From the National Collegiate Honors Council:
Does participation in an Honors Program really matter?
Yes, it will speak volumes about your abilities and aspirations. Students in Honors programs are widely recognized as being the best students at a college, having both superior academic ability and the motivation to make the most of their college experience. Consider what an American college degree means to the general public. Because there are more than 3000 colleges and universities in the United States, most people have no way of evaluating, for example, the scores of colleges in California, and they have only a vague idea about the quality of colleges in their local area. But everyone knows that if you join an Honors Program, you are obviously a superior student who is clearly committed to getting the best education -- the best courses and professors --available to you.
Why do so many American colleges and universities have Honors Programs?
Honors programs at more than 1000 colleges across the United States are special academic programs designed to help superior students -- who are sometimes bored or unchallenged by conventional courses -- make the most of their college experience. If a college is like a big swimming pool, an Honors program is the opportunity to swim in the deep end. You don’t have to be there all the time, but you should not miss it. A typical American Honors Program offers a series of small classes or seminars, taught by the best faculty at the college to the students with superior academic abilities, and emphasizes class discussions rather than lectures. Because these characteristics are often associated with very expensive Ivy League educations, which may be out of reach for most families, Honors Programs occupy the place of pride on their campuses and have been recognized as one of the greatest bargains in American higher education.
Wouldn’t I do better in college if I didn’t join an Honors Program?
Sometimes this is true, but very often it is not. In fact, more than a thousand colleges have established Honors Programs precisely because good students do better in them! Without a peer group that values academic excellence, social life can easily become more important than studying. Talented students can be bored in normal classes and coast through or put off simple assignments (just as they did in high school). Unfortunately, students who avoid challenges and try to take the easy way out often face severe shocks in college (it’s not grade 13!) and graduate with mediocre academic records.
Will college Honors be like Honors courses in high school?
No, there is usually a world of difference between high school and college Honors courses. In many high schools Honors courses are just the normal courses "made harder" with extra readings, extra assignments, and extra hard grading of students. But at college, Honors courses are specially "enriched" courses, not normal courses made "harder," and grading standards are the same as in normal college courses. Honors courses avoid the boring lectures/ passive learning approach to education. Enriched Honors Courses stimulate your thinking; they use provocative and innovative materials covering central concepts and cutting edge explorations, ranging from the classics to the ultra-hip; and they provide the informal, small class environment that encourages discussion and debate on important topics. Honors enrichment means taking students to museums to show them real art, bringing guest experts into the classroom -- poets and visiting professors, lawyers, journalists, or doctors -- or doing whatever is relevant and illuminating for the class.
I’m no genius. Will Honors courses be too hard for me?
No. If you were selected for an Honors Program, you have the ability to succeed in your Honors courses. You will also gain confidence in your own abilities by working together with (not competing with) the best students on campus. In Honors courses students and faculty really do learn from each other. Sometimes Honors courses may require a bit more work than other courses, but not excessively so; and Honors courses and the faculty are often so stimulating that students barely notice that they are doing more.
Won’t my college GPA suffer if I join an Honors Program?
No, Honors courses aren’t graded harder (or any easier!) than other college courses. A student who averages a 3.6 in regular courses will probably have a 3.6 GPA for Honors courses too.
Can I participate in sports or other extra-curricular activities and still do Honors?
Certainly, and you will meet many other students doing the same. Most Honors students are able to participate successfully in a wide range of extra-curricular activities and still maintain a balance with their academic work.
Wouldn’t it be better for me to wait a semester or two before joining the Honors Program?
It depends. Most Honors Programs are designed for entering freshmen, but some allow students to enter after their first semester or first year. Check with the Honors Programs you’re interested in to see what your options are.
Can I do an Internship or study abroad if I am in an Honors Program?
Certainly. Most Honors Programs strongly encourage internships and foreign study. In addition, more than a dozen Honors Programs at colleges in the United States offer foreign study opportunities just for Honors students.
Aren’t most Honors Students just Nerds?
This is a common high school attitude, but in college you will quickly see how wrong it is! Honors Students are a highly diverse group, not just in majors, but also in backgrounds, nationality, ethnicity, race, personality, interests, etc. We like it that way! For example, Honors students compete on varsity teams, others are dancers, artists and actors, mathematicians and scientists; many are heavily involved in student government, clubs, and other activities. Honors students are also prominent leaders on campus, serving as major officers of student government, editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, leading the psychology, English, and pre-med clubs, etc. Honors students ... share ... a commitment to academic excellence and a desire to make the most of their college experience. And in this diverse mix of Honors students, you are likely to find your greatest friends.
Will Honors separate me from other students at the college?
No, Honors students are as fully a part of college life as is possible. Honors students take a mix of Honors and non-Honors courses, and they find their friends and roommates both in and out of Honors.
Are there conferences that I could go to as an Honors Student?
Yes. Students and student presentations are a major part of Honors conferences, regionally, state-wide, and nationally.
Will participation in an Honors Program help me get a job, or get into graduate or professional schools, after I graduate?
Yes, there is good evidence that it be an asset for your future. As an Honors student you will be identified as possessing not only superior academic abilities (often supplemented by solid extracurricular involvement), but you will be recognized as having the commitment and motivation to take on challenging work. Hence, Honors students are eagerly sought by employers and preferred for admissions by graduate and professional schools. Your Honors research projects provide you with graduate-level research experience and prove your ability to work independently at an advanced level.