Best Honors Residence Halls 2014

Although some honors professionals believe that separate residence halls (or sometimes floors) for honors students create an atmosphere of elitism in their programs, we do rate residence halls, and favor those that have suite-style rooms, in-house or adjacent dining facilities, air-conditioning, and relatively centralized locations on campus.  We used campus maps to rate locations and spent a great deal of time researching the amenities of each residence hall.

With a maximum rating of 10.0, we assigned that highest rating to the residence halls of Arizona State’s Barrett Honors College.  We assigned 9.75 ratings to the residence halls of the University of South Carolina Honors College; Temple University Honors Program; Texas A&M Honors Program; and the University of Utah Honors College.

Other honors colleges and programs with residence hall ratings of 9.5 or higher are Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College; the Florida State Honors Program; the University of Iowa Honors Program; the University of Kentucky Honors Program; the University of Mississippi’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College; the Texas Tech Honors College; and the University of Vermont Honors College. The University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Honors Program also has an outstanding residence facility opening in Fall 2014.

The following excerpts are from the current edition of A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs:

ASU’s Barrett Honors College: “We are the only university in the nation with our own entire 9-acre, $140 million, 600,000 square feet honors campus at Tempe, complete with everything a private college campus would have, besides things like the university health service and the student recreation center.  On top of this, we have Barrett living communities on all four of ASU’s campuses in the Phoenix Valley, though the one described just above is at Tempe, the biggest campus of ASU.  Each of the other three Barrett communities–at the ASU West, ASU Downtown Phoenix, and ASU Polytechnic campuses –have honors headquarter space with classrooms, computer labs, advising offices, social lounges, conference rooms and faculty offices.”

South Carolina Honors College: “The two residence halls, one for both freshmen and upperclassmen and the other for upperclassmen only, are both coed, air-conditioned, and have on-site laundry.  They are conveniently located for access to many classroom buildings, and one, the 537-person Honors Residence Hall (freshmen and upperclassmen) has suite-style rooms and the Honeycomb Café on site.  The Horseshoe is on the main quad and oldest section of the university and includes five buildings for 237 honors upperclassmen.  The rooms there are apartment style—kitchen, living room, bathroom, and individual bedrooms.”

Temple University Honors Program: “The Honors Program Living-Learning Community is situated in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of the 1300 Residence Hall on Temple University’s Main Campus.  Located one block from the Honors Program advising office, the Honors LLC is a residential community of students in the program.  The support of Honors Program staff, Honors Peer Mentors, and the Honors Activities Board helps foster relationships among upper and lowerclassmen through tailored programming and learning opportunities.

“1300 features Honors advising offices and a dedicated Honors classroom on the 3rd floor, where many Honors courses, including first-year seminars, are offered during the academic year.  In addition, 1300 affords numerous recreation and dedicated study spaces.”

“The Honors spaces in 1300 are two-thirds suite-style and one-third apartment-style.  They are air-conditioned and house 450 students.  The Director tells us that 78% of Honors first-year students living on campus reside in 1300.  Honors floors are coed with one gender per suite.  The second and third floors are for first-year students, and the fourth floor is for upperclassmen.  All apartments on the fourth floor have kitchenettes.  Honors students may opt to live in the Honors LLC for all four years at Temple.”

Texas A&M Honors Program: The two freshmen honors residence halls are McFadden and Lechner, with a combined capacity of about 400 students.  Both are suite-style with connecting baths, air-conditioned (a necessity in Texas), with an interdisciplinary and critical-thinking living/learning themes.  Both residence halls have on-site laundry and convenient dining is available at Sbisa Dining Hall, one of the largest dining halls in the country.  Honors upperclassmen can choose to living in Clements Hall, which has amenities similar to those listed for the freshmen halls.”

“A freshman learning community seminar (LCS–1 hour, non-credit-bearing) has been developed to complement the Honors residential experience…

“One goal of the LCS is to help create smaller, academically supportive groups within the larger A&M community.  It is also the hope of the LCS that students will discover the value of seeking opportunities to advance their own knowledge and skills outside of the classroom so students will continue to engage in co-curricular activities beyond their first year.  The LCS is meant to push students to think and develop beyond their academic curriculum.”

University of Utah Honors College–When the name on the primary honors residence hall is ‘Marriott,’ the chances are excellent that the hall will be remarkable–and so it is.  The Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Community (MHRC) houses 309 honors students, 80% of them in suite-style rooms and the other 20% in traditional double rooms with hall baths.

“Freshmen and upperclassmen can choose from eight living/learning themes in the MHRC: First Year Experience; Outdoor Leadership and Education; Science and Engineering; Early Access and Leadership; Intellectual Traditions, Business; Engineering; or the Thesis Mentoring Community.  The MHRC is fully air conditioned with multiple lounges and on-site laundry.  Each apartment suite also has its own kitchen.  The nearest dining hall is at the Heritage Center, but the MHRC has its own convenience store and deli.  Other amenities include cable TV with HBO package, a ski wax room, indoor bicycle storage, an honors library, and high-speed internet.

“Twelve honors upperclassmen can live in the Honors Law House, a small living/learning community that is half suite-style and half traditional double rooms.  Another 12 students can live in the similarly configured Honors Social Justice House or the Thesis Mentoring Community.  Thirty freshmen are also housed in Sage Point Hall, featuring suite-style singles and doubles.  The nearest dining for all four of these is at Heritage Center.”



Universities with Top Honors Residence Halls

We have finished our in-depth review of residence halls at the fifty universities in our group, and below is a list of the universities whose honors housing received the highest scores.

First, let us say that there are differing opinions as to what attributes an honors hall should have. Indeed, some notable and elite public universities such as UCLA, Illinois, and Wisconsin do not, to our knowledge, specifically designate honors residences on their campuses, confident either that their student bodies as a whole are scholarly or that it does not serve elite students well to have their elite status reinforced.

In addition, some universities take the view that fully separate honors housing is not the best arrangement; many universities designate honors floors in residence halls that include non-honors students or allow non-honors students to commingle even more freely with honors students in living/learning centers or regular dorms so that honors students have more contact with the study body as a whole.

Then there are honors programs, and, especially, some honors colleges, that have self-contained honors communities that are limited only to honors students, maintain their own dining halls, and offer the nicest amenities to residents of the college. These institutions typically invest heavily in their honors facilities, often with funds from large, private endowments.

We take no position on the relative merits of these arrangements, but our evaluation of honors residence halls does consider some characteristics that are in fact more typical of the newer or recently renovated facilities with better amenities. For example, we assign points for bathrooms that are not shared by entire floors but only by suite residents. We also assign points for dining halls that are located within or adjacent to honors dorms. The location of the honors residences in relation to classrooms, dining halls, student unions, etc., is a very important factor. We also give credit for honors housing that is available across the entire four years of undergraduate work, and for special amenities such as in-room sinks, free use of laundry equipment, fitness centers in the halls, and for refrigerators that are supplied by the university.

After some debate, we have decided that even though many college students value the enhanced sociability of traditional dorms with corridor bathrooms, and care relatively little for some of the other amenities listed above, many honor students would prefer quieter and, yes, nicer residence halls that have a strong academic orientation.

With all of these factors in mind, please see the following list of the universities with the best honors residence halls, according to our evaluation (revised):

1. Arizona State, Mississippi, and South Carolina, all with perfect scores of 10;
4. Pitt, Iowa;
6. Ohio State;
7. Clemson, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Washington State;
11. Alabama, Binghamton, UC Davis

Please bear in mind that no evaluation or ranking of residence halls should be the sole or major reason for choosing an honors program or college. A personal visit to the university that includes a tour of residence halls is by far the best way to make an informed choice.