a top flagship university.

We also commend the honors college at WKU for its extensive curricular offerings, along with the association of the college with the Chinese Flagship Pilot Program, one of only 11 such undergraduate programs in the nation and the only one centered in an honors college.

Students in the Chinese Flagship Program receive intensive language instruction, regardless of major, and achieve very high levels of fluency.  In addition, the college reports that “in the past 3 years, our Flagship students have received 2 Fulbright Grants to China, 9 U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarships, 2 David L. Boren Scholarships, 3 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships, and 3 Foundation for Global Scholars Awards.”

The college is also affiliated with the Gatton Academy of Math and Science, the only state-funded residential high school in Kentucky for students in the STEM subjects.  This unique partnership allows gifted STEM students to take as many as 70 hours of college credit while they are in the academy, including many honors courses.  Graduates are able to pick and choose among top colleges in the nation, and about one-quarter decide to remain at WKU for the remainder of their undergraduate work.

Freshman entrants to the college are required to complete 33 hours of honors work, including a six-hour capstone experience/thesis.  A slightly different track is also available, requiring the same 33 hours but substituting honors seminars for the capstone/thesis.

Transfer students with 45 or fewer hours can still complete the 33-hour requirement.  Those with more than 45 hours of work behind them are eligible for the 18-hour honors in the major option, which includes a thesis.  All transfer students must have at least a 3.5 GPA.

Freshman applicants compete for 300 places in the college.  The minimum requirements are a 27 ACT or a 1210 SAT or high school graduation in the top 15 percent of the class.  But the average entrant has an ACT score of 29, SAT score of 1300, and a 3.86 high school gpa.

Another strong feature is the structure of the honors college.  It is our opinion that honors colleges and programs work to their fullest and best extent when they are also the focal point for mentoring students with the potential to win national prestigious scholarships.  The Office of Scholar Development at WKU is a part of the honors college and has three full-time staff members involved in the recruitment and support of high-achieving students.

The college has three honors residence options.  Freshmen may live in Minton Hall, a traditional, corridor-style facility that is the only coed freshman hall on campus (with gendered floors).  Bates-Runner Hall is a hotel-style dorm for sophomores and juniors, with shared rooms and private baths, while McLean Hall is a similar facility for juniors and seniors.  All three halls are centrally located.

There is also the brand new WKU apartments on Kentucky Street, each with a private room and bath.

Another benefit for honors students is priority registration for classes and, even more important, students can actually design their own majors with help from small faculty committees.  Class size is limited to 25 students, and many have 16 students or fewer.  Continuation requires maintaining at least a 3.2 gpa.  About 55 percent of honors students also study abroad, many in England and China.

In January 2014, the college will break ground for a new Honors/International Building, a $22 million, 67,000 square foot complex that will cement the relationship between the honors college and the university’s heightened focus on international studies.

As for financial aid, “all WKU students who are awarded the university’s top two scholarships: ‘Henry H Cherry Presidential Scholarships’ and the ‘1906 Founders Scholarships’ are required to be in the Honors College.

“On average, the 300 Honors College first year students are awarded over $2 million in renewable scholarships for WKU… over 66% of our incoming first year student are awarded at least a renewable tuition scholarship.”

WKU is located in Bowling Green, the third largest city in Kentucky behind Louisville and Lexington.  The campus is on top a large hill overlooking the city of about 60,000 people and the entire Barren River Valley.   There is a GM assembly plant in the city, making Bowling Green the home of the Chevrolet Corvette.  WKU is the second largest university in the state and has the only honors college in the state.