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Building the Honors Section of Your College Application

Every day, students must make decisions that range from the mundane to the sublime, from which socks or stockings to wear to which summer activities to choose. Many high school students, particularly those who are focused on boosting the impact of their college applications, choose activities that fit into neat categories on the Common Application’s activities section. This is a good idea. However, there is an even better idea: choose activities that can lead to academic awards or honors.

On the Common Application, there is a subheading on the education tab entitled “Honors.” Here, you can enter up to five academic achievements in grades 9 through 12. These can be school level awards, state or regional awards, national awards, or international awards. Obviously, national and international honors are weighted more heavily than local- or state- level honors. However, all honors are considered to be significant additions to a student’s application.

Therefore, as you choose your activities, consider some that can be included in the Honors section of the Common App. These can include international awards such as: The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair or IMO (International Math Olympiad); national awards, such as; AP National Scholar or The Science Olympiad National Tournament; state awards such as the State Spelling Bee, or state-level honors programs; or school awards, such as Honor Roll, Dean’s list, Valedictorian, etc.

Also, the term “academic achievements” can be loosely translated. For example, becoming an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America would be considered a national honor. Winning a silver medal in the state piano competition could also count. And, you don’t have to win the competition in order to include it in the honors section. For example, you can indicate that you finished in the top 10% in the AIME, or that you reached gold level in the USA Computing Olympiad.

Other examples of honors could be winning a writing or art award such as those offered by Scholastic, or being recognized with a gold level certificate by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Further, you could be recognized for character or sportsmanship by a school’s athletic team, or for winning a subject-related award in school. You can also win an award for having perfect attendance and could include that as an honor on the common application.

In general, you want to try to get involved in activities that can help you earn national and international honors. The next most beneficial to your application would be to win state honors. This is not to minimize, or derogate in any way, school or local accomplishments. It is just to indicate that colleges will look more favorably on awards that are larger in scale or scope.

Remember, successful applications to elite colleges typically include the checkbox items of high GPA, high test scores, and excellent recommendations. They also include a robust and meaningful list of activities, excellent essays, and anywhere between one and five significant honors. Choose your activities accordingly, and always strive to be the best person, and the best student, you can possibly be.