Some New Honors College “Rankings” Have Appeared Elsewhere; Here’s Our Take

By John Willingham, Editor

Recently, Google searches are listing two new sites that claim to rank public university honors programs and honors colleges. Their “rankings” in most instances bear a close resemblance to the ratings we have produced since 2012. Aside from the likelihood of  extensive (unattributed) borrowing from our copyrighted work, the fact is that most of the data necessary to rank or rate these programs is not publicly available. We are the only site or organization in the country that does have access, gained only after many years of dialogue and collaboration with honors deans and directors across the nation. One wonders how these new rankings were developed. Or were they mostly “borrowed”?

Our collaborative process yields enormous amounts of data. For example, to calculate honors class sizes, we have to analyze about 10,000 honors classes for each addition. Much of the data required for this analysis is not available on honors sites or even on university-wide course schedules.

And still we do not “rank” programs. Typically, I have an opinion, based on data, about the best five to ten programs in the nation among those rated in a given edition. The data may show that one is “better” (a higher point total) than all the rest. And then I think about how I have weighted each of the 13 rating categories. If I were to change any of them, the ratings would change. All is driven by the methodology, and nobody’s methodology is perfect. It is a matter of judgment in the final analysis. It is not scientific in the truest sense, even with all the data involved. I can give you an exact figure for honors class sizes at Honors College A, but the rating proportion I assign to that exact figure is subjective.

If it’s not science, don’t present it as science. Ordinal rankings present themselves as science. But just imagine how the U.S. News rankings would change if all the institutional wealth metrics were removed or if selectivity did not count.

Thanks to the cooperation of honors deans and directors across the nation, we now receive for each rated profile 10-20 pages of documents, much of it hard data on class sections and course offerings. No one else obtains this level of unique data. Even by going online and reading every entry in the university’s course schedule one will not find the volume and specificity of data that we need for honors course analyses. That’s because honors programs offer mixed and contract sections that are not transparent in online course listings.

This brings us to the new rankings.

One lists “The 9 Best Honors Programs” in the nation. Here is the methodology:

“To put together our list, we evaluated the national honors college rankings from the past two years. We also evaluated honors colleges based on admissions requirements, curricular and extracurricular program offerings, emphasis on fostering an honors student community, financial aid opportunities, and unique or innovative approaches to the honors educational experience.” [Emphasis added.]

First, how does someone quantify “an emphasis on fostering an honors student community” or “innovative approaches to the honors educational experience”?

Second, I do not know of any “national honors college rankings,” although we announce the top 5-10 programs, in one alphabetical group, every other year. These programs are “top” only within the data set of rated programs for a given edition. No program is declared number one, or number three, or number ten for that data set, much less for the entire universe of honors programs. They are a instead placed in a group. Our refusal to anoint any program with a specific ranking number has, in fact, caused one prominent program to stop cooperating with us.

The “9 Best” site does not hesitate to do so: “Ranked #1 among honors colleges in the United States, Barrett College has a presence on ASU’s four campuses in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and Glendale, Arizona.” Although Barrett, under its longstanding Dean, Mark Jacobs, achieves excellent results year in and year out, I do not know of any recent ranking that specifically lists Barrett or any other honors program or college as number 1. It is true that Barrett has been in the highest (five mortarboard) group in all of our editions. But so has the South Carolina Honors College, Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, the Plan II Honors Program at UT Austin, the University Honors Program at Kansas, and, since 2016, the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY. These are very different programs, ranging from extremely large (Barrett) to very small (UT Plan II.)

Other strong programs are at Clemson, Delaware, Georgia, Houston, and Ole Miss. Data from Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina is no longer available, but in one or more previous editions, all received excellent ratings.

The “9 Best” site above also lists Penn State Schreyer, Clemson, and Rutgers Honors College among the best honors colleges, and adds UT Plan II, Kansas UHP, and the Echols Scholar program at UVA. Then in a “best bang for the buck” category, it lists CUNY Macaulay and the Alabama Honors College. (We have not included Echols after the 2014 edition because the new methodology in place since 2016 requires much more class data. Echols students can take almost any class at UVA, and it’s not possible to determine which ones those are at any given time.)

Another site lists “the top 50 honors programs and colleges”-a list which bears an uncanny resemblance to programs we have rated over the years. The list includes several programs that were not prominently mentioned until they appeared in one of our books: New Jersey Institute of Technology, Temple, Colorado State, and CUNY Macaulay, among them.

Here is the methodology behind this list:

“Below, we have compiled a list of the nation’s top honors colleges/programs. The selection was based on the following indicators of program quality.

  • The selectivity of the college/university (overall)
  • The selectivity of the honors program
  • Average honors class size
  • Number of honors classes
  • Availability of honors housing
  • Whether priority registration is offered to honors students

“Schools marked with an asterisk (*) rated especially high on several indicators and were ranked among the top 20 honors programs according to our methodology.”

All of the above information is in our publications. Further, “availability” of honors housing can be calculated only if one knows both the number of honors “beds” and the number of eligible honors students. One can know the true number of honors classes only if there is access to full spreadsheets, not just online listings, especially those limited to the honors homepage. And the true average class size likewise relies on extremely detailed data not available from online sources. Finally, some of the test scores listed on the site are incorrect and misleading.

Yes, I realize that U.S. News has several competitors in ranking colleges and universities. And, often, many of these rankings roughly correspond, especially at the most elite brand level. But…these competing ranking organizations all gather their own data, even while applying different methodologies, refrain from unseemly borrowing.

Fall Application Deadlines for 100 Honors Colleges and Programs

Editor’s Note: These deadlines are now being updated for Fall 2021. Please verify all dates with the university in case of changes.

Below is a list of application deadlines for 80 public university honors colleges and programs.  Please note that some deadlines are fast-approaching, while a few are as late as the Spring and Summer of 2020.

If the deadlines are separated into categories (early action, early decision, regular deadline, priority deadline, etc.), we will list the deadlines for each category.

Alabama Honors: For University Fellows applications, the deadline is January 6, 2021; for other applications there is “no formal deadline,” but for housing and orientation purposes, the earlier the better. Automatic invitation to qualified students.

UAB Alabama Birmingham Honors: March 15, 2021, but verify. Automatic invitation to qualified students.

Alaska Anchorage HonorsDeadline is July 15, 2021.

Alaska Fairbanks HonorsApplications reviewed on a continuing basis.

Appalachian State Honors:  Common App by November 1, 2020, with all application materials, including letters of recommendation, due by November 15, 2021. Separate honors application required.

Arizona Honors : Common App by November 1, 2020. Early application deadline is November 16, 2020, with notification December 11, 2020. Essay required. Final deadline is February 15, 2021.

Arizona State Honors (Barrett): Early action deadline- November 1, 2020 (notification December 18); regular deadline- January 15, 2021 (notification March 5); Late consideration I, March 7, 2021 (notification April 16); Late consideration II, April 4, 2021 (notification May 14).

Arkansas Honors: Apply to university first. November 15, 2020 is priority deadline for scholarships; final scholarship deadline is February 1, 2021; final Fall application deadline is August 1, 2020, but this might be too late for honors college.

Auburn Honors: Early action deadline is December 1, 2020. Scholarship deadline is February 1, 2021.  Automatic invitation to qualified students.

Ball State Honors: Priority application deadline is April 1, 2021.

Binghamton Honors: Early action deadline and common app by November 1, 2020; regular deadline January 15, 2021 (notification April 1, 2021). Automatic invitation to qualified students.

Central Florida HonorsPriority deadline, postmarked application by January 15, 2021; March 31, 2021, postmark for regular deadline.

Cincinnati Honors: December 1, 2020, for honors and for scholarships. Automatic invitation to qualified students.

Clemson Honors (Calhoun): Priority honors deadline December 1, 2020, with notification February 15, 2021; regular deadline February 15, 2021; with notification April 1, 2021; also required a separate honors online application.

College of Charleston Honors: Early decision deadline October 15, 2020, decision early December. Early action deadline is December 1, 2020, with decision by February 1, 2021. Regular deadline is February 15, 2021, with decision by April 1, 2021.

Colorado Boulder Honors: Apply to university by specified deadlines and Office of Admissions invites students to participate in honors, usually top 10% of arts and sciences applicants.

Colorado Denver Honors: Priority deadline is February 1, 2021; regular deadline is March 15, 2021.

Colorado State Honors: The Honors application date is February 1, 2021. In some cases, we may ask for additional information (such as fall grades) before making a final decision. After the deadline has passed, qualified students may be placed on a waiting list if the program is at capacity.

Connecticut HonorsFor merit and honors consideration, December 1, 2020. Automatic invitation to honors if qualified.

CUNY Macaulay HonorsDecember 8, 2020.

Delaware Honors:  Deadline January 15, 2021, including honors essay.

Florida Honors: (Freshman Honors): November 16, 2020.

Florida Atlantic (Wilkes Honors):To be considered for prestigious WHC scholarships (e.g., Flagler), early application is encouraged. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2021, for upcoming academic year. Application via the Common App is recommended.

Florida International Honors: Online application available October 1, 2020. Priority deadline is January 15, 2021.  Final deadline is May 1, 2021. Separate honors application and essay required.

Florida State Honors: For presidential scholarship, honors medical, or honors legal, deadline is December 1, 2020.

Georgia State Honors: Honors deadline is December 8; 2020.

Georgia HonorsMeet early action deadline October 8 and be eligible for invitation; final deadline is February 1, 2021.

Hawaii Manoa Honors: May 1, 2021.

Houston Honors: November 1, 2020, for priority consideration; final deadline June 1, 2021.

Idaho Honors: Applications considered year-round.

Illinois Honors (CHP): Early action deadline November 1, 2018, preferably earlier; final deadline January 5, 2021.

Illinois Chicago Honors: Priority, December 1, 2020; regular decision, February 1, 2021.

Illinois State Honors: February 1, 2021, for scholarships; final deadline April 1, 2021.

Indiana Honors (Hutton): Deadline for Hutton scholarships November 1, 2020.

Iowa HonorsFirst deadline January 10, 2021, with notification February 1, 2021; second deadline, March 1, 2021, and notification in late March.

Iowa State Honors: April 1, 2021, but prefers earlier applications.

James Madison Honors: Early action (recommended) November 29, 2020; considers applications up to May 1, 2021.

Kansas Honors: November 1, 2020, for admission and scholarships. Priority deadline is December 1, 2020; late consideration of applications by January 15, 2021.

Kansas State HonorsNo specific deadline, but admission may be limited to space available.

Kent State Honors: February 1, 2021.

Kentucky Honors: December 1, 2020, but prefers earlier.

LSU Honors (Ogden): December 15, 2020; notification on a rolling basis.

Maine Honors: Early action and scholarship deadline is December 1, 2020; regular decision March 1, 2021.

Maryland Honors: Automatically considered if application submitted by November 1, 2020, the university preferred deadline.

Massachusetts Honors (Amherst): Early action November 5, 2020; regular deadline January 15, 2021. No separate honors application.

Michigan HonorsApply by February 9, 2021, and receive notification by March 4, 2021; apply by March 9, 2021, and receive notification by April 1, 2021.

Michigan State Honors: March 1, 2021, but “reserves the right” to cut off admissions at an earlier date. Automatic invitation to qualified students.

Minnesota HonorsJanuary 1, 2021; qualified students invited by end of March. No separate honors application.

Mississippi Honors (SMBHC): December 1, 2020. After that, space available only.

Mississippi State Honors: December 1, 2019, preferably earlier; after that date, space available basis.

Missouri Honors: Scholars and fellows deadline is January 1, 2021. Final deadline March 1, 2021.

Missouri Kansas City Honors: December 1, 2020, for optimal scholarship eligibility. August 1, 2021 is the final deadline.

Nebraska Honors: Apply by December 10, 2020; receive notification by January 15, 2021. Final deadline is February 15, 2021, with notification by March 25, 2021.

New Jersey Inst of Technology Honors (Dorman): February 1, 2021.

New Hampshire Honors: Early action is November 15, 2020. Regular decision March 1, 2021. No separate honors application, but financial aid deadline is March 1, 2021. Invitations sent to qualified students.

Nevada Reno Honors: Application period opens October 1. Priority honors and scholarship deadline is February 1, 2021.

New Mexico Honors: October 1, 2020, for notification November 1; January 2, 2021, for notification February 1, 2021; April 1, 2021, for notification by May 1, 2021.

North Carolina HonorsMust be accepted by university first, followed by honors invitation. University early action deadline is October 15, 2020, with notification by end of January. Regular deadline is January 15, 2021, with notification by end of March 2021. Qualified students will receive an invitation after applying to UNC.

North Carolina Charlotte Honors: November 1, 2020, for top scholarships, with honors priority deadline of December 15, 2020.

North Carolina Wilmington: Early action November 1, 2020, with notification around January 20, 2021; regular decision February 1, 2021, with notification around March 15.

NC State Honors: Early action deadline of November 1, 2020; regular deadline January 15, 2021.

Ohio University Honors: January 15, 2021.

Ohio State HonorsTest scores, letters of recommendation, etc., by November 1, 2020.

Oklahoma HonorsUniversity scholarship deadline is December 15, 2020. Final deadline is February 1, 2021. No separate deadline for honors college.

Oklahoma State HonorsDeadline for many scholarships is December 1, 2020. Final deadline is February 1, 2021, by electronic submission.

Oregon Honors (Clark)Early action deadline November 1, 2020, with all materials due November 15; notification December 15, 2020. Regular deadline January 15, 2021, with all materials due February 15, 2021; notification April 1, 2021.

Oregon State Honors:  Early action November 2, 2020; regular decision February 1, 2021.

Penn State Honors (Schreyer): (Schreyer): Priority deadline November 1, 2020, with notification by late December; final deadline December 1, 2020; notification by late January, 2021.

Pitt Honors“We operate on a rolling admission policy and although there is no specific deadline to apply for admission, it is to your advantage to plan ahead and apply early.” Merit scholarship deadline is December 15.

Purdue Honors: Early action deadline is November 1, 2020, for admission and scholarships.

Rhode Island Honors: Early action and scholarship deadline is December 1, 2020; regular deadline is February 1, 2021.

Rutgers Honors (Honors College): December 1, 2020.

Rutgers SAS Honors: December 1, 2020.

San Diego State Honors (Weber): Preferred deadline is February 15, 2021.

South Carolina Honors: Early answer admission deadline is October 15, 2020. Test score assignment to university and letters of recommendation, no later than November 15, 2020.

South Dakota Honors: Recommended time is December of senior year, but applications are considered on a rolling basis.

South Dakota State Honors: December 15, 2019, for best scholarship opportunities.

South Florida HonorsPreferred, November 1, 2019. Priority, for financial aid, January 1, 2020. Final deadline, March 1, 2020.

Stony Brook HonorsPriority deadline January 15, 2020.

Temple HonorsEarly action deadline November 1, 2019; university deadline is February 1, 2020. No separate honors application, and honors notification is within four weeks of university acceptance.

Tennessee Honors (CHP): November 1, 2019, in order to be eligible for major scholarships.

Tennessee Chattanooga Honors (Brock Scholars): Application, resume, essay, and recommendations due by January 15, 2020.

Texas A&M HonorsApplication period begins July 1, 2019, and ends on December  15, 2019.

Texas Tech Honors: Application period begins July 1, 2019, and ends March 1, 2020.

UC Davis HonorsApplication period for all UC campuses is August 1-November 30, 2019. Honors invitation after applicants confirm UC Davis as choice on May 1, 2020.

UC Irvine Honors (CHP): Application period for all UC campuses is August 1-November 30, 2019. Honors invitation after applicants confirm UC Irvine as choice on May 1, 2020.

UCLA HonorsApplication period for all UC campuses is August 1-November 30, 2019. Honors invitation after applicants confirm UCLA as choice on May 1, 2020.

UC Riverside Honors: Application period for all UC campuses is August 1-November 30, 2019. Honors invitation after applicants confirm UCLA as choice on May 1, 2020.

UC Santa Barbara HonorsApplication period for all UC campuses is August 1-November 30, 2019. Honors invitation after applicants confirm UCSB as choice on May 1, 2020.

University at Albany Honors: Early action November 1, 2018; regular decision February 1, 2019.

Univ at Buffalo (SUNY) HonorsEarly action by November 15, 2019, to university and provide all test results and supporting material by December 15, 2019, also the scholarship deadline. Regular decision is February 1, 2020.

Utah HonorsPriority deadline November 1, 2019; final deadline February 1, 2020.

UT Austin Plan II: May apply beginning August 1, 2018; recommended deadline is November 1, 2019, but final deadline is December 1, 2019. Applications are reviewed in the order in which they are accepted.

UT San Antonio Honors: November 1, 2019, through February 1, 2020.

Vermont HonorsEarly action November 1, 2019; regular deadline January 15, 2020. No separate honors application. Admission by invitation after acceptance to university.

Virginia Honors  Echols: University early decision deadline October 15, 2019; early action deadline November 1, 2019; regular decision deadline January 1, 2020.

Virginia Commonwealth HonorsApplications to the Honors College from incoming freshmen are accepted through April 15 of the senior year in high school. However, students are encouraged to apply by our priority deadline of February 1.

Virginia Tech HonorsUniversity early decision deadline November 1, 2019, with notification December 15; early action deadline December 1, 2019, with notification February 22, 2020; regular deadline is January 15, 2020, and notification by March 5, 2020.

Washington HonorsNovember 15, 2019. Notification of university admission March 1–March 15, 2020; notification of honors admission March 19–April 13, 2020.

Washington State HonorsJanuary 31, 2020.

Western Kentucky HonorsDecember 1, 2019 for full scholarship consideration.

Western Washington Honors: Early action deadline is January 1, 2020, with notification by February 15, 2020. Regular decision deadline is March 10, 2020.

Wisconsin Honors: Early action deadline is November 1, 2019, with notification at end of December 2019; regular decision deadline is February 1, 2020, with notification end of March 2020.

Wyoming Honors: Consideration of applications begins in mid-November.