CSU Fort Collins Honors Program vs CU Boulder

Hi Folks. One of my kids (OOS) is applying to both of these schools for Fall 2021. We visited pre-COVID and fell in love with both of them. We saw CU first, and she didn’t think a school could get any better. Then we visited CSU, and she liked it equally. They appear to us to be very similar schools in very similar towns. My dd is a very motivated student and plans to apply to the honors programs at both. Does anyone have any insights as to which school offers better academics? From my online research, it appears to me that, in terms of academic rigor and opportunity, CSU honors > CU honors > CU general > CSU general. I may have that completely wrong. I would appreciate any feedback from those in the know. Thank you!

Generally CU will offer more opportunities. What’s her planned major?

At the moment, she plans to major in biology (maybe biochem) and English. That may change (she’s just going into her senior year in high school).

OP wrote that CSU in Fort Collins and CU-Boulder “…appear…to be very similar schools in very similar towns.”

This is not my impression at all & I have been to both many times.

P.S. If you find Fort Collins similar to Boulder, then just select whichever school offers admission to the honors college / honors program for strong academics.

Ft Collins and Boulder are not really alike at all. Even the instate student who pick CU over CSU are different. Both are great, just different. CU is more urban and CSU more western.

For an OOS student, CSU is likely to be cheaper. There are more merit opportunities and grants, and the base cost is cheaper at CSU.

CU is closer to the airport and to Denver. It may be the little things that make the decision in the end.

OP: You really need to revisit Fort Collins & Boulder if you think that they are similar. They are not.

Boulder is a wealthy, sophisticated, high-tech community; Fort Collins is a haven for retirees & has a presence of Western / Cowboy types.

In my view, the two schools & the locations cannot be confused as they are quite different.

Also, CSU has a higher percentage of state residents (70%) than does CU-Boulder (about 57%).

Thank you for your feedback, Publisher. We visited both schools and both towns pre-Covid. Fort Collins has been growing much faster than Boulder (probably because it’s more affordable) over the past 30 years and has its share of high tech companies, vegan restaurants, microbreweries, cute but overpriced specialty stores, trendy coffee shops, Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s, and traffic congestion. I think my daughter would find plenty to do in either one.

I’m most interested in educational rigor. When we toured CSU, we struck up a conversation with an in-state family who told us that CSU has a more comprehensive honors program and would offer a better undergraduate education if my daughter were to use the program to the full. I don’t know how accurate that is, and I know CU has the better overall reputation.

We planned the visit around seeing CU and added CSU as an afterthought (it’s not well known in our state). These two schools are currently at the top of my daughter’s list of favorites.

Why CU-Boulder & why CSU ?

If I recall correctly, your daughter has a very high ACT score–possibly a 35. Is this correct & are her grades & class rank exceptional as well ?

Any career plans or goals ?

As you recognize, the academic / learning environment is a very important part of one’s educational experience.

If the primary concern is educational rigor, then why limit a 35 ACT student to these two options ? Is there a particular academic program or other interest not found elsewhere ? Or is it just a matter of geography ?

Ft Collins does have some high tech companies. Big Intel office there.

Of course someone at CSU is going to say its honors program is better than CU’s. I’m sure I could find 10 people at CU that says it has the best honors program in the world.

Why don’t you look at the offerings of the two programs and decide for yourself? There are videos.

Thank you for the responses!

Publisher, location is important to her, partly because she loves Colorado and partly because we might be moving to Colorado soon (up in the air but looking more likely). In-state tuition is very attractive when you have six kids (their initials make up my handle here). She loves horseback riding and has visions of trail riding (I think CSU might have the edge on that one). Yes, that is her ACT. I don’t think she’d necessarily be a standout at either school. I understand there are students with perfect ACT and SAT scores at both CSU and CU and more kids are getting specialized ACT/SAT coaching (she did not, but she worked through a book on taking the ACT) and then bumping up their scores by 4 or 5 points, so I don’t know how meaningful those numbers are anymore. However, her scores, grades, and academic enthusiasm are why the quality and rigor of the honors programs are very important to us.

twoinanddone, I’m having some difficulty in evaluating the relative quality of these honors programs. I’d love to hear from someone who has attended one of them.

If I understand, it is primarily about in-state tuition.

If I recall correctly, it is easy for non-residents to qualify for resident rates after the first year in Colorado.

An applicant with a 35 ACT should consider more than two schools if undecided on major.

Colorado is a wonderful & beautiful state.

Publisher, you are correct that she should be looking at several schools and also that affordability is important. She is planning to apply to five or six schools, but she is zoning in on these two. I currently have two kids in expensive private LACs. I’m trying to be fair to this particular kid, but we’re struggling with cash flow right now. I plan to make it up to her by helping her with grad school (the others are on their own for grad/professional school). Another way to even things out would be to get her a horse and stable it near her dorm. With merit aid and in-state tuition, CU and CSU would be very affordable.

Would an honors program at CU or CSU give her the same opportunities as her private school siblings? I’m confident she’d be happy at either of these schools. The recreational opportunities are incredible at both, and I hope the honors programs would give her an outstanding education. I want her to have the same advantages her private school siblings have.

@DadIDJAME If your child will be graduating from a Colorado HS, look into this full ride scholarship:


It can be applied at any school in the state, including the privates like DU and Colorado College.

If the whole family moves to Colorado, it is easy to get instate tuition in one year (365 days). If just the student moves, then no, no instate tuition.

For horses, CSU is MUCH better than Boulder. A friend is at CSU with her horse. She boards it at the vet school facility and works there to pay for its fees (because she wants to work there - her parents could and would pay). CU is not a horsey school.

There are ways to make large schools feel smaller and one way is through the honors college. However, CU and CSU are still large state schools and you aren’t going to turn them into small LACs no matter what you do. She’d get an outstanding education at either school without the honors college if SHE makes it happen. The opportunities are there.

Make sure you aren’t comparing OOS merit scholarships with instate. Just make sure you are comparing the right things. You can’t just say ‘she’ll get this merit, and if you deduct it from instate tuition then it will be cheaper.’ CSU has more grants available for both instate and OOS, and has a cheaper COA to begin with. CU is a very expensive school for OOS students.

Another option is Wyoming. Lots of horse opportunities, much smaller campus, honors college. MUCH cheaper. CSU and Wyoming have more agriculture options than CU. The schools have a big focus on agriculture, ranching, animals.

In my total biased opinion (GO BUFFS), CU would have the best English program. Biology would be based on what kind of bio she wants. CU has some pretty good bio programs too.

@DadIDJAME I forgot to mention that if she graduates from HS in Colorado and you establish residency the WUE schools (Western Undergraduate Exchange) offer reduced out of state tuition for members of the consortium.

There is also great merit money to be had at Arizona State and U of Arizona for high stats kids.

It is, or in the not too distant past–was, easy for graduate students to qualify for resident tuition rates after one year. The law school at CU-Boulder publicly touted this benefit in response to complaints about the law school’s lack of merit scholarship awards / money.

Not sure about particulars, but it may depend upon age of student & whether or not student is declared as a dependent on income tax forms. And, of course, things may have changed in the last few years (as Fort Collins has apparently changed through increased development according to OP).

My impression is similar to @twoinanddone’s regarding CU-Boulder & CSU with respect to horses. CU-Boulder had a lot of avid snow boarders / snow skiers.

Whether or not CU Honors & CSU Honors has similar employment recruiting or benefits as the two different private expensive LACs probably depends upon the particular LACs & the student’s major & targeted industry.

I just finished watching several YouTube videos about CSU & Fort Collins.

Still seems to be a clear difference between Boulder & Fort Collins.

In 2018, the average price of a home in Boulder was $1,000,000 while in Fort Collins the average home price was $380,000 according to a professional video made by a Colorado TV news crew.

CSU has the feel of a state school while CU-Boulder feels more upscale and more similar to a private school & more cosmopolitan. Not suggesting that one is better, just different.

CSU & Fort Collins have more open spaces & , arguably, the nation’s best vet school. CSU is better for horse lovers due to the abundant open space & the presence of the vet school.

With respect to jobs / career opportunities in general for undergraduates, I would examine internship opportunities.

The downtown areas also seem quite different to me. Boulder is a very wealthy community & it shows. Fort Collins is more down-to-earth. Both are great, but a college student should prefer one over the other in my opinion.

Colorado resident here. My kids didn’t go to either CSU or CU but we took a look at them and liked them. Many of my children’s friends had a choice between CU and CSU. If you can get into one, you can usually get into the other. Within Colorado, the two schools are seen as roughly equal. Outside Colorado, CU is much better known and a degree from CU will be looked upon more favorably by future grad/professional schools and employees. That might be important in the future.

Academically CU is very strong in engineering, geology, physics, and music. CSU is very strong in business and life sciences. The average SAT at CU is higher than at CSU by about 70 points and the average ACT by about two points, so CU has a more “intellectual” ethos. I have also heard that they use the same textbooks for many courses and cover the same material. CSU has an outstanding honors program. Honors students can live in palatial dorms in Academic Village, take honors classes each semester, and complete an honors project in their senior year. They can also take regular classes with an honors option, which gives them mentored research opportunities and a more rigorous curriculum. As I understand it, the honors programs at CU are more social than academic and do not include a great deal of academic enrichment (I think you can take one honors class per semester and I’ve heard it’s hard to get into them).

CU and CSU have over 30,000 students so there is no real “stereotypical” student. Some say CU is “sophisticated” and CSU is “redneck.” Some say CU students are “spoiled party-goers” and CSU is “unpretentious.” The reality is that you get all sorts of different people at each.

The students we know at CSU and CU mostly love their schools and lead privileged lives. CU has the Flatirons and is closer to skiing. CSU has the Horsetooth Reservoir and one of the best indoor aquatic centers in the nation (lazy river, steam room, sauna, etc.). I’ve heard the food is better at CU and the dorms are nicer at CSU. Boulder and “the Fort” are incredible places to live with lots of recreational opportunities and good restaurants. As twoinanddone points out, CSU is ideal for a horse enthusiast.

Another option for your daughter might be the Colorado School of Mines? It’s an outstanding school for a bright kid, although VERY STEM-focused. If she’s interested in biology, Mines offers biochemical engineering. She couldn’t major in english there, but she could minor in “Culture, Creativity, Communication,” which includes creative writing and literature classes.

Since 2012, I have written and published profiles of 70 public university honors colleges and programs, including CSU’s University Honors Program. The Maggie777 is correct about the CSU UHP being much more comprehensive, now with about 1,700 students. The UHP offers excellent honors seminars for Gen Ed credit, has state of the art housing, offers a lot of honors courses in biological sciences, and is involving more students in research and senior thesis work. For students who enter the UHP, the six-year grad rate is about 87%, although, as is the case with all honors colleges and programs, not all of them complete the honors requirements. In 2018, CSU UHP had an extremely high completion rate of 75%, among the leaders nationwide.