PHAA Definitions for an Honors Course

from Susan Richman

[This article first appeared in Issue 92 (Fall, 2005) of the PENNSYLVANIA HOMESCHOOLERS® newsletter.]

Here’s a question we’ve been fielding a lot lately: “Can homeschoolers call some courses HONORS classes on our high school transcript? What criteria should we use in determining this?” Usually this is brought on by seeing college or scholarship applications that specifically ask if any courses were considered Honors level or AP (Advanced Placement). In competitive admissions and scholarship applications, this can become especially important, as often extra ‘points’ are awarded for honors level coursework-- homeschoolers shouldn’t be left out of this option.

On the other hand, there is a worry that homeschoolers might just call any old course ‘honors’, and that the title could be meaningless. Many evaluators will agree with families that certain courses should indeed be listed as "Honors" on a transcript, and many evaluators may even suggest this even if the family has not thought of it. PHAA (Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency) is now working to have an official policy written in by-laws about how to distinguish an honors course, and the following questions could serve as useful guidelines both for PHAA families and for all homeschoolers. I’m sure everyone understands that each specific course needs to be approached a bit differently, as goals and types of possible learning activities will vary by subject area, but these can form some basic guideposts to consider.

Whatever the specific criteria developed by a family for a given course, evaluators should describe in their letters why this course has earned an Honors designation. This will be a requirement for all future PHAA Honors credits, and just makes sense for all homeschoolers, as this will communicate with future colleges, or competitive summer programs, what the honors designation means for this student.The family may want to write up a clear summary for the portfolio also. I can imagine many students feeling an extra push of motivation to meet these higher standards, realizing they could earn an Honors title on their transcript.

Advanced Placement credit can only be awarded when a student actually takes an AP exam-- if a student completes an AP course and does well, but skips the exam, it might be labeled an Honors course instead. I feel many homeschoolers do deserve an honors designation for a number of their courses— but just watch out that you don´t overdo a good thing. Once we got a phone call from an admissions officer who was really confused, as the transcript he was looking at had every course listed as "Honors". And on top of that, there were simply so many courses (maybe 12-14 credits per year listed...). What did Family Life HONORS mean? What did Phys Ed HONORS mean? What did Home Economics HONORS mean? What did World History HONORS mean? Because the title seemed to be just used for everything on the transcript, it came to mean nothing, unfortunately. So, keep the honors designation for those areas where the student is truly excelling, and where the evaluator is ready to communicate why the title was given.


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