Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

The Role of Advanced Placement Credit in Honors Education

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

The Role of Advanced Placement Credit in Honors Education

Article excerpt


The role that Advanced Placement (AP) credit plays in an honors education is increasingly significant. More high school students have the opportunity to take AP courses and successfully complete the AP exams. As a result, they arrive on campus with credits toward some and often many of their early core-focused college requirements. This widespread bypass of early requirements often leaves honors programs scampering to find strategies for a robust experience in the early years of an honors education.

This essay emerges from our experience at Northeastern University, where the number of AP credits applied to our undergraduate degrees has increased dramatically over the last several years. We have developed a number of curricular responses to this phenomenon, and, in order to understand how students perceive the role of AP credits and plan to use them, we developed a survey instrument administered to our fall 2007 entering class.

This paper has several goals. First, as a backdrop for the larger discussion, we present a brief description of our honors program and an overview of AP credit. Second, we present the findings from our survey and a series of comments we received regarding AP credit through the NCHC listserv. Third, we situate the discussion within the larger concerns and challenges of honors education. The essay argues that the impact of AP credit directly affects many honors programs by presenting challenges to general education requirements as they are currently conceived and delivered at colleges and universities.


Northeastern University's Honors Program

Northeastern University (NU) is a five-year cooperative education institution located in Boston, Massachusetts. The twenty-three-year-old honors program provides a comprehensive approach that emphasizes curriculum opportunities throughout the five years on campus, a commitment to a living-learning community model, and numerous opportunities to interact with faculty through seminars, dinners, and social activities.

The honors program offers three types of academic distinctions: Course, Junior/Senior Project, and University. Students cannot use AP credit to waive the requirements for Course Distinction. Currently students are required to take six honors classes (including an interdisciplinary seminar) in order to receive Honors Course Distinction recognition (students may take more than six courses and many do). Students joining after the freshman year have fewer course requirements.

Students may complete two courses for Honors Junior/Senior Project Distinction (usually a thesis or thesis-equivalent project). Students completing both Course and Project Distinction receive University Honors Distinction. If students meet all the requirements of the program, they take eight course equivalents (the equivalent of one academic year) in the program.

The majority of our courses match a typical general education curriculum. The number of entry-level courses far exceeds advanced classes in a particular major although, depending on the number of students in a major, some advanced honors courses are offered. Students may also do honors independent studies in their major, sign up for honors credit as teaching assistants, and use study abroad experiences as equivalents to honors courses. Advanced honors work in the major primarily occurs in the Junior/Senior Project.

Five years ago, we developed a number of interdisciplinary honors seminars. These courses are open to all upper-class students and have been offered by faculty in five of our six colleges. Currently we offer approximately fifteen honors seminars each year, with enrollment capped at nineteen students. The seminars are a unique honors requirement not mirrored in the university at large.

In 2006, the university underwent a revision of the academic core (general education) requirements. Prior to the academic year 2007-08, each college had different core requirements, with the College of Arts and Sciences requiring the most courses in its core. …

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