National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2004


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 5:2, Fall/Winter 2004. Copyright © 2004 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


What defines an “honors” student and what key differences, if any, exist between honors and non-honors students? One obvious difference exists in measures of academic achievement; college honors students, by virtue of typical admission criteria, have higher GPA’s and standardized test scores (Long & Lange, 2002). Consistent with these higher academic credentials, honors students have often been described as more autonomous, more responsible, and more motivated (Grangaard, 2003; Orban & Chalifoux, 2002; Palmer & Wohl, 1972). Additionally, honors students tend to demonstrate to a greater degree many behaviors that positively correlate with academic performance, such as skipping class less often, preparing longer for class, asking more questions per class, spending more time rewriting papers, spending more time meeting with faculty outside class hours, watching less television, drinking less alcohol, and focusing on course grades (Clark, 2000; Harte, 1994; Long & Lange, 2002; Schuman, 1995).

While these comparisons suggest that the high academic credentials of honors students might be partially explained via their study habits, few studies have examined potential cognitive differences between honors and non-honors students. Clark (2000) found that academically talented college students possessed a greater preference for abstract, conceptual, and integrative reflection and tended to score at the intuitive end of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory (indicating more creativity and ability to engage in abstract thought), whereas less talented students tended to be more concrete. Similarly, Shaughnessy and Moore (1994) partially attributed the higher IQ scores of honors students to higher order thinking abilities. This work hints at what honors programs have intuitively asserted for years: honors students think and learn differently, and honors pedagogy should be tailored to meet these students’ unique abilities. However, further empirical research is needed to uncover, identify, describe, and define these differences in thinking and learning. The current study will attempt to further elucidate the difference between honors and non-honors students by using the Inventory of Learning Processes (ILP; Schmeck, 1982; Schmeck, Ribich, & Ramanaiah, 1977).