5 Reasons Why Honors Colleges Are Better Than Ivy Leagues

Co-authored by Renae Hintze

What can be a HUGE source of debt? 

Student Loans.

If you have an extra $60,000 or so to throw every year, then why not go to an Ivy League school. But for those of us who don’t, you can get just as good of an education AND all the benefits of an elite university from attending an Honors College.

The best part? You’ll be DEBT-FREE.

1. Affordability

In the chart below, the red caps represent the 8 major Ivy League Schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale).

The 13 blue caps represent various, existing Honors Colleges, which all fall at least $10,000 under the Ivy League schools’ total expenses per year.

ivy v honors cost

Full-Ride Scholarships

Ivy League Admissions require higher test scores and GPA than the universities with Honors Colleges.

What does that mean for you? 

Grades and test scores that get you IN to an Ivy League can earn you a full-ride scholarship to an Honors College.

To get accepted to Yale you need to have a perfect SAT and/or ACT score AND 4.0 GPA, off the bat. That’s before we even start talking about you creating your own non-profit organization at age 15.

Check out the difference between those hair-line thin chances, and your chances of getting into Purdue Honors College… Where’d all the red go? 

purdue vs yale2

So let’s say you’re a National Merit Finalist.

At an Ivy League, you may be one of many. But, at Texas Tech Honors College, you qualify for 100% of your attendance to be paid, annually.

Worried you’ll be selling yourself short? 

Student Ronald Nelson was accepted into all 8 Ivy League Universities, and still chose to attend a public university when they offered him a full-ride scholarship.

“The Ivy League experience would certainly be something amazing, to make these connections, and have these amazing professors,” he said. “But I really do think I’ll be able to make the same experience for myself at the college I chose.”

2. Still Experience an Elite Education

Honors Colleges hold their students to higher standards than the rest of the students at a university.

Honors Students Will Experience

  • Signature Courses
  • Honors Contracts
  • Honors Seminars
  • Honors Thesis

What are Signature Courses? 

This varies between Honors Colleges. Signature Courses are courses that are taught at a level higher than other courses at the university for honors credit.

At Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, students are required to complete Signature Courses including “The Human Event” and “The History of Ideas”.

Regular, non-honors courses can also be taken for honors credit, which generally requires additional coursework within each class. Schreyer Honors College at Penn State calls this option the Honors Option.

What is an Honors Contract?

An Honors Contract is another option a student has to collaborate with a professor of any course in coming up with additional material that will make it eligible for honors credit.

Honors Colleges like Barrett and Purdue offer Honors Contracts.

What is an Honors Seminar? 

Honors Seminars are special seminars offered to students by the Honors Colleges in addition to Signature Courses and regular courses adjusted for honors credit.

What is an Honors Thesis?

Honors Colleges require their students to submit and often present an Honors Thesis prior to graduation.

An Honors Thesis is a research-based or creative project that essentially embodies the students’ overall honors experience. All Honors Theses require, of course, a thesis, which they then must work to prove through the following:

Honors Theses Involve:

  • Goal-Orientated Planning
  • Research & Writing
  • Well-Drafted Proposals
  • Creative Pursuits
  • Time Management
  • Clean Presentation

The Honors Thesis gives students the opportunity to expand upon an area of study they are most interested in by utilizing scholarly methods and professional presentation.

I’m going to let you in on a secret… I went to Barrett Honors college, and for my honors thesis I created a business plan for a tutoring company I had in mind. (aka Student-Tutor) With the help of my professors we created a service that now operates nationwide helping skyrocket students’ grades and test scores.

It’s funny to think that you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now if I hadn’t had that opportunity. I still keep in close contact with many of my professors. We developed strong relationships and I continue to seek their advice and now even turn to them for employees!

Who could have known? 

3. More Opportunity for Networking

Ivy League schools, by default, are exclusive in all things — that includes admissions.

As a result, the total population of an Ivy League school can make up as little as 8% of a larger university’s student body.

Less students = Less networking opportunities.

By attending an Honors College, you are still a member of a larger student body, and you are able to make many more connections that will help carry you through your career.

brown vs barrett

Not to mention the community that is available to honors students.

Honors Colleges put an emphasis on creating a community of honors students and faculty who offer support and additional help to honors students.

4. More Focused Studies

Class sizes for Honors Colleges are meant to be smaller. For example, Barrett’s class size is generally limited to 25 students.

According to an article titled “Why Your Kids Shouldn’t go to Harvard (Even if They Could Get In)”:

Class sizes at places like Harvard are unconscionable. A freshman or sophomore is likely to spend half of class time in an auditorium.

Ever gone to a baseball or football game and tried to signal to your friend where you were in the stands? 

Even standing on the top of your seat, waving your arms back and forth, it probably still took them a while to spot you… if they did at all. Some college classrooms are the same way.

If the class is large enough, there will be students that fall behind. Smaller classes allow for students to ask more questions and tailor the class more toward them.

It also give their teacher more time to work with individual students after-hours.

5. Teachers Invested in Your Success

Like I mentioned before, professors with smaller classes have more time during and after class to address the questions of individual students.

If you don’t quite understand a concept, or need further clarification, you have the chance for one-on-one time with the professor of that class.

Where can I get started?

After reading all of this, you may be wondering how to FIND an Honors College for your student.

Top Honors Colleges

These are just 5 of the top-rated Honors Colleges available.

View a complete list of Honors Colleges.

Are Honors Programs the same thing?

It’s important for to me mention that an Honors PROGRAM is not the same as an Honors College.

Many universities offer what are called Honors Programs, and Honors Colleges are a more recent development. They are not the same. 

In fact, according to a Case Study on the differences between the two, Honors Colleges excel in significantly more areas than Honors Programs.


Don’t go to an Ivy League school just for the name.

You can experience just about everything an Ivy League school has to offer by attending an Honors College, for a price that doesn’t leave you drowning in debt after graduation.

Remember, just because you CAN get in, doesn’t mean you should go!

Let’s review real quick. Honors Colleges are better than Ivy Leagues because…

  1. They’re affordable
  2. You’ll still experience an elite education
  3. There’s more opportunity for networking
  4. Your studies are more focused
  5. Your teachers are invested in YOUR success

Know someone who chose to attend an Honors College over an Ivy League school? — What was their experience? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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4 years ago

These are valid points. As long as you go to a good school and take advantage of opportunities they create for you, you can leverage wonderful relationships and experiences into your career and beyond.

Going to an ivy league does not guarantee great network connections but it does guarantee lots of debt. If you can gain the connections and avoid the debt at an honors program, that is a really smart choice.

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