Preparing for College

What is Meant By "List Your Honors" on College Applications?

Question: What is meant by "list any honors you have received" on a college application?

Sometimes high school seniors have received awards from their school or have even been recognized on the community, state, national, or international level.


Examples of such awards might include (from an actual student application):

National AP Scholar; National Merit Semifinalist; First Place Research and Position Paper—Stanford Model United Nations; Impromptu finalist and Oratorical Interpretation Semifinalist—Santa Clara University Speech Competition; National History Day Essay selected at local level and went to State level

Some students have too many “honors” to fit on their application forms while others can’t seem to dredge up any at all without forcing the issue (“First to earn Toilet-Training Diploma at Three Little Pigs Child Care Center” ;))

When it comes to deciding what should go on your “honors” list, you do have a lot of wiggle room, and you shouldn’t worry that you will hurt your admission chances by making a “wrong” choice. Some honors may be obvious (“1st Place in Regional Anti-Smoking Poster Design Competition—grade 10”or “Smith College Book Award—Grade 11”) but others may feel like more of a stretch (“Chosen by principal to serve as student rep to new school lunch-menu committee”)

A good way to figure out if something is an “Honor” or not is to ask yourself if you have been recognized by others in a way that doesn’t show up elsewhere on your application. For instance, if you were voted class treasurer or varsity soccer captain, you would probably list these achievements in the “Activities” section of your application. But something like, “Golden Bookmark Award for completing the most summer reading at local public library” may be in your Activities list … or not. That’s one of those “gray area” things that could fall in between categories. So it might find a home in the “Honors” section (especially if you’re fairly desperate to think of something to put there. :))

What you should NOT include are “invitations” to join various for-profit “honor” societies such as “Who’s Who Among American High School Students” or the “National Honor Roll,” If you aren't sure if one of your potential entries falls into this category, try asking a guidance counselor or search for it on the College Confidential discussion forum to see if other CC members have posted warnings.

Most students who wrack their brains hard enough can usually fill some or all of that application space. But don’t worry if you can’t. There are lots of ways to achieve, and certainly not all of them are acknowledged via honors or awards.

(posted 11/18/2010)