Honors Classes: Worth the GPA Hit?

by Judge Josh on October 12, 2010

Monaco’s question has an interesting twist on several subjects we’ve touched on ’round these parts: honors programs, GPA and grad school.

I have a long question but I will try to keep it short.

Lay it on me. Oh and BTW, before I forget, Monaco is a stellar name. If my wife weren’t so tough to please about picking a boy’s name, I’d run it up the flagpole.

drop honors classes

It's just a B, Monaco. Don't worry, you will be good! :)

I am a freshman at a large public university. My major is Studio Art and my minor might be marketing.

Side note: marketing is a great minor for art majors! Creating thoughtful and original pieces is one thing, but selling them is another matter. Marketing classes can give you a basic education in how to sell the stuff you make.

I am enrolled in two honors classes (film history and political science) an art history class and two studio art classes for the semester.

Sounds fun. Emails like this make me miss college. =-/

Right now, the Honors classes are kicking my behind and I haven’t made a single A on any test this semester. My studio classes are a bit easier and I will probably get an A or A- in them. I am afraid these classes will lower my GPA and hurt my chances of getting into graduate school ( I am not sure if I want to go immediately or after I work for awhile).


Interesting. Well, my usual advice in this vein is to take the harder classes and don’t worry so much about the GPA, especially if you’re learning a lot in them. However, the one area where I might place an asterisk on that advice is for students considering grad school, where they still take GPA pretty seriously. So let’s hear more…

Right now, I have a 3.98 and I am certain I will have a 3.7 – 3.8 at the end of the semester. I currently love my honors classes and the professor that teach them because its more in depth and writing intensive however, the test are extremely hard and there is a lot more work.

If you love the classes, then that’s another strong argument for keeping them. A 3.7 or 3.8 is still a very good GPA for grad school, so I’m OK with keeping them at this point in the discussion.

As a privilege of being in the Honor’s program I am allowed to register for early for classes and I am contemplating whether or not I should take another honors class.

Man, all else aside, that early registration thing is pretty sweet if it means getting the best times and days for courses. Being able to stack all your classes into Tuesday-Thursday, or at least avoiding super-early classes, would almost be worth taking an extra B now and then on the GPA. But that’s just me.

Is it a good idea to skip the honors and get a high GPA or do graduate schools favor lower GPAs in challenging coursework? I seriously doubt I will get Cs in the class but I stand a very good chance of getting two Bs this semester.

Yeah, definitely don’t drop classes you love and that challenge you just because you’re going to get B’s in them. Your GPA will still be really high, plenty high enough to get into grad school.

If you were going to have difficulty even passing the honors classes, I might’ve answered differently, but if the worse-case scenario here is that you get a B, then there’s no reason to change course. Especially if you’re considering applying to grad school, because the fact that you tackled the honors-program curriculum will score you points with the admissions folks (because honors undergrad classes are the closest thing in rigor to grad classes).

And who knows? You may just surprise yourself and start pulling A’s in those honors classes once you get your bearings. After all, you’re getting smarter every semester. :)

Good luck, and let us know how it goes, Monaco!

— Got advice or comments for Monaco? Let us know in the comments below.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

James October 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

It depends. How competitive is the grad school/program you are wanting to get into? A highly competitive school/program often compares GPAs as part of their vetting process.

Another question is why grad school? What degree are you wanting? Depending on which program you want to pursue as to the value of going to grad school. Is grad school needed for your career? Often, it is not. I see too many people pursuing college/grad school degree programs that will not help their careers.

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James October 12, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Our host made a good point about the “value” of Honors Programs in the Are They Worth It? column.

You think you won’t get less than a B, but you don’t sound that convinced. Why those two courses? You should check out the need for a Bachelor’s in your career field. You might want to consider Marketing as the major and Studio Art as the minor. How much in student loans are you going to have when you graduate college + grad school if you choose it? Will your career afford you the ability to repay loans and/or live a decent lifestyle?

What are your current options in college? You are in a great position as a freshman to change course without being screwed too badly. I went to a public university and some degrees were very competitive at the undergrad level, and much worse at the grad level.

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James October 12, 2010 at 1:14 pm

If you are considering grad school, find out now everything you can about your chosen grad school/program. Some programs take a long time to get into. Several of my local public uni’s grad programs are so competitive that it takes several years to maybe get into them.

School advisors are hit and miss. Find a good one, but don’t rely on them too much. You are in charge of your degree completion. I listened to my advisors and it took me several decades to get my degree. It wasn’t until I finally took control of my own degree completion that I completed my degree. Even my best advisors didn’t ask the right questions, and I didn’t know the right questions to ask.

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Abby October 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Find out if there is a minimum requirement for your grad program. As long as you are maintaining solidly above that minimum, go honors. I am constantly plugging the honors program at my school and at others–those are the classes most likely to give you a valuable challenge, as well as opportunities to impress professors with connections to prestigious grad programs! It has been my experience that employers and admissions reps both can appreciate that honors classes may lower your GPA but that the challenge and the superior experiences are worth it. The more pressing matter than you GPA would be if you could tell an interviewer why the honors courses were important to you, and what you got out of them that you couldn’t get in a regular class.

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Jay October 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

It really does depend on which grad school you want to go to and what grad school program you want to pursue. Furthermore, an honors program at a public state school may be the only way for you to really have any real competition against top ranked private institutions if you plan on competing against those students for the top ranked grad schools. Also, besides just classes you got to make sure you are the head of a lot of different clubs and have signficant achievements like owning your own company, have a lot of connections, published a reserach paper, won national collegiate competitions, preferably all of those would be good. I know many people with these types of credentials still getting rejected from Harvard Med and Harvard Law. Sadly they even had GPA’s above 4.1. There lowest grade in college was merely an A.

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Mel October 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Don’t drop the honors program for just a couple of B grades. The B grades won’t do much damage to your GPA, and it will be more than offset by what you will likely gain from the classes — the ability to think critically, more deeply, and be exposed to concepts that you might not be otherwise, which will help you excel in your other classes. Perhaps you’ll also develop closer relationships with professors and do more interesting (possibly publishable) research. And hopefully they’ll help you develop your own personal perspective, which will be a key part of your grad school application essay. THOSE THINGS are what will get you into grad school, not just a stellar GPA. Too many people have great GPAs — you have to set yourself apart in other ways. (This is my perspective from my own grad school application process in which I was accepted to all the schools I applied to, including a couple Ivy League schools.)

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Courtney October 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Keep the honors classes.

(Btw, I’m currently an honors student as well).

Honors has a lot to offer. Not only can you stamp on the “cum laude” and higher on your dipolma, but you put in extra effort in classes that you DO NOT NEED. The honors program I am in, they make it mandatory to have a cultural experience (i.e., study abroad, minor in another language, etc) and a senior option (volunteering, senior-teaching, etc). That’s the type of things graduate schools look at. GPA is probably 10% of what matters. Most graduate schools look for RESEARCH EXPERIENCE, extra-curriculars, GRE score, etc. Yeah, GPA matters, but not as much as you think.

You didn’t mention having a job or anything (so I’m assuming you don’t) – so think about it. Would you want some person who had all the time in the world to study, and got a 3.98 (which, in their eyes, anybody can do) or someone who goes that extra mile while managing to still get good grades? (3.5 and above, usually. 3.0 and above if it’s a hard science)

I’d say keep the Honors courses – unless it’s effecting you so much that you are literally failing, then drop ’em.

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Leeja October 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm

As the girlfriend of a chemical engineering professor who does graduate recruiting at a major university, I’m going to tell you that GPA is important, but only to the point that you keep it above about a 3.5. They are looking for people who are well rounded, active in a little of everything, and not so much of an overachiever that they have to worry about you going “kookoo for cocoa puffs” while you’re in their program. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard him tell his boss “That kid from (fill in a undergrad program) is really interested.” “Is he any good?” At this point the response is usually who wrote a reference letter for them and what their comments were, GRE score second, then GPA third along with a mention if they were in the honors program, and finally what area of the discipline they’re interested in. At this point, if that “package” sounds good, the boss will make some comment about what faculty member’s group it sounds like he might work well in, or if he’s really impressed, I’ve heard a couple times “Wow, we gotta get that kid!” Then he’ll ask where else the student is looking at, and they talk about what the chances are they will attend here, or why they shouldn’t attend another school they are interested in based on what they want to do.

So I said all that to point out that they look at the entire package, not just one piece. As a student in general (and this may apply more/less to some majors than others), if you’re interested in a school, know the work of one of the faculty, and think you might want to work with them as a grad student, send them a copy of your credentials. It can’t hurt. You never know, they may go to the person in charge of recruiting for their department and mention you, which may make you stand out a little more!

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Gail Amalfitano October 12, 2010 at 11:08 pm

I graduated from the honor’s program and have an honor’s diploma. My GPA was 3.84 (associates of arts) and then the next semester I completed a second degree (associates of science).
I think the harder coursework, the internship, and the community service and activities I did while in the honor’s program really help make your resume/credentials as a student much more impressive. The GPA requirement for grad school is usually around 3.2. Taking harder courses by choice shows your dedicated and willing to work harder and not just satisfied with getting by and passing.
So yes, the whole package is important. Yes get to know your professors in your major. remember you will need references.
I say stick with it, and a B in a harder course is much better than an A in a class that everyone knows was a easy course. Remember, students are not the only ones that know what teachers are hard and which ones are push overs. Faculty know this as well. A 4.0 is only as strong as the classes it represents

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Heather October 13, 2010 at 6:32 am

I’d also like to point out that it would depend on whether or not he’s gonna get his masters in art or marketing. Somehow I”m gonna guess it’s art? But i’m not gonna assume anything.

I say that cause as a music major, while GPA does matter, what matters more toward getting into grad school is whether or not you can play, so I imagine it’s the same kind of thing as an art major. Of course his GPA is so high that he’s gonna have no problem either way, even with a B or two this semester.

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Jenny October 13, 2010 at 10:24 am

My daughter took honors classes and in the end, it would have probably been better had she not taken them. The classes were an insane amount of work, leaving her little time for cultural or extracurricular activities and causing her an extreme amount of stress. And then come to find out that the honors classes didn’t really add much of an advantage. Plus she was in beautiful San Diego and didn’t get to experience it at all, she was stuck in her room studying all the time. I was so concerned about her stress load that I would have preferred that she take a few less honors classes and had a little bit of time to relax and enjoy herself or at least take one “fun” class for her sanity and to help her get through it.

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Jina October 13, 2010 at 10:43 am

Sounds like maybe his honors classes are GE courses and not for his major, so I don’t think that they are going to add too much to his chances at grad school as they will lower his GPA. If he were taking honors art history, maybe, but that is not the case at the moment. I would say, save the honors classes for his major/minor. That will be much more impressive and save him time to become the more well-rounded student. I took honors classes and it was more strife than it was worth. I was an athlete and while taking the honors classes, I missed a lot of sleep and practices which resulted in poor seasons for me athletically. This was particularly disappointing since I was on an athletic scholarship and athletics was an important piece of the collegiate puzzle for me.

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Chloe McClain October 13, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Does high GPAs and honor courses apply if you are already in a difficult, tedious program, such as nursing? It’s no walk in the park and I would hate for my GPA to be looked down upon because I didn’t have enough time to do this or that because I was living in my textbooks. Our school does require us to be in both the local and national Nursing Student Association, so hopefully that counts for something. I’m on the publications committee this year and just got inducted to Alpha Chi. Any nursing folk here have anything to add? Maybe I should submit a question too!

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