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How to decide if you should apply for an honors program

Honors course on the green

Natalie Tanner
August 31, 2017

Thinking about college? What you'll study? How tough it'll be?

It's easy to just go and register for the easiest classes you can find and say that you’ll push yourself once you get to your upper level courses. But don’t do that to yourself! College is all about learning and growing. 

What is honors?

One amazing way to learn and grow is through the honors program at your university. Each university will have a different version of what "honors" is, but honors programs in general are meant to push students beyond general courses and give them a more in-depth education. For example, instead of just reading an article on perspective-taking, an honors program might have students read about perspectives different from theirs, participate in class discussions, and go out on campus to talk to people with different perspectives.

Honors programs also help students gain important skills, such as how to write professional-grade research papers. 

At the University of Northern Colorado, for example, the University Honors Program is divided into the Honors Interdisciplinary Program and the Upper Division Honors Program. The Interdisciplinary Program involves classes that cover multiple subjects, rather than just math or just history. These courses help students learn how to solve complex real-world problems. In the Upper Division, students complete projects or research based on what they’re passionate about, which allows them to prove their skills and develop their portfolios before they even start their careers.

Most honors programs are competitive (they'll probably look at your grades and test scores, although this is not always the deciding factor in acceptance) and require an application that might involve an essay or two and teacher recommendations.  

What’s the benefit of doing honors?

In addition to helping you become a better learner and student, honors programs also look great on a resume. If you are considering graduate school or medical school, you might want to consider proving your ability to challenge yourself academically and personally through an undergraduate honors program. You'll show admission committees that you are a go-getter and are motivated when it comes to your education and future.

Research also shows that students who complete honors programs "have the highest academic performance and graduation rates, and shortest time to degree completion, compared to other high ability students, including partial honors students." 

Beyond that, honors programs create a community within the larger campus community. Depending on your program, you may be able to work with a cohort of honors students from the start of your first year. Beyond the classroom, honors programs offer so, so many get-togethers and fun events.

My honors experience

I am in the Upper Division Honors Program at UNC, and I love it. I am doing my senior thesis in Honors on Mental Health Stigmatization, and I picked the topic completely on my own. With the help of an advisor of my choice, I’ve done research and will complete a fully compiled thesis in under two years, which essentially means that I will have written a proposal, an abstract and a section of background history, and I will have run research and discussion on it.

I am also a Teaching Assistant for the Honors 101 course. As a Teaching Assistant, I help our Honors students both in and out of the classroom. I facilitate in-depth discussions on course material and help create a successful transition from high school into the honors programs.

I love UNC's honors program because it helps students gain deeper perspective-taking skills and helps further critical thinking skills. Another thing that I love about the Honors program is that it puts education in your hands. You are in charge of your education.