The Honors Program at the University of Kentucky has program staff feeling very excited and, honestly, a little overwhelmed: More than 2,400 students applied for entry this year, as compared to 1,200 last year. The program expects to enroll an entering class of between 400 and 450.
Although those not admitted may remain active on a wait list, the yield on offers of admission already looks higher than in previous years. As a result, students on the wait list may be sorely disappointed.
Meg Marquis, director of student services for UK’s Honors Program, attributes the applicant pool’s growth to two factors: increased recruiting efforts to make sure in-state students and their school counselors know about opportunities, especially for high-ability students otherwise inclined to go out of state; and UK recruiting at more out-of-state schools generally.
A third factor, as well, may have impacted the applicant pool: The Honors application was appended to the general admissions application, rather than standing alone as in previous years, making it more convenient for students to apply.
Many denied in competitive review process
Marquis and her colleagues in the Honors Program have been hearing from unhappy students not admitted, as well as their parents. Many express surprise because they didn’t understand the quantity of applications received, nor did they understand the impact that quickly written essay responses might have had on the final decision.
Marquis urges parents to give as much responsibility as possible to students throughout the process, even at the end if questioning an admission decision.
Admission to the Honors Program is based on a holistic process in which students’ essay responses are weighted quite heavily. The three essay questions allow students to demonstrate writing aptitude and where they are in terms of thinking deeply about things, being curious and having a mind open to exploration.
There is no “auto-admit” based on grade point average and ACT, although 90 percent of those admitted have an unweighted GPA of at least 3.9. The average ACT composite for those admitted was close to 32, and more than a handful had a perfect 36. Marquis noted that a perfect score would not guarantee admission in and of itself.
All applications are read by faculty reviewers. In addition to academic excellence, extracurricular accomplishments and volunteer experience are considered. Faculty want “students who are interested in doing,” said Marquis, “students who are curious about the world.”
Although review of completed applications begins early, no preference is given to early applicants. However, Marquis observed that students who wait until the deadline to apply often approach the application less thoughtfully.
UK’s Honors Program is more than 50 years old. The curriculum has been molded to fit students’ needs and provide academic rigor, and to help students explore different courses and experiences rather than focus solely on graduate/professional school goals.