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6 Things You Need to Know About College Honors Programs


If you are considering applying to an honors program, know that there are many advantages (and some disadvantages). If you think you may want to be a part of one of these programs but are wondering whether or not it’s right for you, don’t worry! We’ve talked to collegiettes from a number of different schools and they’re breaking down the honors college basics just for you. Here are six things you need to know about college honors programs before you apply.

1. Honors courses differ from regular courses

Courses for honors students are often more hands-on than larger, lecture hall classes. They are discussion-based and project-based, and there often isn’t a lot of busy work or multiple choice testing.

“In many cases, honors classes feel easier than your normal ones,” says Sammi Burke, a recent graduate from the honors program at Siena College. “They're smaller class sizes and are often very heavily discussion-based, with an essay or two throughout the semester, but nothing like the workload of other courses.” Be prepared to be more involved in the classroom.

While some students find honors classes easier, others find them to be more time-consuming. According to Juliane Veloso, a senior in the honors college at George Mason University, one challenge of an honors program is that it is typically more reading and writing intensive. This means that honors programs tend to take up more time than other classes.

The amount of work varies from school to school, but most honors students feel that their classes are more rewarding in general. “Honors classes tend to have students who are really driven and excited to learn, making classes generally more entertaining and successful,” says Suzanne Sterns, a junior at University of Missouri Columbia. If you love school and are passionate about learning, an honors program may be the right place for you.

2. Honors programs provide helpful resources in and out of the classroom

Because of the smaller class sizes in an honors program, you will have the opportunity to network with your peers and build relationships with your professors one-on-one. The more opportunities you have to impress a teacher with your work ethic, the more willing they will be to write you a recommendation should you need one in the future.

It is also likely that you will have an honors advisor who can help steer you in the right direction both within and outside of the honors college. There may be other honors faculty who can help you out as well. Sara Capucilli, a junior in the honors program at Marymount Manhattan College, enjoys the benefits of attending a small liberal arts school. “The faculty involved in the honors program really cater to us and what we want to learn,” she says. “We even had a Harry Potter class designed for us.”

Honors colleges provide the opportunity to make a large campus feel smaller by connecting you with other honors students, faculty and staff in a more intimate setting. “I can always find two or more friends who I can study with,” says Caitlin Barkley, a sophomore at Clemson University. “Especially during my freshman year, the honors college was a community I could be a part of while still getting involved in other organizations on campus.” The communal feel of an honors college can help ease the transition from high school to college. Plus, you never know how the connections you make through the honors program will benefit you in the future.

3. There are advantages when it comes to registering for classes (and beyond!)

All college students know that registering for classes is comparable to the Hunger Games. This problem is especially real as a first-year student, because freshmen usually register for classes after sophomores, juniors and seniors have already chosen their courses. However, there is often an advantage for honors students when it comes to class registration.

“The entire honors program got to pick our classes a few weeks [before] other students,” says Alaina Leary, a graduate of the honors program at Westfield State. “I went to a medium sized school, so this was a huge help in securing the classes I needed and wanted, especially for core classes that everyone needs to take. I had the first pick at good professors and preferable class times as well, and never once did I struggle to get into a class I wanted to take.”

If you plan on applying for scholarships or to grad school like Alaina, being in the honors program can only strengthen your resume. “It was a fantastic experience and I definitely think it awarded me opportunities both in undergrad and beyond,” Alaina adds.

4. Expectations of honors students are usually higher

If you enroll in an honors program, teachers usually expect more out of you. They may put more pressure on you to produce high quality work because they know you are capable of it. Classes are also likely to be highly participation-based, which can be challenging if you are not comfortable speaking in class.  

Then, of course, there is almost always an honors thesis that you must complete before you can graduate. “The most difficult thing about the whole process was working on my thesis,” Sammi says. “Towards the end of first semester of senior year, I started feeling like I'd wasted my time because I was under so much stress and I didn't think I would get it done. I did, though, and it was all totally worth it.” If you are easily stressed out and don’t want a ton of extra work, you may choose not to enroll in an honors program.

However difficult and time-consuming your thesis may be, it will also be worth it. “[My thesis] was a huge benefit to me because I was able to work one-on-one with a professor for an entire year and I received a lot of excellent editorial feedback,” says Alaina. “Working on the project shaped the way I write and edit to this day.” You shouldn’t be discouraged from applying to an honors program just because it requires a thesis.

5. Honors students may have additional housing options

Honors students may have the opportunity to live in separate housing, depending on the college. An honors-only living environment can foster learning and provide a space where you can focus on your schoolwork. It can also lead to stronger friendships and better living situations down the road.

“Most of the students who lived in honors housing ended up staying friends and living together in apartments in the later years,” says Alaina. If you choose to pursue an honors program, you could make some of your best college friends in your living area.

Related:6 Things No One Tells You About Going to a Small College

6. You will form close friendships within the honors college

Most honors programs are tight-knit communities, which can be rewarding as well as challenging. There may be more opportunities to form close friendships, but you may also end up knowing everyone’s business.

Macy Conant is a sophomore at Gonzaga University and the student president of the school’s honors program. “The biggest draw for people and why they stay in the program is the community built within each grade level,” says Macy. “Each semester we take three courses together, as a class, which helps build that community. We also have a house on campus that is a place for honors kids to study, hang out and be together. We have class dinners every semester, and try to be as close-knit as possible. Most honors kids end up living with at least one other person from honors after their freshmen year.”

Macy says that it’s nice to have other people who understand your stress level and how busy you are. “Because we spend so much time together, it feels like a family and it's a built in social experience,” says Macy. “Most of the people who know me the best are in honors, but it can definitely become its own toxic bubble. Everyone knows almost everything about each other, which can be hard.” Like every close relationship, there are bound to be difficult moments. However, the friendships you will build are bound to be special and long lasting!

Honors programs can be excellent resources and a rewarding experience for college students. Whether or not you choose to apply and join an honors college is completely up to you. No matter what you decide, you’re going to have a great four years!

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