The latest Lumosity ranking of the smartest universities is based on more than 70,000 student results on a battery of tests designed to measure cognitive ability in the following areas: attention, flexibility, memory, problem solving, and speed. Students from more than 450 institutions participated.
Attention and memory scores correlate to a lesser extent than the other areas to SAT performance, but the other area scores correlate more closely with the crystallized math and verbal knowledge measured by the SAT. Universities had to have at least 50 student participants to qualify for consideration; therefore, small schools such as Caltech were not included. All of the top 14 schools were highly selective private institutions. The rankings vary considerably from the previous year’s rankings.
The top ten schools were Washington U; MIT; Princeton; Northwestern; Carnegie Mellon; Chicago; Rice; Harvard; Yale; and Dartmouth. The rankings include liberal arts colleges (Oberlin, Wheaton, Colgate, etc.)
Below are the 25 public universities whose students had the best overall performance on the cognitive tests, in rank order, with the overall ranking in parentheses.
We have noticed that many students apply to prominent public universities and then, almost as an afterthought, begin to wonder if the honors program at University A makes that school a better choice than regular admission to the higher-ranked University B.
A far better way to look at honors is to evaluate programs in some depth at the earliest stages of the college application process. Otherwise, students realize too late that the honors application or scholarship deadlines have already passed, or find themselves searching for anecdotal evidence with little time to spare.
Honors colleges and programs differ greatly in size, quality, curricula, housing, overall philosophy, and financial aid opportunities. Working through the maze of differences can be a daunting prospect, especially when time is an issue. When it comes to honors programs, many of the most important questions can be answered only by consideration of those all-important “details.” Below are twenty steps that should be very useful in helping you make the best decision regardless of whether you want a public or private university honors program:
1. Match basic admission requirements with your test scores, GPA, and essays.
2. Request actual average admission statistics. These may vary greatly from basic (minimum) requirements. In general, honors students will have average test scores 6-10% higher than the 25th percentile of accepted students for the university as a whole. The 25th percentile scores are available from U.S. News and other sources. If there is a wide gap between the basic and average stats, and your stats are much closer to the basic stats, then you can probably find a better option. That said, if the admissions requirements are more holistic and less stats-driven, you may be fine.
3. Determine the size of the honors program (mean size in major public universities is ~1,700, but programs may be as small as 140 or as large as 6,000).
4. Ask the fish-to-pond question: Are honors students big fish in a small pond or is the pond full of sizable fish? The more selective the university as a whole, the bigger all the fish. Some parents and prospective students might prefer an honors program that stands apart on campus, while others might like a program that is more expansive. Perhaps if you are not sold on the overall quality of the university, you might choose the former; if you think the university as a whole has a strong student body or you simply prefer a non-elitist atmosphere, then you might like the latter.
5. Assess the quality of the city, surrounding area, and climate.
6. Determine the curriculum requirements as a percentage of graduation requirements. Generally, the number of honors hours should be at least 25% of the total required for graduation.
7. Determine the number of honors sections per semester/quarter.
8. Evaluate the reputation of university in preferred or likely areas of study.
9. Ask whether there are special research opportunities for undergrads and if an honors thesis is required.
10. Ask about staff size, the number of advisers, and availability to students, as well as special freshmen orientation programs.
If the above check out, then:
1. Ask about the number of honors sections, by discipline, per semester or quarter and try to verify; determine the average enrollment in honors seminars and sections. The average class size can vary greatly among honors programs, from fewer than 10 students per class to more than 35. Most seminars and all-honors sections should have around 25 students or fewer, although in almost every case you will find that there are a few large classes, notably in first-year sciences and economics. Some honors programs have few or no honors courses in certain disciplines.
2. Ask about the types of honors sections: all-honors seminars; all-honors sections offered by honors or a department; “mixed” sections of honors and non-honors students; and the percentage of honors contract/option/conversion courses per average student at time of graduation.
Mixed sections may be small or, more often, large sections that can have more than 100 total students in 3-4 credit hour courses. Of these students, maybe 10-20 could be honors students, who then meet for one hour a week (rarely, two hours a week) in separate “discussion” or “recitation” sections. These sections can be led by tenured professors but are typically led by adjunct faculty or graduate students. Ask how many sections are mixed, and of these, ask how many of the main section classes are large.
Contract courses are regular–and often larger–sections with both honors and non-honors students, mostly the latter, in which honors students do extra work or have their own discussion sections. While most programs have some contract courses, they are generally more prevalent in large honors colleges and programs. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with contract courses. They can speed graduation, offer more flexibility, expand the influence of honors in the university as a whole, and foster contacts with mentoring faculty. But their quality and size may vary greatly.
3. Ask about tuition discounts, scholarships, continuing financial aid, including special recruitment of national merit scholars.
4. Determine if there is priority registration for honors students and, if so, type of priority registration.
5. Research the types of special honors housing for freshmen and upperclassmen, if any, including basic floor plans, on-site laundry, suite or corridor-style rooms, air-conditioning, location of nearest dining hall, proximity of major classroom buildings (especially in preferred disciplines), and availability of shuttles and other transportation on campus. If there is no special honors housing, it is often a sign that the honors program does not want to foster the big fish in a small pond atmosphere. The absence of priority registration may be an additional sign.
6. Research the study-abroad opportunities; some universities have a separate division for study-abroad programs.
7. Ask about the presence and involvement of advisers for prestigious scholarships, such as Goldwater, Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, etc., and program success in achieving these awards.
8. Ask about additional fees for participation in honors and ask about the percentage of honors “completers.” These are honors students who actually complete all of the honors requirements and graduate with some form of honors. There are many programs that have completion rates as low as 25% and a few with completion rates higher than 80%. (This is different from the graduation rate, which, for freshmen honors entrants, is anywhere from 79%–99% after six years.)
9. Now, try to assess the quality of the honors program versus quality of university as a whole.
10. VISIT the college if you have not done so and try to question current honors students. Some of the information mentioned above can only come from a personal visit or be learned after a student has been accepted.
Editor’s note: The following post, written by Melissa Dittrich, appeared in The California Aggie on March 6, 2014.
The two bodies of the UC Davis University Honors Program (UHP) on campus have developed a plan to become one program in Fall Quarter 2014. The Davis Honors Challenge (DHC) and the Integrated Studies Honors Program (ISHP) will combine into one singular UHP.
Current students enrolled in UHP will have the option to remain in their respective program, but students admitted this fall will be accepted into the new UHP.
Ari Kelman, the University Honors Program Director, said that after becoming the director, he checked in with students and faculty of both DHC and ISHP to evaluate the status of the programs. Although both were running fairly effectively, Kelman said that those involved with the programs were concerned about the UHP being divided.
“Having two distinct honors programs includes a lot of inter-program rivalry,” Kelman said. “DHC students thought students in ISHP are getting more opportunities, and students in ISHP thought the DHC students had more flexibility.”
According to Kelman, students who were recruited into one honors program would question why they were not in the other, and he said the combination of the two programs will reduce confusion and create more interaction between all UHP students.
Janet Sandoval-Reynoso, a first year international relations and linguistics double major and DHC student, said students in their respective programs feel somewhat isolated from others in the program.
“We haven’t really had contact with the other students,” Sandoval-Reynoso said. “Anything that keeps students connected is a good idea.”
According to Gideon Cohn-Postar, a DHC Research Analyst and previous DHC student, students in each program had different access to academic opportunities. He said this issue was due to honors students from different programs not being able to take the same seminars.
“Great students aren’t interacting with each other,” Cohn-Postar said. “We want to make sure students have access to all faculty members.”
Another difference between the two programs is the admittance procedures. Students can join ISHP solely by invitation, while any freshman, second-year or transfer student who earns and maintains a 3.25 GPA can apply to DHC. With the new UHP, any first-year, second-year or transfer student can apply, and the same amount of incoming students will be admitted to the program as were let into both programs previously.
The curriculum for the honors program will also be changed. Kelman said that many students struggle with taking honors seminars because these classes do not count for general education (GE) credits and can be used to fulfill requirements for students’ majors.
“It was really challenging for students to be told that time they could normally be using for required classes had to be used for Honors requirements,” Kelman said. “Students would suggest to faculty members that the classes shouldn’t be as challenging for this reason.”
The new plan involves classes that will count towards honors students’ GE or major requirements, which will allow the classes to be challenging and also contribute to UHP students’ degrees. By the end of their second year, students are expected to complete a total of 26 units in required honors courses. By the end of their third year, students will complete a community service project that can include helping out a cause they believe in or become a peer advisor or tutor. By the end of their fourth year, students will have completed a Capstone project that can be lab research, an honors thesis or a community service project.
Kalvin Zee, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and DHC student, said that the change in courses is a good idea.
“Right now, the classes are skewed towards hard sciences, which makes it difficult for students who want to take classes in the softer sciences,” Zee said.
The plan still needs approval from the academic senate, which is currently reviewing it. If approved, the plan will go into effect this fall, and incoming freshman will be accepted into the University Honors Program, rather than the DHC or ISHP specifically.