What It Means to Be an "Honors Student"

Stephanie Racker It’s funny how people are so obsessed with having the word “honors” in the title of their classes. This obsession seems to be based on an underlying assumption that colleges automatically ascribe greater “worth” to any class (and the students in it) at an “honors” level. In my opinion, while colleges do look favorably at honors classes, what matters most is whether or not you actually belong in that class academically. I know that I personally fall victim to thinking that an honors course is my only option—a “regular” class would surely hurt my success in the future. But in reality, is a C in an honors class better than an A in the non-honors class? Not only do students tend to assume an honors class will help them in terms of their college application, but there seems to be an underlying theme within the student body of honors classes being reserved for the “smart” kids. When asked about the connotation that only students of a higher intelligence level are granted entrance into an honors course, Sophomore Dean Ms. Wells said, “it is more about pace and rigor”, as opposed to honors classes being reserved for smarter students per se. Students should only seek out an honors course if the subject matter actually interests them. Ms. Wells explained that, “If a student is naturally interested in History, they might work harder.” In other words, the desire to delve deeper into a topic is why these honors courses are especially demanding, since the students in them tend to want to be challenged out of pure passion for the subject. Also, Ms. Wells made the great point that, “One could also argue that all of our courses are accelerated just by nature of being a selective school.” In other words, students will still be academically challenged even in non-honors classes. As for whether or not taking an honors class affects how colleges view students, there currently isn’t (and probably never will be) a clear-cut answer. However, it should be noted that colleges don’t only look at course selection, but also take into consideration many other factors such as extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, essays, and test scores. Just like many other teachers and adults, Ms. Wells stressed the fact that what colleges value most is seeing that you are involved in “what you are passionate about, [demonstrating] growth, appropriate and continued challenge, and attempts to stretch oneself.” Despite popular lore, colleges value students pursuing what they enjoy, rather than trying to fill up their schedule with classes that don’t interest them. Consequently, by loving what you learn, you are more likely to seek out a challenge and push yourself, meaning you’ll probably end up taking honors courses for your own pleasure and desire to learn as opposed to feeling forced to take it just for the résumé value. It’s imperative that we stop viewing non-honors classes as lesser in some way than an honors course. Sure, honors courses are a bit more rigorous, but the implication that non-honors is for people of lesser intelligence is false. Honors classes are reserved for those who are willing to take on an extra challenge, have a stronger grasp of a certain subject, and yearn to explore that subject in-depth. Quite frankly, anyone could theoretically take an honors class, but sometimes the workload and pace are just too overwhelming, making it hard to successfully learn the material. Risking your understanding of the substance of what you’re learning for an elusive honor is far too big of a gamble to take in my eyes. It’s better to grasp what you’re learning in an environment more suited to your particular ability, instead of constantly scrambling to achieve a passing grade on each honors test because you aren’t able to successfully comprehend and build on what you’ve learned. Just “getting by” in an honors class is no honor, but learning something, in whatever level you’re at, is. ]]>