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What are Honors Courses?

honors classes

Honors courses generally refer to exclusive, higher-level classes that proceed at a faster pace and cover more material than regular classes. Honors classes are usually reserved for talented high school students who excel in certain subjects. Passing an honors class is an excellent way for high school students to demonstrate their academic competency and discipline to college admissions boards.

What are Honors Classes?

The term honors course is commonly applied to a variety of high school courses that are considered to be more academically challenging. Students who enroll in honors classes typically receive more academic recognition and use this to help them secure scholarships and entrance to their target college. 

From a historical perspective, honors coursework implied demanding college-preparatory classes that were intended for high achievers or academically accelerated students. Nowadays, honors classes are open to any student who secures a teacher recommendation or maintains an average grade of B or higher in a similar class. 

Note that there are no official standards when it comes to the term honors course, so these classes may vary greatly in design, quality, and content depending on the school you attend.

What Is the Meaning Of Honors Classes?

The word “honor” comes from the Anglo-French honour. It denotes position, distinction, victory, triumph, and dignity. It was first used to describe academic excellence in the term “honor roll” in 1872

What Is an Honors Courses vs. An AP Course?

There can be a lot of confusion regarding the differences between an honors course and an AP course. Since both are designed to demonstrate academic excellence, the two are often confused. However, there are some key differences between the two.

While an honors course may advertise itself as the most challenging course available, specialized Advanced Placement (AP) courses are more academically rigorous. 

The levels of rigor for honors and AP courses drastically vary by state and by school. Some factors that contribute to the academic variation and class outcomes include the faculty, students, and geographic area.

AP Courses

The primary difference between honors and AP is that AP courses result in college credit. In order to receive college credit for a completed AP course, the high school student must pass the AP exam with a score of three or higher. Most colleges require a score of at least four, with a maximum score of five. 

Students who enroll in AP courses also need to take AP exams in the Spring. These exams (and all AP classes) are standardized and created by College Board. In this respect, they are more similar to actual college courses, except that they are typically even more demanding. They usually require more reading, more challenging exams, and higher expectations overall.

The good news about AP courses is that those who perform well on the exams will get college credit for each course they take. They can then transfer these credits to the college of their choice after finishing high school.

Honors Courses

Honors courses are much more flexible than AP courses. Since there is no standardization, schools can create honors programs on any subject they choose. The curricula may be determined by state officials, school district administrators, and even the honors teachers themselves. 

Students do not get college credit for completing honors courses. Honors courses are designed for students who want a more challenging curriculum and are willing to put in the extra effort needed to demonstrate their academic motivation.

What Are Honors Classes in High-School Classes vs College Honors Classes?

At the high school level, regular classes are suitable for the needs of the average student. These classes are also called standard, on-level, and college prep classes. They meet all the state requirements and are taught at a level designed for typical college-bound students. 

Honors classes are a step above regular classes. They are more in-depth on a subject and usually move at a faster pace. Additionally, they are more demanding in terms of preparation, time, and studying. Teachers typically expect more out of students when they are taking an honors class. At many high schools, honors classes go hand-in-hand with things like science fairs and other special projects. 

Regular vs. Honors Classes

Regular High School ClassesHigh School Honors Classes
Paced for the typical studentFaster-paced
More direct instructionStudent-led learning
More teacher supportTeacher acts more as a coach
For typical student who wants a passing gradeFor students who want to be challenged above and beyond what is expected
Less homeworkMore studying and independent work

What Are Honors Classes in High-School Classes vs College Honors Classes?

The most significant difference between high school honors courses and those offered in college is the academic focus. High school honors classes require more work hours at a faster pace, but college honors classes focus more on promoting a student-centered education. That is, they provide students with educational opportunities to develop their own ideas, discuss issues and embrace innovation. 

College honors programs strive to create an open atmosphere of student engagement that emphasizes diverse thinking, small class sizes, interdisciplinary course work, and more student-professor engagement.

what are honors classes

Will Taking Honors Classes Boost My GPA?

That depends a lot on how your school weighs GPAs. Many schools use a weighted GPA scale. This can offer students who take AP or honors classes a chance to boost their grade point average. This is because you might only earn a 4.0 in a regular college prep class, where an honors or AP class might earn you a 4.5 or even a 5.0. However, this will only benefit you with regard to scholarships and class rankings.

Colleges often recalculate GPAs to remove the extra boost schools award to AP or honors students. This allows them to compare applicants fairly since not all high schools use a weighted system.

However, if you are applying for a scholarship from a local organization or with your high school, your GPA will typically remain weighted. This will improve your chances as a scholarship candidate since the higher scores afforded by AP and honors classes are more impressive than regular college prep class scores. 

Can Taking Honors Courses Impact My Chances of Admission to School?

The strength of the curriculum you take in high school is a strong indicator of what you will be capable of in college. So, yes, colleges do look favorably on applicants who succeed at these more difficult classes. 

On your high school transcript, honors courses can help you when it comes to competitive programs with limited spots available. They can give you an edge over other applicants who have not completed the same rigorous coursework. 

How Do I Get Into Honors Classes?

If you know you want to take honors courses in high school, you may be wondering how to go about it. The answer will be different depending on the school itself, although you will need to start by talking with your student advisor or guidance counselor in most cases.

Explain to them that you would like to take an honors course and find out what the requirements are to get in. In some cases, you may need to complete a project beforehand or take a standard-level class as a prerequisite. For example, you might need to complete a specific English project or get at least an 85 percent to be considered for the honors version of the class. Why? Your school needs to know you can handle the additional coursework first. 

You will most likely need a certain GPA to enroll in an honors course, and you may also need a recommendation from a qualified instructor. 

What Skills Do I Need To Succeed In Honors Classes?

To be successful in any class, you need to have a firm grasp of the actual cognitive processes involved in learning, and this is accomplished by developing a set of habits. Coursera offers a helpful course through UC called “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects.” Taking a free online course like this may help you set up a system that works for you.

In general, the skills needed to be successful at higher-level honors courses include:

Develop excellent time-management skills
Start experimenting with different note-taking skills
Hone your organizational skills
Maintain personal and academic Integrity
Be reliable and turn in your work on time or well ahead of time
Learn to work independently
Take initiative by exploring subjects on your own
Never plagiarize or cheat

Is It Better To Take the Honors Version or the AP Version Of a Class?

Choosing whether to take an honors course or an AP course can be challenging. Your decision mostly comes down to your personal goals. If you are simply looking for a more challenging academic experience, honors classes are the right choice. However, if you want college credit, consider the AP version of the course.

Understand that both AP and honors classes are beneficial to your application process. Colleges like to see both as they demonstrate your motivation to explore higher-level academics. 

what are honors classes in high school

How Many Honors Classes Should I Take?

If you are an enthusiast overachiever, it can be tempting to take as many honors courses as possible, but you should also try to be realistic. Never sign up for more honors courses than you can handle. Colleges are impressed by academic excellence and students who challenge themselves. However, they are also impressed by students who have good judgment, common sense, and who know their own limitations.

Trying to do too much at once and getting substandard grades will affect you worse than if you just take one honors class and excel at it. Remember, colleges aren’t looking for students that know everything already. They want students who have the capacity to excel once they get admitted. 

As you contemplate your course choice, talk to your guidance counselor, parents, and teachers about what you think you can handle. They may be able to remind you of any limitations you have overlooked and help you come up with a manageable schedule. 

Is It Better To Get an “A” in a Regular Class or a “B” in an Honors Class?

The short answer is that a B in an honors class can be more beneficial to you than an A in a regular college prep class. But why? 

During the admissions process, your transcript is evaluated not just by your individual grades but by the level of difficulty of your curriculum. Getting a B in an honors class shows you can handle the rigors of more demanding coursework. It indicates that you are willing to put forth the extra effort necessary to be academically stimulated.

Colleges want to see your willingness to push yourself, even if you don’t get a perfect grade. It demonstrates that you have what it takes to contribute to the college community and to perform well in the academic demands of a more challenging course load. If you know you can ace a regular course, you should seriously consider the honors version of the course. 

What if I Am Not Sure I Can Succeed At an Honors Course?

With most things in life, the general rule of thumb is that you should at least try, even if you are pretty sure you won’t be successful. With honors classes, however, the opposite applies. This is because getting a low grade (or worse—failing the high-level course altogether) can have a significant negative effect on your college application.

If you think you have a good chance of getting a C or less in an honors course, you should consider taking the regular version of the course instead. It is way better to get an A or a B in a regular class than to get a C or below in a high-level honors class. 

Closing Thoughts

Successfully graduating from a high school honors program shows colleges how serious the student is about academics and how prepared they are to challenge themselves. In certain situations, the honors student may be exempt from taking certain beginning college courses, which will save significant time and money, but only AP coursework guarantees college credit. 

Being accustomed to faster paces and higher levels of challenges will help the honors student deal with difficult college classes. However, taking too many honors classes may overwhelm the student if they have many social plans, personal obligations, and extracurricular commitments. Honors students will have less time for other meaningful activities, so they should carefully select classes and manage their time effectively.

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