Are you registered for an honors class or teetering on the edge of “I’m too freakin’ lazy to challenge myself”? Before you “yay” or “nay” the big league, you need the inside info to decide if the honors track or an honors course is worth the extra work, and whether you can take the heat.
High School Honors Courses
In high school, what generally distinguished honors (or advanced placement) courses from their standard-level counterparts was that honors classes issued more homework, required more studying and demanded more self-initiative. (But, hey, they looked great on your college applications!)
Some high schools require a recommendation or certain GPA to get into a higher-level course. Some offer rewards for taking honors, such as a weighed GPA (on a scale of 0 to 5.0, rather than 0 to 4.0), which explains why those studious, overachievers put themselves through the pain of it all. Other high schools offer no tangible benefits besides a challenge and the risk of ruining a near-perfect GPA.
College Honors Courses
Your college will have its own unique requirements and policies regarding eligibility and grading scales, so you should definitely check that out sooner than later. One consistency: Like in high school, honors classes in college can be a lot harder than basic-level courses. So why bother? Not to sound like Mom, but you’re in college to challenge yourself. And you have little to lose, since your college grades often carry less weight than your high school grades. (That is, unless your GPA is securing financial aid, maintaining your parents’ financial support or going on your medical, law or graduate school applications. In such a case, take extra caution in assessing your capabilities, since risking damage to your GPA can mess up your chances of staying in school and moving on up to bigger and better.)
Clearly, honors courses differ at every school. Here are general details, pros, cons and tips:
Pro: Typically, honors classes are smaller seminars with only 10 to 25 students. A small class size means you can develop a relationship with your instructor, and that he or she may actually know your name! This could prove handy when you need extra help, guidance on a big paper or project, a deadline extension, a letter of recommendation or even a lead on a summer internship.
Con: Smaller, niche classes mean extra attention is paid to attendance so your instructor will notice if you’re a frequent no-show. Plus, it will become painfully obvious if you come to class unprepared.
Pro: Honors classes often focus on a highly specific niche topic, like Caribbean literature and film since 1920. If you are super interested in that, or whatever topic is being offered, then don’t think twice about signing up for a semester’s worth of it, since classes that excite you make extra work worth the effort.
Con: Papers, texts and readings will probably be more challenging than a vanilla English Lit 101.
Pro: Class time in an honors course has great potential to be interesting, since the format of smaller classes tends to be open discussion rather than basic lecture. Plus, part of your grade may be determined by your level of participation, an objective measure you can use to up a not-so-hot score. So, don’t be shy!
Con: You may have to participate, and think critically. In order to do either, you will have to complete the course requirements, that is, every page of every reading assignment.