College and University Blog

College Honors Programs: Advanced Courses for High-Achieving Students

If you excelled throughout high school, enjoy challenging yourself academically and prefer to be surrounded with other students who feel the same, a college honors program may be just what you need. Similar to the advanced classes or honors courses that you may have taken during high school, college honors programs were designed to provide high-achieving students with unique educational experiences that go above and beyond the traditional college curriculum.

This may sound slightly confusing. Colleges have admittance criteria, so aren’t all college students high-achieving? Well, yes and no.

According to the National Collegiate Honors Council, a professional association of undergraduate honors programs and colleges, “Honors education is a general term that covers a wide variety of courses, teaching styles, and even educational objectives. While an introductory chemistry course may be basically the same everywhere, one Honors course may be very different from another equally distinguished Honors course, even if they have similar titles or subject matter.”

Honors programs typically provide self-motivated students with the opportunity to work closely with professors by participating in smaller classes, and courses require advanced levels of research, writing skills, and critical thinking. The universal goal of college honors programs is academic enrichment for participating students.

Honors Program Benefits

If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth the extra effort to participate in an honors program, most college administrators, professors, and students will respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

In most cases, honors program classes are simply more advanced versions of general courses which are required for graduation anyway, so participating in a college honors program should not significantly increase your workload.

“Taking the easy route” and skipping the college honors program might sound like a better alternative to some advanced students, and that is a valid argument. Although it’s true that honors program classes are usually more challenging than traditional college classes, most honors students earn better grades when surrounded by peers that are at their same academic level. Students that decide to skip the honors program often wind up bored in their classes and not learning as much as they could have.

Honors program students typically receive an Honors distinction on their transcripts and degree, which lets any potential internship opportunities, graduate schools, or prospective employers know that you are not afraid to be academically challenged. In fact, honors program classes are often similar to those at the graduate school level, which may help prepare students that wish to continue with their education once they earn a bachelor’s degree.

Many colleges and universities even have separate dorms or floors for students participating in the honors program, and opportunities for travelling abroad, independent study programs and internships are often offered to honors program students.

Which Schools Have Honors Programs?

The National Collegiate Honors Council reports that honors programs exist at more than 1000 colleges across the United States. These honors programs, or honors colleges, as they are sometimes called at large universities,exist at all types of schools: community colleges, private universities, and public universities can all have honors programs. In fact, as more and more students opt to attend two-year community colleges in order to save money before proceeding to four-year universities, two-year honors programs have become increasingly popular. In 2009, the National Collegiate Honors Council reported 167 of its members were community colleges—more than 13 percent of its overall membership.

As the economy continues to sag and high unemployment figures remain steady, college students are looking for an advantage over their peers, and participating in an honors program may be a good start.

Honors Program Requirements

Some schools automatically admit students that meet the requirements into their honors program while others require students to apply, and requirements to participate in honors programs vary from college to college, as do the number of students chosen.

A high grade point average and above-average test scores are typically required, but some schools also request letters of recommendation, application essays, and interviews. Students can be dismissed from their honors program should their grades fall under a certain level, and in most cases the honors program distinction will only appear on your degree if you complete a certain number of honors program courses.

If you’re a highly motivated, high-achieving student who is interested in participating in your college honors program, speak with your advisor or the head of the honors program at your school for more information!

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National Collegiate Honors Council


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.