Best Colleges for Gifted Students

So, you have been told time and again that you have special gifts and talents that allow you to perform at higher levels than your peers. And possibly you are dreaming about Ivy League universities.

However, I believe that gifted students will be better off going to honors colleges. Many public universities have honors colleges that cost several times less than top private universities, especially if the student applies to a flagship school in their state.

Honors colleges within universities have their own facilities, funding, faculty members, and rigorous academics like most selective institutions.

Do you have an academic profile fit for the Ivies but not the budget to attend any of them? Read on.

Below, we will talk about 10 universities in the land with the best honors colleges worthy of being looked into and added to your college list.

Work on a college degree in one and you can enjoy the most rigorous but appropriate college experience and the best possible employment and career opportunities after graduation!    

gifted student

But before anything else, let’s answer this pressing question…

Honors Colleges vs. Honors Programs: What’s the Difference?

An honors college offers a separate academic experience like other existing colleges within the same university like business, law and medicine. However, it usually has better funding, facilities and scholarships. Meanwhile, an honors program is integrated into one of a small institution’s colleges.

Many college-bound teens make the mistake of using honors colleges and honors programs interchangeably when talking about their plans on earning honors degrees one day.

While honors colleges and honors programs have similarities, they have key differences, too.

As the name suggests, an honors college is a separate college or school within the university.

So, in other words, it has its own facilities and, often, faculty members, too. On the other hand, an honors program is simply housed within a university’s department, such as the College of Liberal Arts or College of Business.

Attending an honors college costs more than going to the university as a regular student. However, since it typically has separate funding, it can afford to award competitive scholarships.

It’s also not unlikely for an honors college to provide supplemental scholarships for research, study abroad programs or when students encounter financial difficulties.

Being an honors college student, you are a part of the honors college community as well as a larger community: the entire studentry of the university.

And this brings us to one of the most noteworthy perks of going to an honors college, which is more opportunity for networking. Since honors colleges are often found within large universities, students can establish more friends and make expansive networks, which students at the Ivies, because of their exclusivity, find hard to match or surpass.

Speaking of which, classes at elite schools are spent in lecture halls. Meanwhile, classes at honors colleges are more like round-table discussions, thus allowing for a more tailor-made and hands-on learning experience.

While there are many perks that come with attending honors colleges, there are some downsides, too:

  • Minimum GPA and test score requirements. Different honors colleges have different eligibility requirements, but it’s for certain that they require above-average GPA and SAT or ACT scores.
  • Maintenance of a certain GPA. Failure to maintain the set GPA could result in the revocation of your participation in the honors program and/or scholarship award.
  • Separate application process. Whether you plan on applying to an honors college during the regular application cycle or at the end of your freshman year in college, you will have to submit additional requirements and beat different deadlines, too.
  • Some courses may not be honor courses. While the majority of your courses will be honors classes, some won’t be — you might not receive honors credits for non-honors classes.
  • Longer time being in college. Depending on the honors program, it’s possible that you will have to spend an extra semester or even a year at an honors college.
  • Less time spent outside the campus. While an honors college will allow you to network with like-minded peers, it can, however, keep you from spending time with people outside the program as well as traveling, partying, etc. just like a regular college student.

Here’s something to take note of just before we discuss some of the top institutions with honors colleges perfect for a gifted student like you: All universities with honors colleges offer honor programs, but not all institutions with honors programs have honors colleges within them.

And now, the crux of this post — the 10 best universities with superb honors colleges for gifted students…

Top 10 Colleges for Gifted Students


Arizona State University

  • Location: Tempe, Arizona
  • Honors college name: Barrett, The Honors College
  • Number of students: 6,986
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $30,578 (in-state) or $48,668 (out-of-state)

Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University has a total of four campuses: Tempe campus, downtown campus, west campus and polytechnic campus. Of all the school’s honors college campuses, the one located in Tempe has the most number of enrolled honors students, amounting to 5,757.

According to Arizona State University itself, there is no minimum GPA requirement for admission into its honors college — it has a holistic admissions policy that evaluates hopefuls by taking a look at different facets.

However, 3.6 is the minimum GPA of most students who gain admission into Barrett, The Honors College.

As an honors student at Arizona State University, you can enjoy the facilities of both the public research university and Barrett, The Honors College. With a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the availability of honors academic advisors, attendees can have a personalized honors college journey as well as assistance with their honors undergraduate thesis.

Pennsylvania State University

  • Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
  • Honors college name: Schreyer Honors College
  • Number of students: 2,000
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $37,007 (in-state) or $54,071 (out-of-state)

Like when applying to most other honors colleges, applying to the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University requires you to submit two separate applications: the Penn State undergraduate application and the Schreyer Honors College application — it is recommended to submit the former first.

As of this writing, almost 2,000 honors students are attending the Schreyer Honors College at the University Park campus and most of the commonwealth campuses in various academic disciplines.

There are over 300 honor courses available at Penn State’s honors college to choose from.

According to the public land-grant research university, some of the perks that come with attending the Schreyer Honors College include priority registration, competitive honors scholarships, grants for research, career development, travel, internship, and signature study-abroad opportunities.

University Of South Carolina

University of South Carolina

  • Location: Columbia, South Carolina
  • Honors college name: South Carolina Honors College
  • Number of students: 1,574
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $32,322 (in-state) or $53,562 (out-of-state)

At the South Carolina Honors College, there is never a shortage of classes — nearly 600 honors courses are available for honors students to choose from! Some of the most popular and innovative honors classes include Engineering, French, Broadcast Meteorology and Food Chemistry.

Honors classes, on average, have around 16 students per class.

In order to apply to the South Carolina Honors College, students should complete either the Common App or the University of South Carolina’s very own UofSC Application available on the school’s online portal.

There is no published minimum GPA and test score requirement for admission into the South Carolina Honors College.

However, the majority of applicants who receive an acceptance letter from the honors college have a weighted GPA range of 4.5 and 5.0 and an SAT score between 1430 and 1520 or an ACT score between 32 and 34.

City University of New York

  • Location: New York City, New York
  • Honors college name: Macaulay Honors College
  • Number of students: 6,272
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $30,721 (in-state) or $38,671 (out-of-state)

Unlike some other honors colleges, Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York does not accept transfer students or anyone who has attended classes at a two-year or four-year institution after graduating from high school, whether or not credits were earned.

So, in other words, if Macaulay Honors College is your top-choice honors college, make sure that you apply straight to it after getting your hands on your high school diploma.

Applying to Macaulay Honors College is not the only one that’s demanding — staying a student at the honors college is just as challenging.

For instance, you must achieve a GPA of 3.3 in each of the first three semesters and a GPA of 3.5 in the subsequent semesters if you want to remain admitted into Macaulay Honors College.

There is an honors college at each CUNY campus, and most honors courses are taken at one’s home campus.

Clemson University

Clemson University

  • Location: Clemson, South Carolina
  • Honors college name: Clemson University Honors College
  • Number of students: 250
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $32,880 (in-state) or $55,872 (out-of-state)

One of the nicest things about the Clemson University Honors College is that everyone can apply to it, from incoming first-year students, current Clemson University attendees to transferees.

However, it doesn’t mean that all applicants wind up getting an acceptance letter from the honors college. Each year, according to the admissions office of the Clemson University Honors College itself, only 10% of applicants get accepted, which means that it’s just as tough to get into it as getting into very selective prestigious schools.

Unlike most other honors colleges, the Clemson University Honors College makes it clear that aspirants should be able to have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in order for their applications to be considered.

The average SAT and ACT scores of admitted students are 1500 and 34, respectively.

University of Alabama

  • Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Honors college name: The Honors College
  • Number of students: 7,566
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $31,050 (in-state) or $50,520 (out-of-state)

Before you attempt to apply to the Honors College at the University of Alabama, make sure that you meet the eligibility requirements first — yes, unlike many honors colleges out there, this one at the Tuscaloosa-based public research university makes it clear that applicants should meet the minimum requirements.

Your high school GPA should be not less than 3.5 in order to be considered. Your SAT score, on the other hand, should be at least 1360 or your ACT score should be at least 30.

Got a lower test score? No worries! If you are an in-state student, being in the top 5% of your class would suffice.

Aspirants who are either National Merit Finalists or National Hispanic Recognition Scholars are automatically admitted into the Honors College at the University of Alabama, although they will still have to fill out the application first.

UMD College Park

University of Maryland

  • Location: College Park, Maryland
  • Honors college name: The Honors College
  • Number of students: 60
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $27,807 (in-state) or $53,919 (out-of-state)

What makes the Honors College at the University of Maryland different from most honors colleges in the land is that students who wish to attend it do not have to apply — they have to be invited to attend.

But the good news is that all incoming freshmen students are automatically considered for invitation by the public land-grant research to attend the Honors College, although it’s important to note that only those who demonstrate outstanding academic ability and promise truly get invited to join.

As of this writing, the Honors College considers admitting only around 60 students per academic year.

Thinking about getting an invitation to attend the Honors College at the University of Maryland? Then see to it that your unweighted GPA is 3.0 at least and your average test score is 1462 on the SAT or 33 on the ACT.

Purdue University

  • Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Honors college name: Purdue Honors College
  • Number of students: 2,618
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $22,782 (in-state) or $41,584 (out-of-state)

In order to apply to Purdue Honors College, you will have to do it via the Common App. You will have to make sure, too, that your application is in by November 1.

Like many honors colleges in the land, Purdue Honors College doesn’t have any published minimum requirements hopefuls have to meet. The institution itself admits that it has a holistic admissions process for first-year honors students — the GPA, test scores, aptitude for rigorous learning, leadership skills and extracurriculars are all taken into account.

Purdue Honors College itself says that applicants should have a high school GPA of at least 3.3. However, according to a Chicago Tribune report, applicants with a GPA of less than 3.5 have a hard time getting accepted.

At Purdue Honors College, by the way, regular course hours can be used to fulfill honors diploma requirements.

University of Illinois – Chicago

  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Honors college name: The UIC Honors College
  • Number of students: 1,550
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $30,968 (in-state) or $45,318 (out-of-state)

No matter if you are a fresh high school graduate, current student at the University of Illinois – Chicago or a transferee, it’s very much possible for you to apply to the UIC Honors College. It all starts with submitting both the Common App as well as the institution’s very own UIC First Year Supplement.

You should also compose and submit two honors college essays and two recommendation letters.

For incoming freshmen interested in attending the UIC Honors College, there is no minimum GPA requirement, although it’s a must for them to have a strong academic record in high school, superb extracurricular activities and excellent leadership skills. Current University of Illinois – Chicago students and transferees should have a GPA of 3.4 at least.

The honors college of the University of Illinois – Chicago also welcomes home-schooled students as well as those without a high school diploma but has an equivalent, such as the GED.

UMass Amherst

University of Massachusetts

  • Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Honors college name: The Commonwealth Honors College
  • Number of students: 3,241
  • Estimated cost of attendance: $32,168 (in-state) or $52,156 (out-of-state)

Students attending the Commonwealth Honors College of the University of Massachusetts can choose from approximately 100 majors. The honors college also boasts of what it refers to as Honor Signature courses.

Simply put, Honor Signature courses are courses that are specifically designed for honors students in order for them to be able to explore intriguing topics from across various disciplines in small classes that are inquiry-based. These honors courses and the rest culminate in a two-part honors thesis, taken in the fall and spring of the senior year.

It goes without saying that the application process to the Commonwealth Honors College is highly competitive.

Freshmen hopefuls will be evaluated by the admissions officers based on the strength of the GPA, writing skills and quality of answers to application questions. Meanwhile, current students of the University of Massachusetts who wish to apply to the Commonwealth Honors College must have a minimum GPA of 3.4.

Just Before You Apply to an Honors College

Being an honors college student draws respect and admiration and opens doors to a world of opportunities after graduation, just like being a student at an Ivy League or any other prestigious school.

However, there are perks that come with attending an honors college student that you may not experience if you go to a different elite institution. They range anywhere from more affordable cost of attendance, more competitive scholarship packages, better networking opportunities to exclusive and rigorous course offerings.

Above, we talked about 10 of the best schools for a gifted student like you because they have phenomenal honors colleges, not just honors programs that many offer.

Still on the fence as to whether or not you should attend an honors college? There’s no need to fret!

While you can show your interest in being considered for honors college through the Common App or Coalition App, most universities allow freshmen to apply to honors colleges at the end of their first year. So, in other words, you can apply to an honors college either during the regular application process or while already in college.

Since different institutions have different policies on applying for their honors colleges, make sure that you research the matter when in the process of building a college list.

Before you go, here are some other universities with good honors colleges you might want to check out, too:

  • Florida International University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • James Madison University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Ohio University
  • Oregon State University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Mississippi
  • University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Vermont

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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