University Honors Program: Is It Worth the Extra Work?

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Applying to the University Honors Program Might Be the Best Decision You Make in College

If you have ever attended a college graduation, you may be familiar with this scene: a school official standing on a massive stage calls out a seemingly endless list of names, family members and friends cheer, and the graduate poses for a quick photograph.

Following the reading of a student’s name those with high grade point averages are designated as “cum laude”– a Latin phrase meaning “with praise.”

However, these sought-out words are not the only honors distinction students can carry with them on graduation day.

  • Many colleges and universities in the United States host honors programs, sometimes known as honors colleges.

These optional programs are offered to select students following an application process.

  • In some cases, students may be automatically offered a spot in the program based on their past achievement or as part of a scholarship requirement.

Honors coursework is taken in addition to your degree, and members of the program are offered a variety of educational and social opportunities.

Students who apply for honors programs are often self-motivated and high achievers.

By joining the program, they seek opportunities to work closely with like-minded students and to challenge themselves in and outside of the classroom.

Why Apply for the Honors Program? Opportunities and Community

Depending on the honors program, opportunities might include:

  • Specialized classes that are available only to honors students (and therefore often have smaller class sizes)
  • Priority registration for classes
  • Honors-designated dorm rooms with updated amenities
  • Research and study abroad opportunities
  • Special distinction at graduation

Getting accepted into an honors program is an achievement to be proud of.

  • When I was accepted into the program at my university, I would ask my classmates if they were applying for honors and would consistently get the following response: “No way, why would I want to do more work?”

While taking honors classes is additional “work,” this simplistic viewpoint diminishes the life-long skills and unique experiences you might gain from participating in the program.

  • As an honors student, I was able to take classes offered only to the students in my program. These courses were smaller and the professors were enthusiastic because they wrote the syllabus and pitched the class to the honors department.

Classes can range from studying degree-related topics that are highly specific to service learning-based work in the community to interesting classes worth taking simply out of curiosity.

  • At my university, I enrolled in classes with titles such as, “What’s for Dinner?,” “Storied Anthropology,” “Cultivating Global Citizenship,” “Holocaust and the Arts,” and “Living Life on Purpose.”

I found that not only were these classes challenging, but, more importantly, they caused me to think, ask important questions, and wrestle with dilemmas that I would undoubtedly face in the “real world.”

Another benefit of an honors program, particularly for freshmen and transfer students, is that it offers the opportunity to meet other like-minded students.

Many honors programs host get-togethers, guest speakers, faculty author readings, volunteer projects, and other social events.

If you are feeling nervous about meeting new students, this is a perfect opportunity to make friendships and, perhaps, even future colleagues.

Since these programs tailor to students in all degree areas, it is also a way to meet students outside of your major.

  • Once you begin advancing in your major, you are usually less likely to have frequent encounters with students outside of your core subject.

Special study-abroad and research opportunities are also significant draws for honors students. Depending on your program, you might have the chance to win scholarship money to study abroad, or go on a smaller trip with an honors professor.

Research opportunities are also important (and especially nice if they happen to be paid).

Both of these experiences contribute to your readiness to work in the professional world, and may give you a leg up when applying for jobs.

Additionally, having professional and cultural experiences allow you to gain a better understanding of whether a particular field is right for you, and perhaps consider fields that you may not have thought to explore.

Shifting Perspectives: The Honors Program as a Community

In recent years, thinking about the honors program has shifted from a list of benefits a student receives by earning high grades, to viewing it as a community of students and faculty that value their roles as leaders and citizens.

This is a community that is dedicated to personal growth in addition to academic success.

In one study on “The Impact of Honors on the Campus Community,”

Rogers State University in Oklahoma notes that although some students were “academically advanced,” they had limited experiences in their small towns and “matured in their honors programs, their confidence increased, and they explored new opportunities that stretched their boundaries, including traveling overseas.”

This example illustrates precisely why joining an honors program might be the engaging experience you are looking for in college.

Ready to Become an Honors Student? What You Need to Know About Applying to Your Honors Program

It is important to note that it is possible to be a member of an honors program without actually graduating with honors.

Every school has specific criteria for what honors students must do in order to earn this distinction.

  • Requirements often include maintaining a high GPA, successful completion of a specific number of credit hours in honors courses, completion of a senior capstone project, and the like.
  • As an honors student, you must consider what you would like to get out of the program and how the criteria fit with your degree program.    

You should also do some research to determine if the program at your college only accepts freshman students or whether it accepts students in any year of school.

The advantage of the second option is that students who may not have qualified for the program post-high school will still have the opportunity to apply later on.

It is also a boon to students who may not have considered themselves academically motivated initially but grew and became interested after a year in college.  

Conclusion: Should You Apply to Your University Honors Program?

In the end, becoming a member of an honors college is about more than just a name designation on your diploma.

If you are interested in becoming a leader in your community, using college as a pathway for individual growth and success, and working with your peers and professors to build a better future for your community, then you should give the program a chance.

You might find out that it is exactly what you were looking for.

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