Considering a College Honors Program
by Jennifer Gross, NACAC
If you're looking for small classes, in-depth discussions, and an opportunity to get to know your professors, don't be surprised if your search takes you to a large public university. In an effort to recruit and retain top students, many large universities have created honors programs that go beyond a few special classes.
"Honors options at large public universities offer students several significant advantages: an opportunity to get a top-quality education at a reasonable cost, an academically challenging curriculum, generous scholarships, and special housing," says Kerry Rosen, director of admissions for the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University.
College Is Hard Enough!
After working your way through tough AP or high school honors courses, you may wonder why you should ask for more of the same in college.
"One of the questions I get from students about Honors is 'Are the courses harder?'" says Tricia Renner, associate director of admissions at Wright State University (OH). "To which I reply, 'not harder, but different.' Because class size is often smaller, students need to be prepared, to be able to discuss, to keep up with the material. You can't sit in the back of the lecture hall and sleep in an Honors course."
In an article in Next Step magazine online, Laura Jeanne Allen recalls her honors experience. "The workload was generally equal to that of my non-honors classes," Allen writes. The difference was the smaller classes and more in-depth study.
Getting In and Staying In
Each honors program has its own entrance requirements, but in general, you need high grades and test scores. Some programs issue invitations to all incoming freshmen who meet their requirements; other programs require separate applications. High grades in your first year of college could also qualify you for some honors programs. To find out the specific entrance requirements for the honors program that interests you, call the college admission office or look for information on the college's Web site. Most honors programs also require participants to maintain above-average grades while in college to remain in the program.
Researching Honors Programs
Many universities have honors options. Call admission offices or visit college Web sites to find out whether the colleges that interest you offer honors programs. Or check out the National Collegiate Honors Council, which maintains a long list of colleges with honors programs.
As you look at honors programs at various colleges, keep in mind that the programs are widely varied. Some offer a few honors courses each semester, and students are expected to take both honors and regular classes. Other programs operate as "a college within a college," with participants taking all of their classes within the honors college.
Other perks might include special housing, early class registration (which virtually guarantees that you'll get your first choices of classes each semester), scholarship opportunities, and research or internship opportunities. Some programs require a senior project or thesis.
The type of honors program that interests you depends on what kind of college experience you want. If a small, close-knit community appeals to you, the "college within a college" programs would probably be a good fit. If you'd like the bustling big-college experience, you may opt for an honors program that includes both honors and regular classes.
Before you decide on the honors program at a particular college, talk to students already in the program. Ask about the level of difficulty, how honors courses differ from regular courses, and-for the all-inclusive programs-how the program affects their social life and extracurricular activities. You may also want to ask about the atmosphere in the classroom: Are honors students competitive with each other, or do they tend to work together? Do students get to know and work with their professors?
In short, don't participate in an honors program just because it's an honor. Use the same researching and decision-making process for choosing an honors program that you're using to decide on a college. After all, the most important part of your college years is your experience inside the classroom.