What comes to mind when you hear the words honors program? Writing assignments? Accelerated courses? A thesis?
True, an honors program will probably require a little more work than a traditional college curriculum, but that’s only part of the story. Your honors program can truly give you the ultimate college experience. Honors program students often have the choice to take some honors classes, complete an entire degree, or just take advantage of perks like preferential registration, scholarships and other programs.
Getting started: Just do it!
In college, there’s a lot of new stuff to figure out, and it doesn’t take much to get overwhelmed. So you may find yourself hesitant to get too involved in your honors program right away.
“Some students want to hold back a bit as they adjust to the new challenges of college. They may not be entirely sure that they can meet the challenges of honors,” says John Ottenhoff, associate provost and director of the honors program at Alma College in Alma, Mich.
That hesitancy is normal. Sean Flynn, a Truman Scholar and honors student at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, says that many freshmen honors students at his school initially feel like they don’t measure up to their peers.
“Most high-achieving upperclassmen were just like you at some point,” he reassures. “I never thought of myself as someone who would achieve a lot. But I soon realized what students just like me were accomplishing, and that helped me to raise my own personal bar.”
Involve your professors
Part of the excitement of college is about meeting new people. That includes your professors, who can help you get the most from your honors experience.
Elizabeth Nettleton, an honors student and chemistry major at the University of South Dakota, recommends visiting professors during their scheduled office hours. “Go with a friend if you need to the first time. Professors are quite possibly your most valuable resource on campus,” she says.
Ottenhoff agrees. “Talk to your professors outside of class,” he says. “And talk to your adviser about more than just getting your courses scheduled. If things aren’t working with your assigned adviser, don’t be afraid to approach someone else with whom you seem to connect,” he adds.
Use an honors program to figure out a major
Even honors students enter college undecided. In fact, your honors experience can help you define and crystallize your career goals.
For example, Nettleton originally thought she would become a doctor, even though she wasn’t truly excited about the idea.
“It seemed like a natural choice for someone who had good grades and was good at science,” she says. “Honors helped me realize that a career shouldn’t be something you feel that you ‘should’ do, but something that sparks a passion inside.”
With her mentor’s guidance, Nettleton figured out how to pursue chemistry instead. She was accepted into summer research programs at the University of California-Irvine and at the Argonne National Lab in Chicago.
As an honors student, you’ll have access to truly life-changing opportunities. “Apply for programs and scholarships you don’t think you have a prayer of getting,” says Nettleton. “You never know what may fall into your lap.”
Balancing the scale
College is about more than just the classroom. “Don’t lose site of your macro goal of education,” cautions Flynn, an economics and political science double major. “Focus on your grades, but that shouldn’t be all you’re doing. A ‘B’ really isn’t the end of the world.”
Next Steppers talk back:
Q: What’s your perception of honors colleges?
A: It’s a good way to challenge yourself and become more active in your schoolwork during your college years. —Faith Bailey is from Fairburn, Ga., and a junior at Creekside High School
A: I see honors colleges as schools that raise the bar, push a little harder, and encourage learning to an individual’s fullest potential. —Jessica Humbert is from Pittsburgh and is a student at West Penn Hospital School of Nursing
A: I’m in the Honors Institute at Broward Community College and couldn’t be happier! The classes are challenging, but that only makes you a better student. Besides, the classes are small and personalized. I think they’re great! —Paola Mariselli is a sophomore at Broward Community College
A: I think that honors colleges are awesome. They provide enhanced learning opportunities for academically talented students. —Latifah A. is a sophomore at Selma High School in Selma, Ala.
A: Honors colleges are the ideal choice for those students, like myself, who are extremely motivated in the classroom as well as those who intend to pursue a graduate degree. —Juliun L. Kinsey is a junior at the Academy of Business Administration at W. T. Loften High School in Gainesville, Fla.
A: I think it’s a good idea because it fits you into a group of people who probably have the same goals as you and the same ideas. —Arie Martin is a senior at Early County High School