Trends among Honors College Students: An Analysis by Year in School

Article excerpt

This study sought to determine whether honors college students differed with regards to academic achievement, academic self-concept, general self-concept, educational aspirations, and career aspirations as a function of their class standing. Participants included 298 honors college students from a large, Midwestern university. A demographic questionnaire, the general academic subscale and the general-self subscale of the Self-Description Questionnaire III (Marsh & O'Neill, 1984), and the Leadership and Achievement Aspirations subscale of the Career Aspirations Scale (O'Brien, 1992) were used. Results indicate significant differences between juniors and seniors with regards to academic self-concept, educational aspirations, and career aspirations. Implications for honors faculty and administrators are discussed.

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Some research indicates honors college graduates are fairly homogeneous (Wittig, Schurr, & Ruble, 1986-1987), and other research indicates honors students cannot be typified (Laycock, 1984; Robinson, 1997). However, insufficient research exists to allow researchers to draw definitive conclusions regarding the characteristics of honors college students. Relative to the areas of college student development and gifted education, very little research has combined these areas and examined the gifted college student (Rinn & Plucker, 2004).

Several researchers have studied the differences between honors students and nonhonors students. For example, honors college students are likely more perfectionistic (Parker & Adkins, 1995; Neumeister, 2004), more likely to plan to attend graduate or professional school (Randall, Salzwedel, Cribbs, & Sedlack, 1990), differ with regard to personality type (Randall & Copeland, 1986-1987), and are more autonomous (Gottsdanker, 1968; Palmer & Wohl, 1972) than nonhonors students. In a comparison of honors students and nonhonors students of equal ability, Rinn (2004) found honors students had significantly higher grade point averages, academic self-concepts, and career aspirations than nonhonors students.

Honors and nonhonors students may differ as a function of honors program membership, or they may differ as a function of precollege characteristics. In other words, in the aforementioned study, it is difficult to know if honors students' high academic achievement, high self-concepts, and high career aspirations existed prior to enrollment or were developed during membership in an honors program. Thus, honors students may have joined an honors program because they already had high self-concepts and high aspirations, and had high grade point averages in high school. Focused students may participate in selective programs to aid them in achieving the high aspirations they have already set for themselves. Indeed, Gerrity, Lawrence, and Sedlacek (1993) found 34% of 231 honors college students joined an honors college as preparation for graduate school and 18% believed honors college participation would help them to get a better job. We do not, however, know what happens to honors students as they move through higher education. If they all enter honors programs with similar goals, why is the attrition rate so high?

When studying gifted college students, most researchers focus on these students as a group (Rinn & Plucker, 2004). Little research has been conducted to examine the differences among honors students of varying class standing (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior). The importance of studying average-ability college students across class standing (see Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) and studying gifted students at the elementary and secondary level with regard to grade level (Clark, 2002) has been noted, however.

The relationship among academic achievement, self-concept, and aspirations has also been noted with populations of average-ability college students (see Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991) and gifted students at the elementary and secondary level (see Davis & Rimm, 2004). …