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What are Honors Courses?

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.

Honor Coursework

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 greatly vary in design, quality and content.

Honor Course vs. AP Course

An honors course may advertise itself as the most challenging course available, but specialized Advanced Placement (AP) are more academically rigorous. That is, the primary difference between the two 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 the maximum score of five. 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. The most significant factor is which organization determines the curricula. The academic authority CollegeBoard determines the AP curricula, but honors curricula may be determined by state officials, school district administrators and even the honors teach themselves.

The Benefits of Honors Coursework

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.

Finally, the biggest difference between high school and college honors courses 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.

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