Honors Education

Last week I attended the 50th annual National Collegiate Honors Council Conference. It was four days of learning, brainstorming, and discovering best practices for college/university honors programs. Despite working in an honors program, I had no idea how mainstream honors education is in the higher education system.

Honors, in college, is much different than being an honors student in high school. At the collegiate level, honors programs at not universally designed. Each institution designs a program to meet the needs of the students within the scope of the college/university. The scope comes from the institution’s mission statement, goals, and education (major) programs. Honors education incorporates a style of teaching which is often interdisciplinary in approach and a classroom atmosphere of engagement through discussion and interaction. Needless to say, it is much more than a high GPA.

High school students, as you are exploring colleges, inquire about honors opportunities. You may be surprised to find out you qualify for an honors program or honors designed education plan. Honors programs exist at small private colleges, liberal arts colleges, large institutions, reasearch I universities and at community colleges! Most honors programs, or honors colleges (yes – some institutions have entire honors colleges on campus), take a broad view on what qualifies a student for honors. The high school GPA will be evaluated, but exam scores (ACT/ SAT) might not. AP or IB courses may be accounted for, but not always (we do not use them for course replacement at the university in which I work). For certain, an honors program is looking for students who embrace being challenged, have academic hardiness, grit, determination and motivation. Those would be excellent items to highlight in an application essay!

If you are accepted into an honors program, and you choose to participate, know what you are getting in to. Understand the curriculum, the academic requirements, extra curricular activities, etc. These programs are an enhancement to your education, but they are not for everyone – make an educated decision for yourself (not your parents)!

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