You’ve almost made it: one more month of chaos. Just a few more weeks of grinding graphite onto worksheets seconds before A Block. Turning in essays two minutes before midnight. Tucking in the back of your shirt as you cross the barrier between hallway and classroom. You’ve crammed but you’ve crammed well. Your teacher respects your work and recommends you for honors next year.
Decisions, decisions. So many factors play a role. A senior once told you it wasn’t worth it. Your parents sacrificed so much for you to have this opportunity. Your advisor nodded his head but only because you looked lost. Ultimately, though, the decision is yours to make.
Honors is for smart kids. Standard for the average. Or is it?
Taking an honors class at Haverford provides the student with a .2 boost to his GPA. GPA’s help colleges determine “best fits” from “misfits,” and to make colleges take a closer look at our applications.
So what is really at stake?
Second semester Fourth Formers must make a critical decision concerning their Fifth Form year: Biology or Biology*, U.S. History or U.S. History*, distinguished by a measly asterisk.
Fifth Former Jonny Flieder said, “I felt obligated to [take honors Biology]. I was recommended, so clearly, the teacher wanted me in that class.”
“I was afraid that if I didn’t take it,” Flieder said, “I would feel like I missed out.”
Flieder was not afraid to miss out on the knowledge that the honors class provides but felt other motivations as well.
“I didn’t want to miss out on the credit. I’m not gonna go the science route in college, but I am going to college, and that asterisk goes a long way,” Flieder said.
Fifth Former Cyril Leahy said, “Why did I sign up? For the credit. Not because I liked it.”
Leahy’s reputation precedes him. He proudly won the Fifth Form campaign on the basis of being a hard worker and role model.
“If I wanted to be known as the kid that went all out, I needed to take Biology* too, not just U.S. History*,” Leahy said.
A heavy workload comes with a cost. “I stayed up until two the other night. That’s a pretty standard Tuesday night for me,” Leahy said.
Students feel motivated to challenge themselves, but sometimes it’s just too much. Students opt out for plenty of valid reasons: soccer practice, piano recitals, the fall play, SAT prep.
Unfortunately for those students who are qualified to take honors but life won’t allow it, the alternative may fail to meet their needs as well. described his conflict of interest and the result of his decision.
“I play squash every day and when that’s over, it’s on to lacrosse,” Fifth Former Quintin Campbell said. “This is a really busy recruiting time, and I don’t want to be swarmed with work.”
Campbell thinks the standard U.S. History course is less demanding.
“I can do well in that class without putting in the same effort I put into my other classes,” Campbell said.
Students believe the gap between standard and honors is vast, even though departments strategize and plan to meet students’ needs.
“There is no way to define a relationship between what grade would be earned in an honors course and what grade would be earned in a standard course.”Science department chair Dr. Daniel Goduti
Science department chair Dr. Damiel Goduti said, “Biology* covers much more breadth and approximates an introductory college course while standard is explicitly project-based.”
“There is no way to define a relationship between what grade would be earned in an honors course and what grade would be earned in a standard course,” Dr. Goduti said. “Students will get out of the course what they put into it.”
Some students believe otherwise.
“If I worked as hard as I did in Honors Chem last year, I probably would have ended up with a B+ in Honors Bio. In Standard [Bio] though, with the same amount of effort, I’m confident I can get an A or A+.”Drew Loughnane ’21
Fifth Former Drew Loughnane is a former honors Biology student who, similar to Campbell, lightened his load by taking standard. Three honors classes and numerous extracurriculars led him to this decision.
“If I worked as hard as I did in Honors Chem last year, I probably would have ended up with a B+ in Honors Bio,” he said. “In Standard [Bio] though, with the same amount of effort, I’m confident I can get an A or A+.”
“A class between honors and standard would narrow the gap. This would suit the needs of everyone,” Loughnane said. “The standard kids who need more of a challenge as well as the overburdened honors kids would find neutral ground.”
Something like a three-level system has been used before. But now, more than ever, with students’ commitments and busy schedules steering them away from honors, a middle level may be a possible solution.