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    How to Complete the Common App Honors Section

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: January 25th, 2024
    How to Complete the Common App Honors Section

    The honors section of the Common App is one of the few times in life when it’s perfectly acceptable to brag about yourself. This is your chance to list all the great things you’ve accomplished during your high school years. When it comes to filling out this section, the last thing you want to be is humble! Read on for tips on completing the honors section. 

    What is the Common App honors section?

    While most students are aware of the Common App Essay Prompts, they want to know more about the “honors section.” This section of the Common App is reserved for you to list your academic honors and awards. Keep in mind that the term “academic” is used pretty loosely in this context. This means that art awards, publications, and athletic awards are all fair game. 

    You can list up to five honors, and for each one you’ll be asked to provide a brief description (100 characters or less). For each award, you’ll want to indicate the name of the honor, its meaning and purpose, and the years you received it. We know that it can be tough to describe your accomplishments in such a tiny amount of space, so we’ll provide some advice for that later on. 

    Why should I care about the honors section?

    The honors section is an excellent way for college admissions officers to gain an understanding of your strengths. Your activities section paints a picture of who you are outside the classroom, but the honors section is a demonstration of the things you really excel at. While the honors section certainly won’t make or break your application, it can really help you stand out if properly utilized.  

    Also read: How to complete the Common App Activities Section

    What can I include in the honors section?

    There’s a common misconception that only the most prestigious, well-known awards are worthy of listing on your application. In reality, any academic accomplishment – no matter how big or small – can be included in the honors section. The Common App classifies awards by the following categories: 

    1. School-wide
    2. Local 
    3. State / Regional 
    4. National / International 

    Remember that while you should strive to complete all five entries, it’s not absolutely necessary. Even listing one or two awards is better than leaving the section blank. If you’re at a loss for the types of awards and honors that you can include, here’s a few examples broken down by category: 

    School-Wide

    • Honor Roll / Principal’s List
    • Membership in your school’s chapter of National Honor Society
    • Athletic character recognition awards
    • Outstanding achievement in a particular subject 
    • Student of the Month / Year

    Local / State / Regional 

    National / International 

    See also: What are extracurriculars and why do they matter?

    How can I maximize my impact?

    To make the most out of your honors section, keep the following strategies in mind: 

    Be mindful of order

    Make sure to lead with your most impressive achievements. The most competitive and well-known honors should be listed first, followed by awards that are lesser known. A general rule of thumb is that national awards should be listed first, followed by state, local, and school awards. 

    Don’t waste space

    The 100 character limit can make it difficult to describe honors, so it’s important to be efficient with your space. Keep the following tips in mind:

    • Use phrases instead of sentences
    • Write each number instead of spelling it out 
    • Abbreviate (but only for well-known organizations)

    Check out the following examples and take note of how the second iteration communicates the same information with less characters:

    • In eleventh grade, I won first place in the North Carolina Youth and Government competition for writing and defending a bill on raising the minimum wage. (153 characters)
    • 1st place, NC Youth & Government, wrote and defended a bill on raising the minimum wage, Grade: 11. (99 characters)

    Include necessary info 

    Being concise with your wording doesn’t mean that you should leave out information that is necessary to describe your award. Sometimes students make the mistake of listing accomplishments without actually describing what they are. This is especially true of lesser-known regional awards. Here’s an example:

    • Winner, R.J. Simmons Award, Grade: 10

    You may know that the R.J. Simmons Award is given to students in your high school who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to community service, but college admissions officers have no clue. Try listing regional awards like this instead: 

    • Winner, R.J. Simmons Award for Community Service, performed 100+ hours of service work, Grade: 10

    Try to squeeze in as many details as you can when describing your honors. The best entries succinctly recap the meaning of the prize and why you were awarded it. Of course, this isn’t necessary for well-known awards like National Merit that are self-explanatory. 

    Also see: Coalition vs Common App: What’s the difference?

    Utilize “Additional Info” section 

    If you feel like five spaces isn’t enough to describe all of your accomplishments, use the “Additional Information” section at the end of the application to talk about the rest of your honors. Just make sure to practice good judgment when it comes to the Additional Information section. Don’t include honors and awards just for the sake of including them. Only list additional honors that you think college admissions officers should absolutely know about. 

    Also read: How to respond to the additional information section of the Common App 

    Key takeaways

    To recap, let’s go over the basic do’s and don’ts for the Common App honors section:

    Do Don’t 
    List your most impressive achievements first  List lesser known distinctions without an explanation of the award
    Be concise by using phrases instead of sentences Abbreviate lesser known organizations
    Use the “Additional Information” section if absolutely necessary  Leave the section blank if you have legitimate high school awards to include 

    Trying to decide where to apply? Check out our college lists to explore good fits for you

    Frequently asked questions about how to complete the Common App Honors Section

    Should I include AP Scholar award in the Common App honors section?

    Yes, the AP Scholar Award is a great example of an honor that you can include in your Common App honors section! This award demonstrates that you have had success in college-level courses already.

    Should I list honors courses in the Common App honors section?

    Taking honors courses is a great way to demonstrate your academic potential to colleges, but you should not include these courses in your Common App honors section.

    Although we use the term “honors” to refer to both, they actually mean different things. The honors section is for specific awards or honors that a student has received. Honors classes, on the other hand, are a higher-level course offered to high schoolers at some schools. The colleges you are applying to will see that you completed these courses when they receive your transcript, but you should not mention them in your honors section.

    Do universities care about honors?

    Yes, universities and colleges do care about honors when they review applications! More and more, colleges are looking for indicators other than GPA and test scores to indicate strong students. Honors, whether they are academic, community-oriented, or related to an extracurricular, show that a student has made an impact and shown potential that goes beyond the numbers. Be sure to list any honors you receive on your applications to maximize your chances.

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