What Are the Components of a Successful College Application? Part Four: Boosting Your Academic Honors Section

On the Common Application under the Education tab is a subsection entitled “Honors.” It begins with the following question:

Do you wish to report any honors related to your academic achievements beginning with the ninth grade or international equivalent?”

What counts as an academic honor? The answer is rather murky and open to interpretation. Basically, any honor you have received based on any subject or group of subjects you have studied qualifies for entry into this section. Furthermore, the honor can be related to art, music, or performance, as long as these are subjects that you have studied.

A good example of an appropriate entry into this section would be acceptance into the Tri-M Music Honor Society. Formerly known as Modern Music Masters, Tri-M recognizes students for their academic and musical achievements, and therefore qualifies as an academic honor. Another example of an academic honor would be making honor roll, Dean’s list, or earning any other school award based on grades or GPA. Similarly, winning an academic honor within an individual school academic department would qualify. Winning an academic contest such as Scholastic also qualifies, as does winning any contest related to any academic, artistic, or musical achievement. Also, being voted as your school’s valedictorian or salutatorian would absolutely qualify. Overall, you may enter as many as five honors into the Common Application.

Not all students have academic honors that can appropriately be entered into this section. You should not be tempted to put something in that does not belong. For example, you should not enter into this section making the varsity hockey team, taking five AP courses, or getting the lead role in your school’s winter musical. These are all excellent accomplishments; however, they should go into the activities section rather than into the honors section.

If you are a freshman, sophomore, or junior, it makes sense to scout out opportunities to win awards that can then be placed into this section. There are lots of contests out there, some more prestigious than others, but all of which might help you earn an academic honor. Of course, you should always strive for excellent grades, but making honor roll, Dean’s list, or another academic honor would help to enrich and strengthen your college applications. Other examples of honors that belong in this section are AP Scholar, National Merit Scholar, outstanding achievement awards, foreign language awards, National Honor Society, and any other organizations in which you must qualify for membership. Other examples of honor-worthy entries include FBLA Best Speaker (etc.), winning a debate tournament, a science Olympiad, or a regional, national, or international math contest. In addition, there are state and national awards such as: Governor’s Awards, as well as various President’s Award. There are also awards given by the private sector by organizations such as Microsoft, Model UN, Bank of America, Google, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, and many more.

The list of potential honors is too long for me to include all of them in this article. However, like so many things related to college admission, earning academic honors is something that you can and should plan for. There is no requirement for you to add academic honors to your common application or individual school applications. However, having legitimate academic honors is another way to have your application stand out from the others, and for you to stand out from all the other students who are vying for the same seats at the most highly competitive colleges in the nation.