Does Honors College Undergrad make a difference when applying to grad school?

D23 was accepted into the honors college at a small LAC. She currently thinks she will apply for grad school after completing a BS in Environmental Science.

Does participating in (and doing well in) honors college have any bearing on grad school admissions?

I’m sure it doesn’t hurt and could potentially help. The most important thing, however, is often undergrad GPA (whether honors or not), along with any relevant research experience/publications/relevant work.

Sometimes an honors program will have some kind of required senior thesis not required of other non-honors students. If so, I think that can be helpful as it is good opportunity to do original research and to have a suitable writing sample ready for grad school applications.


Let me ask if there are any reasons to “hesitate” about the honors college?

I agree with @worriedmomucb’s advise. But, if there are unmentioned downsides to the honors college, then I would like to add that having attended an honors college might just be one (rather small) of possibly many (bigger) factors in grad school admission.

So in case there’s some sort of trade-off, then I wouldn’t give the grad school outlook too much weight.

I would look at honors college a little differently and ask instead what resources will the college offer that is not available to the general student body? Some schools offer accelerated research, stipends for research and to attend conferences, smaller and more intensive classes, tutoring, better dorms, opportunity to register early. Some schools offer nothing of note other than the honors designation and making kids take extra classes in areas they might not care about.

Having the honors designation will not make a huge difference when applying to grad schools but taking opportunities afforded through the program definitely can. For example, discussing research at a national conference with a faculty member from a top tier research university that your kid can go to thanks to that honors stipend can pay huge dividends down the road – summer internship, inroad into grad school etc.

Also know that for grad school admissions, a lot of power lies with departments and faculty. Application pools are smaller and it is more a skill driven business above all else. No tenured R1 faculty member will take a chance on an ill prepared kid and risk losing funding.


I don’t know if just the fact that a student is in an HC would be meaningful. But most HC’s with which I’m familiar have specific research requirements, with processes to make professors and research topics available more easily. This will be meaningful to a grad school, IMO.

My daughter’s HC also has an organization specifically dedicated to assisting with grad school and honors (Rhodes, etc.) applications. The availability of such experienced, knowledgeable staff can certainly help.


Never thought of it that way - no downside, except additional work LOL!

Great point - yes, the HC offers all that you mentioned in terms of perks (dorms/registration/research/conference attendance & presentation, etc) that will undoubtedly be great for her. Thank you!

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Yes, thesis will be required - great thought!

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If grad school is in the future, the an honors thesis is an excellent “bonus” to an honors college experience and could be very helpful once grad school apps roll around to set your student apart from other applicants. And the honors designation on the diploma/transcript is nice to have, too (although probably not as critical). Get excellent grades, research and write an original thesis, and that’s a big part of the battle.

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I’m confused. Liberal arts colleges generally do not have other colleges embedded in them. I mean, large universities with 30,000+ undergrads, will have honors colleges with 1,000 or so students. A small LAC will have fewer than 2,000 students overall. How big can an honors college be, and how small can it be, and still be a “college”?

What I don’t understand, really, is what an “honors college” in a liberal arts college can actually offer that the LAC itself is not already offering? Moreover, adding an additional college would require a whole extra administrative level, and providing even smaller classes may also require hiring more faculty. That is a lot of extra expense.

My kid attends a LAC, and I cannot imagine having an honors colleges within her college, and it’s a larger LAC.

Could you please clarify?

My kid is grad-school bound, and has received a bunch of good advice about what direction to take. My wife and I have also advised students from LACs and universities on this, so perhaps I could help, but I really need that clarification because, as I wrote, I’m genuinely confused.


I think OP probably meant some LAC-like public school with an honors program, not the typical small private LAC most on CC associate with.

Regardless, OP’s daughter should take advantage of what the honors program/college may offer, particularly potentially enhanced opportunities to interact and do research with the faculty in the field she is interested in.

I do not know what college the OP is referring to, but can say that my D23 was recently invited to apply to the Honors College of a university with approx. 6,000 undergrads - it’s not really an LAC, but it is a relatively small school undergrad-wise. And they do have an Honors College. It is called the Honors College, not an honors program (and the accepted/incoming students even have their own separate funding opportunities and scholarships, which is a big draw for us).

I do not know how many students total are in the Honors College of the school, but they say that the average class size for classes within the college is < 10 students. So it must be pretty small.

My kid’s LAC has an “Honors Track” sort of thing, where the student has an honors thesis, which they write, and they also present it as a poster. However, my kid chose instead to work on research that was related to the summer internships that she did at a larger research university, which was tied to the work that she did there. She decided that it was far better for her to work on presentations from that for the national conference, and put together her stuff for peer reviewed articles than work on an honors thesis.

For most life and physical sciences and engineering, if a kid is thinking of going on to do a PhD, it’s better to go that route. Whether the student does their work at the college or goes via an internship at a research university, it’s better to focus on producing work that can be published in a peer-reviewed journal than work on an honors thesis.

However, that is usually not available many social sciences fields as well as many of the humanities. These fields have limited possibilities for undergrads to publish, or even present, their own research. In many other fields, peer-reviewed journals don’t generally accept papers from undergraduates, or have specific journals for undergraduates to publish. In these cases, an honors thesis will allow these students to have work that can be presented as work examples for grad schools.Does Honors College Undergrad make a difference when applying to grad school?

Remember, though, that the colleges within this university will include an equal number of graduate students, as well as post-docs and other research staff. That does have a strong effect on size of classes, and on how much time and effort faculty are willing (or able) to put into undergraduate education. Also, 6,000 is a lot more students than the fewer than 2,000 which would be “a small LAC”.

What I’m struggling to understand is what a “honors college” in a LAC would offer, which is not offered to the rest of the LAC. I mean, honors colleges are usually created to offer a more LAC-like experience for students in a larger research university.

@islandmama1 What is explicitly being offered?

Here an example of a public, with about 5,000 undergraduate students, if that’s close enough:

My apologies for the misuse of the term- it is indeed “Honors Program” and not “Honors College” - this is my first to graduate HS so I’m getting up to speed on ALL of the terminology.

It is NOT a separate ‘college’ in the college but rather a program.

In terms of what is being offered above and beyond the ‘regular’ college community: priority registration, honors housing, participation above and beyond the college population in research/present at conferences, one-one-one advising with dept. professor, honors only workshops, honors credit on transcripts @ recognition at graduation and honors-only community/honors alumni events.

To participate students will take extra courses and complete a thesis, present their work @ at least one conference, maintain GPA and attend twice monthly honors programming, among other requirements.

I hope this answers your question.

You see this right here is the advantage participation will have for grad school apps - especially the thesis and conference presentation. Both are great grad school prep.


Looking at what this honors program offers in regards to independent research, and especially the fact that the program is looking at conference presentation, I would say that this honors program will help.

The simple fact that the student was in the honors program won’t really help. HOWEVER, the program will provide a lot of support for activities that will help the student with grad school. While these are all things that a student can pursue on their own, it is far simpler to do them when the college is offering them as part of an existing program. So the “was part of XYZ honors program” won’t help your kid, what they will do as part of the honors program will.

In this case, considering what you kid’s honors program is offering in regards to independent research and support for nation conference participation, I would definitely recommend that your kid, or any kid who’s interested in grad school, be part of the Honors Program.


Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful insights!

Has anyone’s students felt that by being in the Honors college they were limited in meeting other students in any way? I know they will have opportunities to mingle in many different classes but one Honors college my child was invited to has specific residence halls within a medium sized public university. I wonder if that would feel limiting by junior year?

Are students beyond freshman year required to live in the honors residence hall? Our experience has been that it’s unusual for upperclassmen to live in the honors hall.