During the fall I wrote that public honors colleges could be winners within our COVID reality. I have had the privilege to visit some in person, but none as large as the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass-Amherst. I had an opportunity to take a short virtual tour of the Honors College Residential Community, which has some really nice facilities, as you can see from the picture above, and two below. UMass has also posted a recent student panel. That panel presented just before we all felt the impacts of the pandemic.
The Commonwealth Honors College has 3,700 students. It’s as large as some “mid sized” schools. It welcomes between 600 and 700 freshmen each year. They will be just under 15 percent of the entire freshman class, a much larger percentage than you would find at Rutgers or Penn State. Their SATs have averaged around 1400, the ACTs around 32, with high school GPAs around 4.3, all pre-pandemic. These numbers are about what you would see at all but the most selective national universities or liberal arts colleges. However, you have to be admitted to UMass-Amherst, and be invited to join the Commonwealth Honors College community. UMass went test-optional this year, and will continue to be test optional for another two cycles. This year only 40 percent of UMass’ applicants, including many chosen for the Honors College, submitted scores.
Write your Common App essay with that in mind. The admissions office will not accept photographs, recordings or writing samples, only portfolios for majors that require them. But you can refer to these exhibits in your essay. UMass also asks applicants to have a first and second choice of major or to choose from one of seven Exploratory Tracks. Someone who has demonstrated a commitment to an intended major or career through schoolwork, extracurricular activities or community service might be at an advantage in admissions to the Commonwealth Honors College.
Current UMass students with a 3.4+ GPA may apply to transfer after they have accumulated at least 12 credits. Other schools make you wait at least a year. Rutgers limits their Honors College to first-year students. The UMass Commonwealth Honors College also considers applications from transfer students applying from other colleges and from community colleges in Massachusetts.
Honors 201 H, Ideas That Change The World, is a critical thinking course that cuts across many disciplines is taken during the freshman year. Sophomores take a 1-credit Honors Discovery Seminar from a selection of courses. Juniors and seniors may opt for Multi-Disciplinary Honors or Departmental Honors. Multi-Disciplinary Honors students may have a major, but also want to pursue honors work across more than one major. Departmental Honors students are typically interested in advanced study in their major or a career that is related to their major.
It offers honors courses in virtually every major, a dedicated residence hall and advising team. There’s an actual Induction Ceremony which went virtual last fall. There are also Residential Academic Programs (RAPS) that are specific to the Honors College. However, the university offers many more RAPs outside of the Honors College to make a large public university feel small. UMass might also have the only public honors college where students can also take courses at selective private colleges. They can also take classes at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith. UMass-Amherst also offers the option for co-op or credited internships for most majors, even through the Honors College. Most similar schools do not.
I last visited UMass-Amherst in the fall of 2017. You can click that link and read my observations about the campus and the academics. if you are looking for a “spirit and sports” experience with high-profile football and basketball teams as well as a vibrant Greek social community, UMass-Amherst will not be your school. If you’re looking for that, and want to compete for an honors opportunity, you might want to look at Penn State-University Park or the University of Delaware. But I do find UMass-Amherst to be one of the better public universities for the community as well as the academics. It’s one of the better public university values, even for a non-resident. I even named it a Public Ivy for the current academic year as well as the year before. It was a runner-up for the previous two years.
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Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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