National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2016).


Copyright © 2016 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


High-ability entering college students give three main reasons for not choosing to become part of honors programs and colleges; they and/or their parents believe that honors classes at the university level require more work than non-honors courses, are more stressful, and will adversely affect their self-image and grade point average (GPA) (Hill; Lacey; Rinn). Some of them are likely basing their belief on the experience they had with Advanced Placement (AP) classes in their high schools. Although AP classes are not specifically designed to be more work or more difficult, at their worst they can be little more than that (Immerwahr and Farkas; Challenge Success, 2013). Just as important as the fear of more work and increased difficulty is anxiety about the increased competition within a high-ability cohort. Anne N. Rinn, for instance, cites the “theory of relative deprivation” and the “Big-Fish-Little- Pond Effect” as factors that inhibit students from joining an honors program.

Such perceptions of honors coursework are common even among some university advisors and faculty, who often perceive honors courses as entailing more work, being more competitive, and having the potential to lower students’ GPAs. As a result, high-ability students who might benefit from an honors education decline participation because they believe honors classes will jeopardize their academic standing (Hill).