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Homeschool Honors Courses: Everything You Need to Know

Taking your coursework and your homeschooled child’s transcript to the next level with honors credit.

Does your teen demonstrate a particular aptitude or passion for a subject? If so, then why not power up your high school student’s curriculum with an honors course? In this article, we will cover the basics about honors courses—defining honors work, how it differs from AP, why take honors courses, and what type of content qualifies for an honors credit.

Honors vs. AP

First, we must distinguish between an honors course and an AP (Advanced Placement) course, as the two are often confused. Honors coursework covers the same content as a regular course but provides more depth and insight into the material. Studying takes longer, readings are more challenging, and assignments demand more. An honors course is ideal for a student who demonstrates a natural curiosity or aptitude for a subject. The coursework harnesses their natural interest in the subject to propel them into a deeper study regimen.

AP, or Advanced Placement, courses are considered more intensive than honors courses. While an honors course covers standard content in more detail, an AP course typically contains college-level content. The purpose is to introduce high school students to the rigorous academic expectations of college. In fact, AP courses can qualify for college credit. Apportionment of credit is determined by students’ success on the AP Exams, which are standardized tests administered by the College Board (the same organization that administers the SAT). Most students who take AP classes do so because they hope to obtain college credit. Thus, AP courses tend to “teach to the test,” whereas honors courses are less about preparing for an assessment and more about deepening the student’s love for the subject matter.

Why Take an Honors Course?

There are many reasons why a student might consider taking an honors course. One excellent reason is building up your student’s study habits. Honors courses are more demanding than regular courses, requiring more engagement. As a result, honors students can develop stronger study habits. Furthermore, even though honors courses are not meant to simulate college-level work, they certainly do prepare students for college by providing a more intensive study regimen and fast-paced environment. And colleges do care about honors classes as they demonstrate that a student has strong academic interests and a high level of academic achievement.

Honors courses can also be worth more credit. Since students spend more time on honors coursework, the course can be “weighted” as worth more. Attaching a greater weight to an honors course can boost your child’s GPA (presuming they do well) and give them an edge when colleges review their transcript. Be careful of attaching too much importance to your weighting, though; colleges have their own guidelines for weighing courses. If they think you have assigned too much weight to a course, they will “un-weigh” it during their admissions calculations. Just because you think an honors course should be worth an extra half credit does not mean a college will agree.

I think, however, the best reason for taking honors courses is simply to encourage a student to build their interest in a subject by allowing them to do a deep dive into the material—education for the sake of education.

Designing Your Homeschool Honors Course

Okay, so you’re sold on an honors course. But how do you design an honors course for your homeschool?

There’s no single answer to this; the specifics will vary from course to course. Obviously, an honors literature course will look different than an honors math course. That being said, there are some objective standards you can use as guideposts along the way. A good failsafe is to look at your own state’s Department of Education guidelines, which may have standards for honor’s courses laid out. For example, in 2017, the South Carolina Department of Education issued an entire document on honors courses. The document aims to provide a framework for honors courses. South Carolina suggests some of the following criteria for honors courses:

  • Incorporating student-initiated research
  • Utilizing student collaboration opportunities
  • Participating in project-based learning
  • Demonstrating problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Expanding connections to world-class skills and character-building
  • Implementing creativity and innovation

You’ll notice that these guidelines are qualitative, not quantitative. That is, an honors course is not merely a matter of reading more books, solving more problems, or doing more labs. It has to do with how work is carried out. In general, honors courses are meant to draw the student out into deep academic waters, beyond the buoys of “memorize and regurgitate,” to a place where he is engaged with the subject matter in more analytical and creative ways. For a history course, this might be doing historical research at your local library; in a literature class, it would probably involve book reports and literary analysis; in science, it might include the student designing their own experiments.

Since honors courses are more involved than typical courses, how many more hours should you log? HSLDA recommends that honors log at least 150 hours for the year. A student should spend 8-10 hours per week on honors coursework over a 30-week school year. And remember, whatever you do, be prepared to provide proof of honors coursework. Colleges generally want to know why a particular course was designated honors. Having copies of syllabi or synopses of course work is a good idea so colleges can understand what your child accomplished.

Making Honors Courses Work for You

Hopefully, this has got your brain working on building your student’s curriculum with honors courses. You don’t have to do it alone, though! Many resources are out there to help you flesh out these principles in particular subject areas. For example, the 7 Sisters Homeschool blog has a great article on how to build up an honors course in literature. Homeschool Connections offers a variety of honors courses; MacBeth Derham has an honors biology course; Tom Frederick has an honors Algebra 2; Phillip Campbell has an honors Modern U.S. History course. Kathy Dutton has an honors option in her Chemistry course.  There is more, too! Go to www.homeschoolconnections.com, use the course finder, and type in “honors.” If you’d like advice on upgrading a “regular” Homeschool Connections course to “honors,” contact the teacher or email us at [email protected].

Do you have any advice, ideas, or experience with homeschooling honors courses? Visit our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community, and let’s get a conversation going.

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