Honors Programs: Pros & Cons

“Congratulations!  On behalf of our faculty and staff, you have been carefully chosen to apply to our Honors Program.  Your achievements are commendable, and you have reason to be proud.”

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It’s gratifying to be acknowledged. You worked hard to take challenging classes and earn good grades in high school and now several colleges have invited you to apply to their Honors Programs.  Should you accept the invitation?  As with any important decision, there are several factors you should consider before you join an Honors Program.  First, let’s look at what Honors Programs represent, then we’ll evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of joining. 

What is an Honors Program?

Universities, like businesses, want to attract the most talented people to their programs.  One way to do this is is to offer admission to a smaller honors program within the school.  Honors Colleges exist to provide outstanding students access to unique programs and extended educational opportunities.  Students who join, form small cohorts tren before and after on campus, may live together in preferential housing, and take specialized classes.

The curriculum and requirements of honors programs, however, vary widely from one college to another.  Before you decide to apply, familiarize yourself with what you can gain and what you might have to sacrifice.  During my time as an academic advisor at The University of Tulsa, I worked with several students who were contemplating the same questions.  Here are their thoughts on the pros and cons of Honors.

I’m in it for the learning experience.

  • PRO: If you like to challenge yourself academically, honors might be perfect for you.  You will be required to enroll in specific honors classes to fulfill requirements.  These classes are often more demanding, so get ready for more assignments.  Since these classes are only open to honors students, you will be with the same peers each semester.  In addition, since the classes are smaller, you’ll get more of your professor’s attention.
  • CON: Depending on your major, honors courses will count as electives or enrichment courses outside of your major curriculum.  If the honors classes use up all of your elective spaces, those slots aren’t available to use for study abroad or adding an additional major or minor.  Be aware that doing both honors and other programs may delay your graduation.

 I want a good schedule!

  • PRO: I never met a freshman who wanted to sign up for early morning classes.  Honors students often get to register early, resulting in getting their first-choice classes.
  • CON: This advantage fades over time.  Once you are an upperclassman, you will be able to register earlier for smaller, major-specific courses and worry less about getting the classes you need. 

I don’t want to live in an old dorm!

  • PROColleges usually offer preferential housing for honors students.  Some living/learning communities are organized by major, making it easy to create study groups and make friends with similar interests. Honors housing is often centrally located on campus, making it easy to get to classes.
  • CON: Like priority registration, this advantage fades over time because many upperclassmen choose to live off-campus by the time they are juniors or seniors in college.

I need scholarships to help pay tuition.

  •  PRO: Many universities encourage honors college enrollment by offering significant scholarships.  Who doesn’t love free money?
  •  CON: Even though you should always keep your grades up, you must maintain a specific GPA to retain your scholarship and your place in the honors program. Some students reported experiencing extra stress due to this requirement.

I want to say I “graduated with honors”.

  • PRO: Your diploma will show that you hold an honors degree.  This can be advantageous if you plan to apply to selective graduate schools or it could help your job application stand out.
  • CON: Many students reported that their employers were less concerned about their honors distinction and more concerned with their leadership, employment, and internship experiences when making hiring decisions.

In conclusion, if you believe you would be happy in an honors program, it’s time to start asking the important questions to help you decide.  See how your college answers the following questions:

  • Are there scholarships reserved for honors students?  If so, how much and what is the GPA requirement for keeping the scholarship and staying in the program?
  • Are there special internships or mentoring opportunities available for honors students?
  • Will I be able to study abroad without delaying my graduation?  Do I get to choose my program, or is it already designated by the honors curriculum?
  • Do I get access to special resources, like tutors, leadership programs, or academic councils?
  • Will I get preferential housing?  Where is the dorm located and how long will I be required to live there?

If the college is reluctant to answer these questions, contact the admissions counselor or a current honors student.  It’s important to get the information you need to make an informed decision.  Once you have all the facts, you can decide … will this motivate and challenge me, or would I rather use my time in college in another way?  Being offered admission to an honors program doesn’t mean you have to accept.  The decision is entirely up to you!