Top Honors Programs!

Updated September 28, 2020. INSIDE HONORS 2020-2021 is now available. Please go to our Yes, We Have a Book Page if you are interested. There you can also find a list of all the programs included in the new book.

Below are the highest-rated honors colleges and programs, according to INSIDE HONORS 2020-2021. It is very important to note that programs not listed below can still have 5 mortarboard ratings in one or more of thirteen rating categories.  Many programs are roughly equivalent overall, but typically have highly significant differences in financial aid, and in category ratings (class size, range and type of honors courses, graduation rates, priority registration, honors dorms, etc.). There are many outstanding public honors colleges and programs in all sections of the nation, and some of the best programs are in universities that are not ranked extremely high by U.S. News, making those programs strong “value-added” options.

Here are the honors colleges and programs that received the highest overall rating of 5.0 “mortarboards,” listed in alphabetical order:

Arizona State, Barrett Honors College
City University of New York (CUNY), Macaulay Honors College
Florida Atlantic University, Wilkes Honors College
Kansas University Honors Program
Penn State, Schreyer Honors College
South Carolina Honors College
UT Austin Plan II Honors Program

It happens that these are the same 5-mortarboard programs that we listed in 2018-2019, and this is the first time that exactly the same programs have received the top overall rating in successive editions. (All but CUNY Macaulay and FAU Wilkes have been in the top group in each edition, however.) The Wilkes Honors College at FAU has some advantages in our evaluation system because it is a separate campus with high concentrations of honors courses and staff.

Since 2015, or across the span of three editions that have utilized new methodology, several other programs have averaged between 4.25 and 5.0 mortarboard ratings overall. These are, in alpha order: Clemson Honors College; Georgia Honors Program; Houston Honors College; Mississippi, Sally McConnell Barksdale Honors College; Texas Tech Honors College; and UCF, Burnett Honors College.

The current edition hearkens back to a dual rating system that we used only once previously, in 2012. The second part of the dual system rates programs according to their honors factors only, meaning that we adjust the overall ratings to yield a rating that does not include the number of prestigious scholarships won by students in each university as a whole. Although we believe that prospective honors students should consider a university’s success in this category, the fact remains that not all of the awards are won by honors students. By removing this category, we are left with “honors only” categories that strictly reflect data related to honors students only.

Below are the programs with 5-mortarboard ratings for honors factors only, again in alpha order:

CUNY, Macaulay Honors College
Penn State Schreyer Honors College
South Carolina Honors College
UT Austin Plan II Honors Program
UT Chattanooga Honors College

The idea behind reinstating the dual system was to determine if honors programs in regional universities, which do not have long rack records of competing for prestigious scholarships, could provide an honors experience similar to those that exist in leading national universities. The clear answer is yes. In fact, these regional honors colleges scored well in the overall ratings and in the honors-only ratings: Appalachian State, College of Charleston, and UT Chattanooga all scored 4.5 or higher in both categories.

That a program is included  DOES NOT mean the program is among the “top programs in the country,” though many of them surely are. Each year we select a somewhat different group of programs to review.

Since 2012, we have either ranked or rated more than 90 public university honors colleges or programs. (About two dozen programs have been ranked or rated in all five of our books.) After the 2012 edition, we began using ratings instead of rankings. It is not that our present methodology could not be used to rank programs–in fact, it is more in-depth than that used by other college rankings and ratings, given that its focus is on a relatively small number of programs.




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