Barrett's Honors Program

The University of Utah’s Bargain Honors Program

High-quality education in the form of Honors Colleges in Public Universities is becoming ever more common. Within the University of California system most have, including UCLA, UCI, and five of the six colleges of UCSD, special honors programs. The reason behind the growth of these honors programs is public universities want to keep their best students at home, in state, and challenged by a curriculum many believe can only be obtained from the most selective universities.

One of the eminent Honors programs was described in a previous column, the Barrett Honors program at Arizona State University. The column mentioned that the Public University Honors (PUH) organization has evaluated the top public honors programs in its book A Review of 50 Public University Honors Programs.

Like most rankings there is a bit of subjectivity, although the PUH rates programs by

  1. The number of honors classes necessary to fulfill graduation requirements (the more the better)
  2. The number of prestigious scholarships garnered by enrolled students (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, Fulbright, Truman, etc.)
  3. Special honors housing and facilities
  4. Select honors study abroad programs
  5. Priority registration

Yet the best means of understanding what an honors program is all about is to look closely at one. A university with a top 50 Honor’s Program that might prove accessible and affordable to interested Californians who are willing to look beyond the state’s borders for opportunities is the Honor’s College Program at the University of Utah.

To take advantage of tuition savings, Californians should apply through the Western University Exchange (WUE). Their tuition will then be 150% of the residential tuition rate, which is approximately $11,000, well below UC’s $14,000. 

The University of Utah typically admits around 80% of its applicants. Most of the students admitted have unweighted GPAs of 3.6 to 3.9 with mean SAT scores of 1345/1600 or an ACT of 30. The Honor’s Program, in other words, is one of the most selective colleges in the country contained in large land-grant university.

Several of Utah’s departments are among the top 50 in the country including math (34), chemistry (35), computer science (40), earth sciences (42), and business (47). So if an Honor’s student were to major in any of these departments, she would be arguably getting a superior liberal arts education coupled with one of the best department curriculum in the country.   

Looking at the PUH honor’s criteria, to receive an Honors Bachelor’s Degree, a fifth of a student’s classes need to be honors classes.  This could breakdown to 4 honors core courses, 3 honors elective and one thesis preparation class. The Honors Program features an ‘Intellectual Tradition’ series of seminars showing how key ideas have shaped humanity. The program also offers Praxis Labs, project based solutions to key social problems. Finally there is the thesis as a capstone to the Honors Program.

Utah Honors graduates have won 31 Goldwater (STEM fields), 22 Rhodes, and 23 Truman Scholarships over the years; the program ranks 5th among all public universities in wining Truman Scholarships.

The Marriott Honors Residential Community (MHRC) houses 309 students with over 4/5s in suite-style rooms. Students can choose living in 8 learning themes, such as business or engineering. Each apartment suite has its own kitchen, and the community has an honors library, high speed internet, and a ski wax room. There is also the Hinkley Institute for gaining honors credit through HInkley internships; the UROP to obtain funding for research; the Marriott Library to get thesis and research advice from Honors librarians; and, 105 study abroad programs with intensive language programs in Kiel, Germany or Saratov, Russia.

The Honors Program at the University of Utah is not perfect, however: it doesn’t offer its students priority registration.

If you are an exceptional student in search of a place to help you excel on a budget, the Honor’s Program at the University of Utah is worth considering, and, to add icing on the honors, within 45 minutes of the campus is some of the best skiing in the country: all for a tuition price 20% lower than the UCs.  

The Honors College and ASU’s Barrett’s Honors Program

If you want a solid alternative to the elite private college experience, without the $230,000 price tag, then public college honors programs warrant consideration.

Though honors programs within many public colleges have been around for years, including University of Michigan’s LSA Honors Program, and University of Virginia’s Echols Scholars Program, many students and their families are unaware of the opportunities honors programs provide.

The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), (www.nchchonors.org), describes an honors program as a small college within the bountiful resources of a large university that provides personal attention, top faculty, scintillating seminars, numerous research opportunities and internships, and oftentimes scholarship money.

Public University Honors (PUH) (www.publicuniversityhonors.com)   provides criteria to measure the ‘overall excellence’ of an honors program, Listed in order of importance:

  1. The number of honors classes necessary to fulfill  graduation requirements (the more the better)
  2. Prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Truman etc.) awarded honors participants  
  3. Special honors housing 
  4. Select honors study abroad programs
  5. Priority registration.   

With this criteria in hand, PUH recently ranked honors programs, noting that among the top programs, ‘distinctions’ were slight: for example, differentiating among housing on campuses quickly becomes subjective. In any case, among the larger honors programs, those with more than 1,800 students, the top five were:

  1. University of Michigan, LSA Honors Program
  2. Arizona State University, Barrett Honors College
  3. University of Georgia, Honors Program
  4. Penn State University, Schreyer Honors College
  5. University of Minnesota, Honors Program

While Arizona State’s (ASU) regular undergraduate school accepts 89% of applicants, and is best known for its Earth Sciences department, which ranks 17th nationally,  ASU’s Barrett Honors Program requires a minimum SAT score of 1300 (out of 1600), or an ACT composite of 29, a GPA of 3.75+ (unweighted) and an essay.  In other words, Barrett’s is one of the most select colleges in the country set within a land grant mega university.

Arizona State’s honors program was created by the Arizona Board of Regents in 1988, one of the first eminent honors programs in the country. After a $10 million gift to ASU from Craig Barrett, the then CEO of Intel, and his wife, who was an ASU alumna, the Honors College assumed Barrett’s name. The Barrett campus comprises seven residence halls all of which have classrooms for seminars and classes held exclusively for honors students.

Looking at the above PUH criteria for ‘overall excellence’ in an honors program, Barrett’s Honors Program satisfies all of them. Freshmen entering Barrett’s Honors Program are required to take 30% of their total graduation credits in honor’s courses. This ensures rigor and more access to smaller class size and faculty. Additionally, the Barrett Honors students are among the best in the country. ASU was awarded 26 student Fulbright scholarships (out of 60 applications) for 2013-2014. That is third among all the colleges in the country, just behind Harvard and the University of Michigan. Barrett’s also leads in recruiting National Merit Finalists: in 2006, it had over 180 National Merit Scholars enroll.

Barrett Honor’s students also have access to dedicated Honor’s Faculty Fellows along with over 1400 honors faculty across all the ASU colleges. Its housing is spacious and central, the dining hall offers exceptional range and quality, while the Honor’s Hall contains its own exercise gym, coffee shop, computer lab, and lounge area. Beyond this Barrett has a ‘three pronged advisory system’, exceptional research opportunities and funding, and even its own endowment.

Despite all this, Barrett’s gets no respect: among the top 50 public university honors programs it is perceived as 48 (Public University Honors). However, when measured by the students for ‘overall excellence’, it always ranks among the top three.

If you are feeling alienated and underappreciated by the run for the Ivies, or the other highly selective schools dotted across the country, public universities might prove to be an antidote. Apply, visit and consider them. They might be the perfect alternative to launch you toward your own drive for excellence.