Honors student presenting to two people

What A College Honors Program Is All About

March 28, 2024 | Estimated Read Time: 8 Minutes

By Alexandra Koktsidis

Think undergraduate college honors programs are just about extra reading assignments and more paper-writing? Think again. As you look at colleges and honors programs opportunities, it helps to understand the benefits. It’s time to explore what honors colleges are and how honors programs can enhance your undergraduate experience.

An honors program is not the same as being on the high school honor roll. It doesn’t involve advanced or AP classes. An above-average GPA up is important, but college honors programs involve more than academics.

Let’s dive into what an honors program is like, weigh the pros and cons of a college honors program, and discuss what the major benefits are.

What Is an Honors Program?

A college or university honors program is a specialized academic pathway designed to challenge students beyond the conventional curriculum. The honors opportunities available vary from school to school. Depending on the college’s program, it may involve small or specialized classes, one-on-one mentorship, and the opportunity to conduct an independent research study. Some universities have specific honors colleges, while smaller schools may call it a program. Ultimately, the top honors colleges and programs will go beyond good grades.

“The honors program creates a community of scholars who want to contribute to a body of research in their own meaningful way,” says Sabrina Stehly, the associate director of the Honors Program at Babson College.
Honors programs typically result in the writing and presenting of a senior thesis or capstone project. A few senior thesis examples from Babson College’s honors program students include:

  • “AI and Consciousness” Ryan Combes, December 2022 
  • “Comparing the Loss Aversion of Fantasy Sports Players & Sports Card Traders” James Truslow, May 2022 
  • “Double Deprivation: The Privilege of Race and Education” Tyler Patterson, December 2019 
  • Serving Realness in Reality: Drag as a Culture in American Television Media” Maria Herwagen, May 2023

These are all business capstone project examples from a school known for entrepreneurship. If it sounds like a chance to pursue a topic of interest and outside your general course of study, you’re right. But what exactly does it mean to be an honors student?

Who Is an Honors Student?

“Being an honors student means more than being academically talented,” Stehly says. “It’s also about being an exemplary student in the greater community.” Honors students show passion and curiosity for learning and enjoy research and writing, she adds.
Being a self-motivated student is a key trait among honors program students. For example, a student who can “ask a research question and follow through to find the answer,” according to Stehly, is something honors program directors look for in applicants.

The Benefits of an Honors Program

The best honors programs will provide more than just a title or graduation citation. Several benefits come with being part of an honors program. Because it affords you the chance to conduct independent research, you can follow your passions or interests to a deeper level.

This alone is a worthwhile benefit to some, but the perks don’t stop there. Being part of an undergraduate honors program can help build the vital skills employers look for, forge meaningful and lasting relationships, and bring you the confidence to thrive in life after college.

A Competitive Edge

Graduating from an honors program can set you apart from other applicants in the job market.

Employers who value a commitment to learning and being a self-starter will find those qualities in honors program students. Plus, it can be a great way-in to speak about your skills, passions, hands-on learning, and achievements.
“Many of our students have reported back that their honors project was a great conversation starter during job interviews or at networking events,” Stehly says.

Faculty Mentorship

One great benefit of the honors program is the close mentorship students receive from notable faculty who are leaders in their field. At Babson College, faculty members are award-winning experts and business leaders who draw from tangible, real-world business experience.

In the business honors program at Babson, students work one-on-one with a faculty advisor to help guide them through the research process. This added support and mentorship often extends beyond graduation, creating lasting professional relationships that endure for years.

Skills For Work & Life

Being part of the honors program is not all academics: it also involves honing time and project management skills that are crucial to professional and personal life. Independent research often demands a high-level of organization with multiple priorities to juggle.

After all, as Stehly says, an honors program is not about synthesizing research: it’s about “contributing to a body of research in a unique, meaningful way.” And that takes a dedicated effort.

Goes Beyond Your Coursework 

Another non-academic benefit of the honors program is getting involved with activities exclusive to the program. This way, students in the program can bond together and form lasting, meaningful friendships.

At Babson College, as part of the business honors program, students attend a wide range of programming, including social events, community-building activities, and arts and culture performances in the Boston area.

Growing Outside Comfort Zones

One feature of the Babson College honors program is that students must present their findings out loud, in front of faculty. After all, public speaking is one of the top fears for college students in the United States.

This can be a daunting task, but one that builds inner confidence and presentation skills. Students can also participate and present their material at academic conferences. Stepping outside of your comfort zones in this way cultivates personal growth.

Gaining Resilience

In the face of academic challenges, students in honors programs develop the ability to persevere, adapt, and ultimately succeed despite challenges during the process.

“Nearly all of our students have expressed that completing their honors project gave them a deep sense of accomplishment after overcoming any obstacles that they faced during the process,” Stehly says. A rigorous program leaves a sense of resilience and ability to face future challenges with confidence.

Are Honors Programs Worth It?

Being part of an honors program enables self-motivated students to get the most out of their college education. It involves deep diving into your chosen field and contributing your findings to a greater body of research.

Students become a “resident expert” in their chosen field, which often expands beyond the scope of the traditional curriculum. At Babson College, all undergraduate students—honors program included—have the benefit of graduating with a business degree.

If that’s something that resonates with your goals and aspirations, an honors program may well be worth it.




Journal of Further and Higher Education 


About the Author

Alexandra Koktsidis has a background in journalism and copywriting, and over a decade of professional writing experience. She is based in the Boston area. 

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