Apr 4, 2012

UVa Echols Scholars Program among Top in the Nation

In a soon-to-be published guide to honors colleges, the University of Virginia Echols Scholars Program came in second only to the University of Michigan for “overall excellence” of honors programs housed within 50 highly-regarded public universities.

The ranking, completed by Public University Honors, is based on curriculum, retention, graduation rates (of honors students), housing, prestigious scholarship awards, study abroad programs, and availability of priority registration.

A Review of 50 Public University Honors Programs, a 275-page guide to be published later this month, looks at public universities ranked among the best by U.S. News & World Report as well as all members of the research-oriented Association of American Universities. The College of LinkWilliam & Mary was left out because it is not classified as a “research” university, and UC Berkeley was not included because of its status as an “honors” university.

The average honors enrollment among the 50 universities reviewed was just under 1800 students. With between 1200 and 1300 students, UVa’s Echols Scholars Program comes within the heading of “small” programs within large universities. The University of Maryland, on the other hand, invites about 1000 undergraduates each year to its Honors College, and the program usually numbers about 3000 students on campus.

Honors education is an exciting option for many students and defines excellence “in an increasing number of public universities.” The honors programs are important to universities because they attract high-caliber students, and they are important to students because they represent relatively affordable paths to high-level research, more personalized campus experience, and the best in undergraduate teaching.

But these programs vary enormously and comparisons for the purpose of ranking would appear enormously difficult.

For example, unlike many honors programs, admission to UVa’s Echols is not “quantitative” in nature, and there is no “magic score or rank” that will automatically earn an invitation to the program. And it is limited to the College of Arts and Sciences. Application essays are carefully reviewed, and the office of admissions looks for academic leaders as well as intellectual “risk-takers.”

Invitations to the University of Maryland Honors college are also not based on a numerical threshold, although most successful applicants are “among the most academically motivated and talented students” in the entire group of admitted students. There is also no separate application for the UMd Honors College, but the program is open to all undergrads regardless of major or school.

Both programs offer a shared first-year living experience, special faculty advising, research support, and priority registration. And both have a proven track record of success.

Using readily available data from 50 research universities, Public University Honors ranks the top honors programs in terms of “overall excellence” as follows:

  1. University of Michigan
  2. University of Virginia
  3. University of Texas at Austin
  4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  5. Arizona State University
  6. University of Washington
  7. University of Minnesota
  8. Michigan State University
  9. University of South Carolina
  10. University of Georgia

Keep in mind that like any other "ranking," this list represents one organization's opinions. The program descriptions provided in the guide and on the website are actually much more valuable.

For more information or to download a copy of the guidebook, visit the Public University Honors website. For more general information on honors colleges and a directory of many honors colleges, visit the National Collegiate Honors Council.

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