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Why You Should Enroll in an Honors Program

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: October 19th, 2023
Why You Should Enroll in an Honors Program

If you’re applying to college, you may have heard that many universities offer an honors option. Honors programs and colleges are an exciting opportunity because they provide students with special access to resources that aren’t available to the rest of the undergraduate population. But what exactly is an honors program? We’ll break it down for you. 

What is an honors program?

University honors programs are designed for high-achieving students to take advanced classes and participate in special extracurricular activities. Before we go further, though, you should know that there’s a difference between honors colleges and honors programs. Note that these terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Honors colleges are separate schools within a university. They tend to be robust in nature and feature their own classrooms and residence halls. Examples include Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College and Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College. You’ll typically find honors colleges at large public universities. 

On the other hand, you’ll find that some schools offer an honors program as opposed to a full-blown college. Examples include the University of Denver Honors Program and the University of Minnesota Honors Program. These programs may be as simple as a set of special courses that students are required to take, or something more extensive. Although every university’s honors college/program is different, there are certain characteristics that most of them have in common. Read on to learn more about honors programs/colleges and their benefits. 

Why should I join an honors program or college?

Earn Scholarships

One of the main reasons students apply for honors programs is that they’re usually tied to scholarships. Oftentimes these scholarships can go a long way in paying for your tuition. For instance, Elon University’s honors program awards its students a $13,500 annual scholarship. This amounts to $54,000 over four years. Of course, scholarship amounts vary from college to college. But the fact that you could earn a scholarship, regardless of the amount, should be a big motivator for you to consider an honors program. Not to mention, sometimes honors students are also provided with a study abroad stipend and a research stipend. We’ll talk more about research opportunities for honors students later on. 

Get a small college experience at a big school

Say that you’re drawn to the big campus appeal of a large university, but you don’t want to sacrifice the small class sizes found at tiny liberal arts schools. With honors colleges, you can truly get the best of both worlds! As mentioned above, it’s common to find small honors colleges housed within large public universities. Honors colleges became popularized in the 1990s as a way to draw highly gifted students to public universities. These days, it’s tough to find a large, public university that doesn’t offer some kind of honors distinction. That’s great news for anyone looking to attend a large school and still reap the benefits of a small college experience. And if you’re set on attending a small school, you may find that the school’s honors program provides an even more intimate experience. 

Become part of a community

If you join an honors program, there’s a good chance you’ll become part of a closely-knit community. Oftentimes honors students have the option to live in the same housing during their first year of on-campus residence. This is a great chance for students to connect with each other and form meaningful friendships. Creating these friendships during your first year of college is especially valuable, since it’s likely that you’ll know very few people on campus when you first arrive. 

Honors students also share many of the same classes, which is another excellent opportunity to form lasting relationships. Not to mention, many honors programs encourage bonding through extracurricular activities. These could include picnics, outdoor retreats, volunteer work, and special excursions. Finding your social circle can sometimes be tough in college, so having this network of friends and classmates to rely on is extremely valuable.

Take advanced classes

If you join an honors program, expect to complete a certain number of honors courses in addition to your regular classes. Honors classes are typically challenging, but very rewarding. Expect exposure to new ideas and innovative ways of thinking. You’ll have the chance to explore fascinating areas of study that you may have never even considered before. Some examples of honors classes at Elon University include “Pregnancy and Childbirth”, “Beauty and the Brain”, “Intellectual History”, “The Global Experience”, and “Sexual Ethics”. 

Like Elon’s program, many other honors programs emphasize a liberal arts curriculum that touches on a wide variety of subjects. However, some programs may focus on specific disciplines. For example, the University of Maryland has an Entrepreneurship and Innovation honors program and Rutgers University has an Engineering Honors Academy. 

You should also know that honors courses typically implement the flipped classroom model. This style of learning emphasizes discussion among students rather than the usual lecture-based format. So instead of having a professor talk at you about course material, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss big ideas and important questions with your peers. You may even have opportunities to prepare presentations with group members and teach the class yourself for a day. You can also expect small class sizes for most honors courses. 

Research opportunities

Students in honors programs typically produce a major research project, also known as a thesis, during their senior year. Thesis projects are usually tied to your major, with the goal of making an original contribution to your field of study. For instance, if you’re a journalism major then you may research the public’s perception of the news media in your town. A project like this would likely involve extensive online research coupled with a variety of in-person interviews. 

Projects also have the opportunity to be more hands-on. Let’s say you’re a computer science major. You may decide to develop a new app or piece of software for your project. Or if you’re a cinema major, you might produce a short film. Whatever the project ends up being, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to perform an in-depth exploration of a topic that you’re passionate about. As mentioned previously, some honors programs provide students with research stipends to help fund their project. 

Networking opportunities 

The benefits of joining an honors program also extend to the professional realm. When you join an honors program, you become part of an extensive network of students, alumni, and professors who can help you in your professional journey. You’ll likely form connections that will prove useful in securing internships and post-graduate employment. Your honors program may even require you to complete an internship, which will undoubtedly be a valuable professional experience to add to your resume. 

How do I join an honors program?

If you’re considering applying to an honors program or college, you need to make sure you meet the minimum requirements. Most honors programs have GPA and test score requirements that are generally higher than the regular admission thresholds. You may need to complete a separate application for the honors program, or you may be invited based on the strength of your regular undergraduate application. If accepted to a school’s honors program, you’ll probably have to maintain a certain GPA and meet other requirements to remain in the program. 

Should I apply to an honors program?

If the university that interests you has an honors program or college, you should absolutely consider applying to it. As we’ve discussed, being an honors student comes with a variety of social, academic, and professional benefits. You’ll have the opportunity to make lasting friends, receive a meaningful education, and make professional connections that could help you in your post-graduate job hunt. It goes without saying that being part of an honors program can be a very rewarding and enriching experience.

More resources for students

Honors programs can be an important consideration in choosing a college. But there are many more factors to consider. Scholarships360 has detailed guides that can help you through the process. We’ll show you what to ask on a campus visit and guide you through picking a college. You can also check out our guides on how to read a financial aid award letter and how to appeal that letter. Finally, you can learn all about demonstrated interest and what it can mean for your chances of admission. Good luck and make sure to search our site for the answers to any of your questions in the college process. Be sure to apply to all the scholarships you qualify for!

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Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Honors programs can be extremely beneficial, but you don’t have to be in one to take honors courses
  • Some students thrive in honors programs and others do not– everyone is different
  • Every college’s honors program has different pros and cons, so look at more than one if you are set on being a part of one!
  • Honors programs can help students with financial aid and networking opportunities that they might not have otherwise
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about whether you should enroll in an honors program

How do I know which honors program is right for me?

Ultimately, it comes down to the curriculum and the professors. Choosing an honors program is just like selecting which university you want to go to. Although it can feel like a pretty big decision, just remember that if you select one that you don’t like, there is always the opportunity to change your major to a non-honors program major.

Is it important to be in an honors program in college?

Although it can be a great opportunity, it is not necessary for you to be in an honors program to have an enriching experience in college. You can still take high level courses that challenge you, have networking opportunities with faculty, staff, and alumni, and be involved on campus. This might just mean you have to work harder to find those opportunities.

Will I have honors opportunities if I am not in an honors program?

There are tons of other opportunities to go above and beyond in your academics in college without committing to an honors program. There are smaller programs with less time commitment that might be a better fit for  busier schedules.


If I don’t apply for an honors program, will I still have a beneficial college experience?

Yes! There are many people who choose not to apply for honors programs who have an enriching college experience. Not joining one of these programs can free up some of your time to do other things that enrich you.  With everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. So, if you are putting your all into your general education classes and doing well for yourself in school, you will still have a beneficial college experience.


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