National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2005


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 6:2, Fall/Winter 2005. Copyright © 2005 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


It is first necessary to recognize the distinction between the questions “What is an honors student?” or better “What are the characteristics of an honors student?” and “How do you recognize a student with those characteristics?” The first of these two questions is easier to approach since it is more a matter of prescription than of description, a presentation of an ideal rather than a recognition of an actual state. We can all list characteristics which we would like or expect those special students to have who are worthy in our estimation of the designation “honors.” These expectations, I submit, are often informed by our own experiences as honors students ourselves or in association with others, when we were in college, who were considered to be honors students by official or by general agreement. It is quite another matter, however, to be able to detect, directly or indirectly, the presence of those qualities which constitute the character of an honors student; they may or may not be readily evident and, it seems, very often are not so. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, so-called objective criteria for judging the quality of students fail quite miserably when it comes to predicting success in honors curricula.