What are Honors Courses?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Honors courses are classes which offer more rigorous and in-depth coursework to especially talented and driven students. They are classically offered in the high school environment, and they are usually open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. In order to sign up for an honors course, a student typically will need to demonstrate talent, motivation, and a strong record in basic courses in the same subject. These classes can offer bright students a chance to flourish in the school environment.

Honors courses are commonly offered in high school and are geared toward more challenging and in-depth subject study.
Honors courses are commonly offered in high school and are geared toward more challenging and in-depth subject study.

Honors courses are not the same thing as advanced placement (AP) courses. Advanced placement courses are classes which are tailored for students who intend to take an advanced placement exam. These exams are used to allow students to skip over basic prerequisites in college by demonstrating that they know the material. These courses are taught at the college level, and are sometimes even taught by college instructors who act as guest teachers.

Most high schools offer honors courses to advanced students as a part of their college prep curriculum.
Most high schools offer honors courses to advanced students as a part of their college prep curriculum.

People can take honors courses in a wide variety of subjects, including English, foreign languages, the sciences, mathematics, social studies, and so forth. A teacher may specialize in offering honors courses, or may teach both honors and conventional curricula, depending on the school and the teacher's skill level. The classes tend to be more rigorous in an honors curriculum, and students are held to a higher standard of performance than they would be in ordinary classes. Many honors students also find that their participation in an honors curriculum leads teachers in ordinary classes to be more rigorous, as they may assume that the student has a high level of skill and intelligence.

Honors course typically have a heavier workload than normal courses.
Honors course typically have a heavier workload than normal courses.

In recognition of the fact that honors courses can be more demanding, many schools weight their honors courses in calculations of grade point average, scoring these classes slightly higher. This can allow especially motivated students to climb above the theoretically top 4.0 grade point average, which can be utilized as an example of the student's high level of skill and competency in college applications.

Every school has a slightly different approach to its honors program. Students who want to take honors courses should seek out the teachers who offer the courses of interest, and ask the teachers what the requirements are, and if the instructors feel that the student is ready. In some cases, a teacher may need to sign a form to allow a student to sign up for an honors class, and it helps to get this taken care of early, because these classes are usually smaller, and they can fill up quickly in a highly competitive school.

Honors courses generally have higher work requirements.
Honors courses generally have higher work requirements.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What is the difference between honor classes and sig or gifted classes? My daughter is in honor or sig but didn't take a test to get in. I didn't know until she got in.


High school honors classes do not necessarily receive the extra funding and resources you are referring to. In most states and school districts, "gifted" or honors students are under the same "exceptional student" title given to special needs and disabled students because it is often the only way they can get any funding at all. Most school districts barely have enough money to cover the expenses of mainstream students, much less the gifted ones.

Exceptional student funding, however, can come from other sources outside the school district, like state or federal grants. The availability of honors teachers and classes offered is often very limited due to this lack of funding, therefore getting into these classes can sometimes be very competitive. They don't intend to exclude out of spite or elitism. There are simply not enough funds to offer them to every student who might benefit from them.


I agree with closerfan12. With all the resources being used in the higher classes, this does leave the college preparatory classes (the normal classes) left in the dark.

Then when one wants to move up a level, say from Algebra 2 (basic high school level, not truly college prep level) to Honors Pre Calculus, that student will have a hard time to understand due to not learning the required material from the year before. Everyone should be given the same opportunities in high school, that way when a student wants to move ahead, he/she can with no problems.


Can anybody tell me what the pros and cons of taking an honor course in college is? I had always heard of honors courses in high school, but never in the context of college.

Now my advisor is asking me all this stuff about whether I want to take honors classes, and I have no idea what to tell her.

Can anybody help me out?


Honors courses may breed a sense of elitism, like closerfan12 was talking about, but I think it would be worse to stick those students who are more academically advanced in a curriculum that is too slow for them.

That is the best way to hold them back, and can even cause behavior problems, since the students get bored.

So when it comes down to it, I think that honor courses are a great idea. People should be taught according to their level. It's just unfair to keep them held back in regular student courses.


Although I understand the need for honors credit courses, I think that sometimes the idea can get blown out of proportion.

For instance, and I think this is especially true in high school honors courses, the students in the honors course get all the attention and resources, leaving the other students with the short end of the stick.

I know that resources are limited in schools, but I just wish there was a way that all the students could get what they needed -- not just the elite ones.

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