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The Scary World of Honors Programs

by Jennifer Graham

"But it's going to make my life harder, right?"

As an honors advisor, I hear this question all the time. Students are terrified that because they join an honors program, their GPA will suffer, and they will spend countless, not to mention thankless, hours studying for the more difficult courses they will inevitably have by participating. This is a natural fear. After all, a university will not simply give you an honors diploma just because you joined the program, right? They are going to make you work for it. Well, yes, there is a little more work involved, but, no, it's not meant to make your life harder. And in the long run, it's well worth it.

Many adult students avoid honors programs because they are concerned that the program is designed for the younger, more traditional students. They don't want to get involved in a program that may not cater to their needs. I understand this concern. However, I feel it is unwarranted. Most honors programs are happy to have eager students; they don't discriminate based on age or anything else. While much of the programming might be centered on the "traditional" student, honors administrators know that adult learners have very high grades and often are more devoted to their studies than their 18-year-old counterparts. They take their courses more seriously and take more time to get to know their professors. What administrator wouldn't want a student like that in their honors program?

There are some distinct advantages to being an honors student. Many programs offer scholarship money; this means you are competing with only the honors population, not the university as a whole. Also, honors students often have the benefit of priority registration, meaning that they get to choose their classes before the rest of the university gets a shot at them. This allows you to cater your schedule without the burden of closed classes. Finally, you have the opportunity to get to know some wonderful fellow honors students as well as honors faculty, staff, and administrators. Those relationships can last forever.

As an adult learner, you have made so many sacrifices to head back to school. Work, family, and other obligations tear at your time and your wallet. The best thing you can do is to make that sacrifice worth it. While the completion of the bachelor's degree is the most rewarding outcome to all of the struggles, completing it as an honors bachelor's degree is icing on top of a beautiful cake. In order to complete an honors diploma, most schools have similar steps.

What Do I Have To Do?
First of all, a percentage of the bachelor's degree work must be completed as honors coursework. Many schools, especially those that have a diverse student body, are very flexible with honors classes. They allow students to make any of their classes honors credits simply by completing an extra project in the class. Often, honors students are not required to take any extra coursework to complete the honors bachelor's degree.

I know what you are thinking. But why make myself do extra work? Well, for starters, the extra project is often something you might be interested in studying. For example, a psychology student might petition her Abnormal Psychology course as honors. For the project, she might explain to her professor that she is really interested in autism. She and the professor agree that her project will be a public information brochure on autism. The extra research with a topic that is interesting could lead to further research and more clout on a graduate school application.

Furthermore, the project allows you one-on-one time with your professor. Suddenly, in a class of 100, you stand out. This could work to your advantage when it comes time for recommendation letters.

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