An Ivy League Education on a Public University Budget (And 8 Benefits of Attending a Public Honors College)

As parents, we hope our teenagers will have successful careers one day. The kinds of careers that surpass their expectations and allow them to reach their greatest potential. To support your student along this path, it’s important to know about the many benefits of attending a public honors college. 

Many parents and students alike think that to cultivate a successful future, they need to attend a prestigious, top-tier, brand name school. This includes Ivy Leagues like Harvard, Duke, or Stanford.

Sometimes an Ivy League path is a good fit academically, financially, and socially for a student. But only a mere 5% of Ivy league university applicants are admitted. 

Therefore, every Ivy League applicant needs a backup plan. 

Before they decide on applying exclusively to elite universities, encourage your student to really think about why they want to attend one.

An Ivy League Education on a Public University Budget

Universities like Harvard, Brown, and Princeton are so sought after because they branded themselves as “the best and most exclusive” schools. They intentionally  set themselves apart from the other 3,500 US colleges and universities.

While it’s true they are among the most exclusive schools, it’s not necessarily because Ivy League universities offer a better education than the rest. They simply reject most applicants. 

Is exclusivity really the most important reason to attend a university?

There are many other value factors that make an elite university special, like:

  • Small class sizes
  • Outstanding teaching faculty who mentor students
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Variety of courses
  • Prestige
  • Jobs and grad school acceptances after graduation
  • A cohort of students dedicated to academic excellence

The good news is, your student can experience many of these aspects of an Ivy League education on a public university budget through an honors program. Have your student recognize the values that suit them. The benefits of attending a public honors college might just surprise them!

The first step is to have them start looking into honors programs on their own.

Look Into Honors Programs

Here are some ways to encourage your student to see all the benefits of attending a public honors college:

  • Introduce the possibility of an honors college. Since honors colleges often have their own admissions committee, it will feel like a more elite door for your student to walk through. 
  • Start researching what’s out there by the end of sophomore year.
  • Take a visit. Some honors programs offer overnight stays for high school seniors. I always recommend visiting.
  • Compare and contrast programs. Finding specific facts that help distinguish one honors program from another requires research. Use this website to get started.
  • Email the admissions office directly to discover what certain honors programs entail. 

Most importantly, let your teenager own the process. Avoid emailing or researching on their behalf. Let them take the initiative so they become the experts. 

As they research honors colleges, your student will find for themselves just how academically rigorous these programs are. The faculty are recruited from the same cohorts as Ivy League professors, the classes are discussion-based, the students conduct in-depth research, and students must work to excel. 

Once your teenager makes a connection and does the research, they will understand the many benefits of attending a public honors college. 

8 Benefits of Attending a Public Honors College

So, let’s discuss what benefits honors colleges offer, and what your student should consider when it comes to finding a great fit. 

1. Finances

Finances are not always an area that students are familiar with at first glance. 

Ivy League sticker prices are high in comparison to in-state, public universities. 

Even out-of-state universities will often give bright, non-resident and even international students scholarships to reduce tuition to in-state costs. Plus, if you’re a National Merit Scholar, you may be eligible for additional savings through scholarships. 

Public universities often make education more affordable to draw in the kinds of students that their faculty want to teach… The students who work hard and are eager to learn. 

At the end of the day, honors colleges within public universities can be a more affordable and beneficial choice than prestigious private colleges. 

Our in-house financial advisor can help you dig into the numbers

2. Social Support and Belonging

One of the most important factors in college fit is the feeling of belonging

It’s a big deal to leave home. Students need to find their next nest. Yes, it may be a little uncomfortable at first because they are on their own. But they shouldn’t feel like a fish out of water. Your student needs to belong.

Part of that belonging has to do with finding a social support system. 

Many college students find this in Greek life. Students who are part of Greek life join a social community of service and it can continue long past graduation.

Something for your student to consider is that Ivy League schools don’t have Greek life. Instead, they have other ways of creating social connections (i.e. residential colleges). 

4. Diversity 

Another factor that ties into belonging is diversity. Have your teenager consider what they need on their campus to feel like they belong. 

Before college, students attending public high schools are surrounded by a diverse group of learners. That’s a hallmark of public schools. There is so much diversity in the classroom and campus life. 

One of the benefits of attending a public honors college is meeting and melding different perspectives. Learning from others can help your teen:

  • Grow
  • Discover themselves
  • Become better world citizens

But, if your student has their mind set on an Ivy League, they need to be prepared for a group of fellow Ivy Leaguers who attended elite boarding schools. The lack of diversity can feel intimidating and lead to social anxiety or diminished confidence.

At the end of the day, students should feel good about themselves during college. They shouldn’t have to leave behind all the things that made them who they are. Have your student really consider if a diverse cohort of classmates will help them feel more comfortable and confident to learn.

5. Less Competitive Climate

Relatedly, the next fit factor to consider is the academic climate. A university’s academic climate can impact more than just your students’ grades. It also affects their:    

  • Motivation
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

Some students may do well in ultra-competitive climates. But many students, especially high-achieving ones, are not prepared for such pressure. 

At an Ivy League, your student will be surrounded by highly competitive students. Straight ‘A’ students and valedictorians are the ‘average’ at Ivy Leagues. 

One of the benefits of attending a public honors college is that your teenager will be surrounded by a variety of students. Many of them won’t have the same competitive drive. This might make their time at college less stressful. 

6. Academic Rigor

State schools may not be as steeply competitive as Ivy Leagues, but honors colleges can be even more academically challenging in their curriculums. 

Your student doesn’t need an elite university to be challenged and to grow academically. 

In fact, some Ivy Leagues have very relaxed academic requirements. For instance, Brown University has a flexible curriculum designed for bright students who want to explore new topics. 

Another one of the benefits of attending a public honors college is that there are a range of requirements that programs might have. Your student should pick the level of academic rigor that is the best fit for them.

7. Class Sizes

Class size is another important factor to consider. Small classes means students:

  • Are not just another number or a face in a crowd 
  • Can have personal attention, helping them be more poised to learn 

Different programs will have different class size offerings. Highly selective universities focus on a low faculty to student ratios whereas large universities might have 500 freshmen per class.  

Different programs also allow different levels of professor-student relationships. At prestigious universities, students may have to write their own recommendation letters. The professors just proofread them and sign at the end.

In contrast, when students develop close relationships with professors, the mentor will actually write the letter and can set the path for your students’ future. 

These are the perks at an honors college.

8. Better Mentorship

Finally, one of the great benefits of attending a public honors college is the opportunity for better mentorship. 

Teenagers are used to being assigned a teacher. But in college, they get to choose a mentor that they want to study under. 

Remind your teenager that they have choices! Have them think about what type of mentor they would do best to work with.

Professors at elite universities might not share your family’s values. They might also be so famous in their field and busy publishing that they don’t devote enough time to teaching.

You are paying for access to faculty. When it comes to program research: 

  • Have your student sit in on classes. Encourage them to make connections with professors, or talk to current students.
  • Have the “long game” in mind. Will your student connect with professors who can recommend them for their first big job one day?

Of course, Ivy League students do get jobs. But so do kids at major universities.

Graduating with an honors diploma will set graduates apart when it comes time to get a job. And the right faculty mentor can open career and graduate school doors!

An Advantageous Application Strategy

If your student is seeking…

  • Affordable tuition
  • Social support and belonging
  • A personalized education
  • Opportunities for original research
  • Close faculty mentorship

… Then they would be wise to apply to an honors college within a public university in addition to applying to their highly selective brand-name university. .

I always recommend that all students apply to at least one in-state public university. After 36 years working with students and families, this strategy has become almost a Bright Futures Consulting insurance policy. 

To learn more about the Bright Futures Consulting approach and how to start planning for your student’s bright future, schedule a free consultation today.

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