December 17, 2017

High School Honors Classes…What Qualifies?

When a course is  more challenging, or more rigorous, we want to be sure and give recognition to the level of difficulty in the work and one of the ways to do that is to call it a high school honors class. An honors course is typically a regular high school course with a more rigorous component added on.

high school honors classes

It may feel like this at times!

Some curricula will let you know that their entire course is considered honors level.  Others will have an honors section – or honors problems to be completed – giving you the option of making it an honors course.  For example, many math courses will have a set of more rigorous problems added to each lesson.   Other curricula will have an honors module – in other words, an additional project to be completed separately from the main coursework.

If you review public school course descriptions and compare regular course work with honors course work, you often find the difference to be in the level of vocabulary, the amount of writing and the application of knowledge gained.  By comparing the descriptions for Chemistry 1 and Chemistry 1 Honors, you find 69 standards listed for Chemistry 1 and 83 standards for Chemistry 1 Honors.  In addition to having a higher reading level, those additional standards expect students to apply concepts learned, make inferences, justify conclusions and apply technology.  That is – they add depth to the course load.

As a homeschooling family, you can create your own honors component for a course, remembering that the goal is to make the work more rigorous – not just add more review questions or busy work.  A good example of adding rigorous work to an existing course would be the completion of a detailed science fair, history fair or geography fair project.  These projects typically take from eight to twelve weeks to complete and require that a student possess basic knowledge in the area of study before endeavoring to complete the project.  All of this is done while maintaining the regular course load.

Other ways to develop an honors component may involve a self-directed independent study.  If you are currently studying American Government, perhaps you can require that your student complete an in-depth analysis of a political topic and compare and contrast various candidate’s positions on that topic.   Or, have them follow a bill through the House and the Senate on either the state or national level.  You get the idea.

You will want to be sure and define your honors component before you begin the coursework.  I have heard parents say that a course was really hard – therefore, it must be honors.   Just because coursework is more difficult for your student does not automatically make it more rigorous.  Remember that the coursework must go above and beyond the typical high school course.  By writing out the requirements prior to beginning the year, you clearly define why you are applying the honors label.  You also set the level of expectation for your student and set a guide for how you will be grading the course.  You will want to place a copy of these requirements in your portfolio and show evidence that your student met those expectations.

Once your student has successfully completed the work at an honors level, be sure to recognize it as such on their transcript by adding the word ‘honors’ to the course title and by weighting the GPA.

~ to your success


(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at


  1. I have read differing answers regarding the GPA weight of honors vs. regular courses. What is the official word? Similarly, what is the relative weight of AP vs dual enrollment vs dual enrollment honors?

  2. Hi!

    There are several ways to write out your high school transcript. I would recommend that you simply list the high school credits earned and not necessarily when they were earned. If you are in Florida, the Florida State Statutes specifically allow students to earn credit prior to the 9th grade towards their graduation requirements.

    You will find, however, that there are a few colleges that are very specific about when credits are earned, so this may be something you will need to address in the future. You do not say whether your son has taken an SAT or ACT – but if his test scores reflect this higher level of work then it will help validate this earlier work in the eyes of college admissions officers.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Cathy Campbell says:

    We were told last spring by FSU admissions representatives that they recalculate GPA’s and only award honors credit to courses the student took, and scored at least a 3 on, a correlating AP exam or that they dual enrolled for….all other courses are calculated at a normal GPA.

    That’s also for students with school transcripts…..

    A parent designated honors point might be applied for a scholarship program, but not for college admissions (at least at Florida public universities). 🙂

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