National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2018


Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19:1 (Spring/Summer 2018), p. 105-124.


© Copyright 2018 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Honors programs in higher education are designed to optimize highachieving students’ potential by addressing their particular academic and developmental needs and common characteristics. Gerrity, Lawrence, and Sedlacek suggested that high-achieving students can be “best served by course work, living environments, and activities that differ from the usual college offerings” (43). Schuman, in his handbook Beginning in Honors, noted:

"An important point to keep in mind as regards honors advising is that honors students can be expected to have as many, and as complicated, problems as other students. It is sometimes tempting to envision all honors students as especially well rounded, balanced, thoughtful, mature, and self-possessed. This vision does not seem particularly accurate or helpful despite its attractiveness and allure. (63) Accordingly, specialized academic advising for honors students is an important component of maximizing their potential as well as addressing myriad needs of this population. Many honors students place importance on success or appearing successful, including a concern for maintaining a perfect GPA. High-achieving students can be cautious about their choices, a characteristic that may stem from a fear of failure (Huggett). At the same time, honors students value being self-critical, and, more often than non-honors students, preparing for class, getting involved in various campus organizations and student groups, asking questions, and seeking academic discussions with professors (Achterberg; Cuevas; McDonald; Seifert et al.). Honors students tend to think critically, openly share their opinions, value contributions of others, demonstrate openness to new ideas, and place great importance on the social construction of knowledge (Kaczvinsky; Kem & Navan; Shushok). Gerrity et al. identified a common characteristic of perfectionism in highachieving students, who often put themselves under great pressure as well as feeling pressure from family, peers, faculty and staff, and society (McDonald). High-achieving students often report having higher expectations for themselves than other students (Achterberg; Kem & Navan), which can result in competition and comparisons with peers (Cooke et al.) and provoke stress and anxiety (McDonald; Spurrier). Honors students may hesitate to seek assistance in academic areas in which they are challenged in order to avoid the appearance of seeming unsuccessful (Gerrity et al.). They are future-oriented in their focus on careers, even upon entering college (Harding; Moon). High-achieving students also demonstrate an affinity for campus and community involvement, commonly seeking leadership roles in student organizations related to their future career goals (Cuevas), but they generally will not sacrifice academics in favor of involvement (Pindar). They may feel behind if they are perceived as less involved or successful than their peers outside of the classroom (McDonald). Honors students may also become more concerned with the quantity than the quality of experiences in an effort tofill their résumés, resulting in over-commitment and difficulty balancing academic and extracurricular activities (McDonald). This population can face interpersonal challenges as well. For example, Kem & Navan found that high-achieving students faced difficulty relating to others on campus, particularly non-honors students, potentially leading to perceived feelings of isolation and a sense that others do not understand them. Finally, they often expect advisors to be at their disposal, expecting immediate responses to communication and open-ended availability to meet along with the ability to address both academic and personal concerns (Gerrity et al.).