Albert Dorman Honors College

Tips for Writing an Honors College Essay

Writing an Honors College Essay (Max. 400 words)

A college essay is a chance for you to tell us what all your records cannot: who you really are, how you think, and how well you write. It is not an invitation to tell a story, write a novel, or write about other people's experiences. The main point of your essay is to tell us what you have to offer and how you will take advantage of what we have to offer .

  • Write an essay that addresses the topic specified  on the application form. A general essay about yourself or an experience you had is not acceptable.
  • Do not write your essay as if it were a novel. "The baby cried until it had to be comforted by its mother;" "I could not believe as I walked into my first class that this was the beginning of my engineering career." These tell us nothing about yourself. Regardless of what you may have been told in school, write a straightforward descriptive essay that directly addresses the question asked.
  • Avoid clichéd, generic, and predictable writing, such as "I want to help people." This is particularly applicable to essays for accelerated program candidates.
  • Do not quote our own description of our program. We know what we have to offer; we are interested in knowing what you have to offer and how you will use what we offer . Tell us about your interests and why the Albert Dorman Honors College is the right place for you.

May 1, 2023

How to Write an Impressive National Honor Society Essay: Examples and Tips

Membership in the National Honor Society is a prestigious achievement that recognizes exceptional academic achievement, leadership, service, and character. But to earn this distinction, students must first write an impressive essay that demonstrates their qualifications and sets them apart from the competition. If you're ready to take on this challenge and earn your place in this esteemed society, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll provide you with expert tips and real-world examples of successful essays that will help you craft an essay that showcases your unique strengths and accomplishments.

Are you a high school student with a passion for excellence, a track record of leadership , and a burning desire to make a difference in your community? Are you ready to join the ranks of the best and brightest students in your school and beyond? If so, the National Honor Society may be the perfect fit for you. But before you can don that coveted NHS sash, you'll need to write an essay that will knock the socks off the selection committee. 

No pressure, right? Well, don't worry, because we've got you covered. In this article, we'll provide you with expert tips and real-world examples of successful National Honor Society essays that will help you craft an essay that's worthy of your many talents.

 We'll cover everything from the essential elements of a strong NHS essay to tips for effective writing and editing. And hey, if all else fails, you can always bribe the selection committee with cookies. (Okay, maybe not. But it's worth a shot, right?) So grab a pen, fire up your laptop, and let's get started on your path to NHS greatness!

What is the National Honor Society?

National Honor Society (NHS) is an organization that recognizes and encourages academic achievement while developing the essential qualities of leadership, scholarship , service, and character in high school students.

NHS is an invitation-only organization that recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in academics, leadership, service, and character. Membership in NHS is a significant achievement and serves as recognition for students who have worked hard to excel in their studies and to make a positive impact in their school and community.

In this essay, we will discuss the importance of leadership, scholarship, service, and character, how to apply for the NHS, and tips for writing an impressive NHS Essay.

Leadership is an essential quality that the NHS recognizes in its members. Leadership involves the ability to motivate others, take initiative, and work collaboratively towards a common goal.

Leadership can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, such as leading a team, organizing an event, or advocating for a cause. NHS values leadership because it is essential for achieving success in academics, personal growth, and community involvement.

To demonstrate leadership, NHS requires that applicants have held leadership positions in their school and community. This can include serving as a team captain, organizing a community service project, or leading a school club or organization.

However, it is important to note that leadership is not limited to formal positions of authority. Leaders can emerge in any situation, and the NHS recognizes that leadership can be demonstrated in many different ways.


Scholarship is another important quality that the NHS recognizes in its members. Scholarship involves a commitment to academic excellence, a desire for knowledge, and a willingness to engage in intellectual pursuits. Scholarship is essential for success in higher education and for developing the skills and knowledge needed to make a positive impact in society.

To demonstrate scholarship, NHS requires that applicants have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. However, NHS values scholarship beyond just grades. NHS recognizes that scholarship involves a desire for learning and intellectual curiosity. This can be demonstrated through taking challenging courses, pursuing independent research projects, or participating in academic competitions.

Service is another essential quality that NHS recognizes in its members. Service involves a commitment to giving back to the community and making a positive impact on the lives of others. Service is essential for developing empathy and compassion, and for building strong and supportive communities.

To demonstrate service, NHS requires that applicants have completed a minimum of 40 hours of community service. However, NHS values service beyond just the number of hours completed. NHS recognizes that service involves a commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.

This can be demonstrated through volunteering for organizations that align with personal values, initiating community service projects, or engaging in advocacy work.

Character is the final quality that NHS recognizes in its members. Character involves a commitment to ethical behavior, honesty, and integrity. Character is essential for building trust and fostering strong relationships with others.

To demonstrate character, NHS requires that applicants have a positive disciplinary record and a recommendation from a teacher or school administrator. However, NHS values character beyond just avoiding negative behaviors.

NHS recognizes that character involves a commitment to doing the right thing, even when it is difficult. This can be demonstrated through acts of kindness, ethical decision-making, and demonstrating honesty and integrity in all aspects of life.

Application and Membership

To apply for NHS, students must meet the minimum requirements for leadership, scholarship, service, and character. In addition, students must complete an application, submit a personal statement, and provide letters of recommendation.

The application typically includes basic information such as name, address, and GPA. It may also ask for information about leadership positions held, community service activities completed, and academic achievements. The application may also include short essay questions to allow students to showcase their strengths and accomplishments.

NHS Essay Guide

If you are looking to write an NHS essay, here is a guide that can help you craft an impressive and professional essay:

Understanding the NHS pillars

The National Honor Society is based on four pillars: leadership, scholarship, service, and character. Before you begin writing, it is important to understand what each of these pillars means and how you have demonstrated them in your life.

Brainstorm your accomplishments

Once you understand the pillars, make a list of all the activities and accomplishments that you have achieved in each of the pillars. This could include things like holding a leadership position in a club, achieving academic excellence, volunteering in your community, or demonstrating integrity and honesty in your personal life.

Write a rough draft

Once you have your list of accomplishments, begin drafting your essay. Start by introducing yourself and explaining why you are interested in joining the NHS. Then, use specific examples to demonstrate how you have demonstrated leadership, scholarship, service, and character. Be sure to use strong, descriptive language and avoid vague statements.

Edit and revise 

Once you have a rough draft, take the time to edit and revise your essay. Read it out loud to catch any awkward phrasing or grammatical errors. Make sure that your essay is well-organized and that each paragraph flows smoothly into the next. Make sure to remove any unnecessary information or repetition.

Be Humble and Bold

Many students find it hard to express their hard-earned accomplishments without sounding boastful. Proudly stating your achievements without sounding brash is possible and important. Clearly state your motivations, your challenges, your vulnerabilities, and your mistakes to mitigate any concerns.

Get feedback

Once you have edited and revised your essay, get feedback from others. Ask a teacher, parent, or mentor to read your essay and give you their honest feedback. Use their feedback to make any necessary changes and to strengthen your essay.

Write a strong conclusion

End your essay with a strong conclusion that summarizes your achievements and explains why you would be a good fit for the NHS. Thank the reader for considering your application and expressing your excitement about the opportunity to join the NHS.

By following these steps, you can write an impressive and professional NHS essay that demonstrates your commitment to leadership, scholarship, service, and character. Remember to be specific and use strong language, and get feedback from others to ensure that your essay is the best it can be.

Tips for Writing NHS Essay

The National Honor Society (NHS) is a prestigious organization that recognizes high school students who have demonstrated excellence in academics, leadership, service, and character.

Being a member of NHS is a significant achievement and can provide many opportunities for personal and professional growth. To become a member of NHS, students must apply and write a personal statement. In this section, we will discuss some tips on how to write an impressive NHS essay.

Step 1: Understand the Purpose of the NHS Essay

The purpose of the NHS essay is to demonstrate to the selection committee that you possess the qualities of leadership, scholarship, service, and character. The essay is an opportunity for you to showcase your achievements, skills, and experiences that align with the NHS values. The essay should also highlight your personal goals and how being a member of NHS can help you achieve them.

Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Before writing the essay, take some time to brainstorm ideas. Think about your achievements, experiences, and skills that align with the NHS values. Consider examples of how you have demonstrated leadership, scholarship, service, and character in your school, community, or personal life. This will help you to organize your thoughts and create a clear and concise essay.

Step 3: Structure Your Essay

The NHS essay should have a clear structure that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should provide a brief overview of the essay and grab the reader's attention. The body of the essay should focus on the four NHS values: leadership, scholarship, service, and character. Use examples and anecdotes to demonstrate how you have demonstrated each of these values. 

Step 4: Be Specific and Concise

When writing your NHS essay, be specific and concise. Use specific examples and anecdotes to demonstrate your achievements and skills. Avoid using general statements that could apply to anyone. Also, be concise and avoid using unnecessary words or phrases. The essay should be clear and easy to read.

Step 5: Show, Don't Tell

When writing your NHS essay, it is essential to show, not tell. Instead of saying that you have demonstrated leadership, provide an example of a time when you led a team or organized an event. Use descriptive language to paint a picture of the situation and show how you demonstrated leadership.

Step 6: Be Honest and Authentic

When writing your NHS essay, be honest and authentic. Don't exaggerate your achievements or skills, but also don't be too modest. Be genuine and let your personality shine through in the essay. This will help the selection committee get to know you better and see why you would be an excellent fit for NHS membership.

Step 7: Proofread and Edit

Before submitting your NHS essay, make sure to proofread and edit it carefully. Check for grammar and spelling errors, and make sure the essay is well-organized and easy to read. You may also want to have someone else read the essay and provide feedback. This will help you to identify areas that need improvement and ensure that your essay is as impressive as possible.

Writing an impressive NHS essay requires careful planning, organization, and attention to detail. By following these tips, you can create an essay that showcases your achievements, skills, and experiences and demonstrates why you would be an excellent candidate for NHS membership. Remember to be specific, concise, honest, and authentic, and to show, not tell your achievements and skills.

Personal Statement

Here is an example of a personal statement for your NHS: “I am thrilled to submit my statement for consideration as a potential member of the National Honor Society. As a student who is deeply committed to the ideals of leadership, scholarship, service, and character, I believe that I would be an ideal candidate for this prestigious organization.

In addition to my academic and extracurricular pursuits, I believe that my personal qualities make me an ideal candidate for the National Honor Society. I am a natural leader who can inspire others and work collaboratively toward a common goal. I am also highly organized, disciplined, and self-motivated, which allows me to juggle multiple responsibilities and stay on top of my commitments.

Above all else, I believe that my commitment to character is what sets me apart as a candidate for the National Honor Society. I believe that integrity, honesty, and respect are the foundation of all meaningful relationships, and I strive to embody these values in everything that I do.

Whether I am working on a group project with my peers or volunteering in my community, I am always mindful of the impact that my actions have on those around me.

In conclusion, I believe that I would be an ideal candidate for the National Honor Society based on my academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal qualities, and commitment to service and character. I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to apply for membership in this esteemed organization, and I look forward to contributing to the National Honor Society in a meaningful way.”

NHS Essay Examples

Essay example 1.

As a dedicated student, committed volunteer, and aspiring leader, I have always strived to make a positive impact in my university and community. The National Honor Society has always been an organization that I have admired and respected, and I am excited about the opportunity to join such a prestigious group of individuals.

Throughout my bachelor studies, I have been actively involved in various extracurricular activities and clubs, including serving as the president of the university sports society. In this role, I have organized numerous fundraising events, community service projects, and volunteer opportunities for my peers, inspiring them to take action and make a difference in our community.

I have also served as a mentor and tutor to underclassmen, providing guidance and support to help them achieve their academic and personal goals.

Academic excellence is something that I have always prioritized, and I have worked hard to maintain a good GPA throughout my university career. I have taken on challenging coursework, including honors and Advanced Placement courses, to further develop my intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills. 

As a member of the National Honor Society, I hope to continue to challenge myself academically and inspire others to do the same.

I believe that giving back to my community is not only a responsibility but also a privilege. I have volunteered at various local organizations, including the food bank, animal shelter, and community garden, and have helped to raise money for numerous charities.

Additionally, I have been involved in a peer mentoring program that offers guidance and support to students struggling academically or personally.

Integrity, honesty, and respect are values that I hold dear, and I strive to demonstrate these qualities in everything that I do. I have participated in various character-building programs, including the school’s conflict resolution program and the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program, which have helped me to develop strong communication and problem-solving skills.

I believe that my commitment to these values will make me a valuable member of the National Honor Society.

As a well-rounded student and active member of my community, I am excited about the opportunity to join the National Honor Society. I am confident that I have demonstrated excellence in leadership, scholarship, service, and character, and I look forward to further developing these qualities as a member of this prestigious organization. Thank you for considering my application.

Essay Example 2:

Dear National Honor Society Selection Committee,

I am honored to apply for membership in the National Honor Society, as I believe that this prestigious organization aligns with my values of leadership, scholarship, service, and character. I am confident that my academic achievements, community service, and leadership experiences demonstrate my commitment to these values and make me a strong candidate for membership.

Throughout my high school career, I have demonstrated leadership skills in various extracurricular activities and organizations. I have served as a captain of my school’s varsity basketball team for two years, where I have not only led my team to multiple championships but also served as a role model for my teammates by demonstrating a strong work ethic, positive attitude, and sportsmanship

Academic excellence is a top priority for me, and I have consistently maintained a high GPA throughout my high school years. I have taken on challenging coursework, including Honors and Advanced Placement classes, to further my intellectual curiosity and challenge myself.

Furthermore, I have actively participated in academic competitions, including the National Science Olympiad, where I have won multiple medals and awards.

I have always been passionate about serving my community and making a positive impact on the lives of others. I have volunteered at various local organizations, including the food bank, homeless shelter, and community garden, where I have helped to feed the hungry, care for the less fortunate, and create a sustainable future.

Furthermore, I have served as a mentor and tutor to younger students, providing guidance and support to help them achieve their academic and personal goals.

Integrity, honesty, and respect are values that I hold dear, and I strive to demonstrate these qualities in everything that I do. I have participated in various character-building programs, including the school’s peer mediation program, where I have learned effective communication and problem-solving skills.

In summary, I believe that my leadership, scholarship, service, and character make me a strong candidate for membership in the National Honor Society. I am excited about the opportunity to further develop these qualities and contribute to the mission of this esteemed organization.

I thank you for considering my application, and I look forward to the opportunity to represent the National Honor Society with honor and distinction

In conclusion, the National Honor Society is an esteemed organization that recognizes high-achieving students who demonstrate excellence in the pillars of leadership, scholarship, service, and character. Writing a brilliant NHS essay requires thoughtful reflection on your accomplishments and an ability to effectively communicate how you embody these pillars in your life.

By following the tips and guidelines provided in this article, you can craft an impressive and professional essay that showcases your dedication to these pillars and your potential as a valuable member of the National Honor Society.

If you're ready to take the next step in your academic and personal journey, we encourage you to apply to the National Honor Society. As a member, you will have the opportunity to engage in meaningful service projects, connect with other high-achieving students, and further develop your leadership skills. 

Don't let this opportunity pass you by - take the time to write an exceptional NHS essay and join the ranks of some of the most accomplished students in the country.

So what are you waiting for? Start crafting your NHS essay today and take the first step towards achieving your goals. We wish you the best of luck in your application and hope to see you among the distinguished members of the National Honor Society.

With the help of essay writing tools , writing an NHS essay can be made easier and quicker.'s AI-powered writing tools can help you develop a strong thesis statement and produce high-quality articles. 

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 70+ academic honors examples for your college application.

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College Admissions


College applications are all about showing off to the admissions committee, and what better way to do so than to lead with your most impressive academic awards.   What are the best academic honors and awards to put on a college application?

In this guide, we give you 7 0+ academic honors examples to give you an idea of what types of achievements colleges like to see most on applications.   In addition, we explain what counts as an academic honor or award, go over different impressive academic honors and awards examples you can get, and give you useful tips for effectively talking about awards on your application.

What Is an Academic Honor or Award?

First things first, what counts as an academic honor or award?

Generally speaking, an academic honor or award is any major achievement you’ve made and been recognized for in some way.   The form of recognition can range from an actual object, such as a trophy or plaque, to prize money, a title, or verbal recognition.

Typically, an academic honor will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Distinction, honor, or honorable mention  for which you won’t usually receive a physical object or award—just the title
  • A diploma or certificate indicating the completion of a program or recognizing an accomplishment in a program or other activity
  • Prize or award won from a contest, competition, or tournament
  • Scholarship given in recognition of an outstanding (academic) accomplishment
  • Membership in a highly selective and competitive group or society

If you’ve won any awards for specific activities such as a sport you play or a club you’re part of, it’s better to list these in the extracurricular activities section of your application instead of in a separate awards section.

So what are some honors and awards to put on a college application? Up next, we'll take a look at more than 70 academic honors examples.


Academic Honors and Awards Examples

Here, we give you a list of 70+ academic honors and awards examples you could include on your own college application, from prizes won in national and international contests to school-based distinctions and awards.

All the academic honors examples below are grouped by category and listed alphabetically.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all academic honors and awards you could possibly have, so if you have an achievement that doesn’t exactly match one of the examples below, don’t worry—you can still put it on your college application!

Advanced Placement (AP) Awards

  • AP International Diploma (APID)
  • AP Scholar with Distinction
  • AP Scholar with Honor
  • DoDEA AP Scholar
  • International AP Scholar
  • National AP Scholar
  • State AP Scholar
  • IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) Certificate

National Awards

  • Governor’s Volunteer Award
  • National Student Volunteer Award
  • President’s Award for Educational Achievement
  • President’s Award for Educational Excellence
  • President’s National Service Award

PSAT Awards

  • National Hispanic Scholar
  • National Merit Commended Student
  • National Merit Finalist
  • National Merit Scholar
  • National Merit Semifinalist
  • School-based National Merit Scholarship winner

School-Based Awards

  • Foreign language award
  • High class rank (e.g., top 10%)
  • Honor roll/GPA award
  • National Honor Society membership
  • Perfect Attendance Award
  • School-specific award
  • School subject-specific award
  • Student of the Month/Term/Year
  • Subject-specific Honor Society membership (e.g., Science Honor Society)

Competitions and Contests

  • AAN Neuroscience Research Prize
  • Academic Decathlon
  • Academic Triathlon
  • American Regions Mathematics League (ARML)
  • B.E.S.T. Robotics Design contest
  • Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge
  • Davidson Fellows Scholarship
  • Doodle 4 Google
  • Google Science Fair
  • Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)
  • International BioGENEius Challenge
  • International Chemistry Olympiad
  • International Mathematical Olympiad
  • International Photography Awards (IPA)
  • Kids Philosophy Slam
  • Microsoft Imagine Cup
  • MIT THINK Scholars Program
  • National Academic League
  • National Academic Quiz Tournament
  • National Economics Challenge by CEE
  • National Geographic Bee
  • National Geographic Student Photo Contest
  • National High School Mock Trial Championship
  • National Science Bowl
  • National Science Olympiad
  • PhysicsBowl
  • Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)
  • Regional/National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium
  • Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
  • Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Awards
  • University Interscholastic League (UIL)

Miscellaneous Awards

  • Boy Scouts/Eagle Scouts awards
  • Employee of the Month
  • Girl Scouts awards
  • Merit scholarships for college
  • Musical performance award
  • National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) winner
  • National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) winner
  • Publications (such as short stories, art pieces, essays, etc.)
  • Volunteer award
  • Work award or promotion


The Best Honors and Awards to Put on a College Application

Of the dozens of academic honors examples above, which ones will look the most impressive on a college application?  Here, we explain the top four qualities a truly impressive academic honor will have. 

Note that an honor doesn’t need to have all  these qualities, though if it does, then it is definitely an excellent one to put on your application!

#1: It’s Highly Selective

One quality you want to highlight on your application is the selectivity of the award or honor you’ve won.  In other words, the academic award will be one that a lot of students try to win, making it difficult to achieve.

For example, because national and international contests and competitions draw so many student competitors, winning an award like these would certainly impress the admissions committee.

The more selective an academic honor or award is, the more impressive it’ll look on your college application.

Academic Honors Examples of Highly Selective Awards

  • Google Science Fair winner

#2: It’s Unique

Admissions committees see a lot of honor roll and National Society honors on college applications (not that these are bad — they’re just fairly common). So if you've won a particularly unique or rare award, definitely include it on your application, as this will  help you stand out from the crowd.

A unique award can be highly selective; it can also be one that is less well known or that highlights something creative, surprising, or impressive about you.

For instance, maybe you won the Most Innovative Employee award at your part-time job after you pitched the idea to create and manage a social media page for the company.

Academic Honors Examples of Unique Awards

  • Specific school-based awards (e.g., Most Confident Speaker in Chinese Class)
  • Local or community-based awards 

#3: It’s Relevant to Your Academic Interests and Strengths

Another academic award or honor that's  great to include on your college application is one that’s relevant to your academic interests and strengths.  These are typically subject- or field-specific awards, such as English or writing awards, math awards, etc.

For example, if you’re planning to major in engineering, you'd want to detail any awards you might have won in science, math, or engineering contests.

Relevant awards indicate to the admissions committee not only that you’re truly committed to the field you want to study, but also that you’re one of the most promising students in your field.

Academic Honors Examples of Relevant Awards

  • Writing award or publication (if you’re an English or creative writing major, for example)
  • STEM award (if you’re a STEM major)
  • Model UN (if you’re a political science or IR major, for example)

#4: It Highlights Your Leadership Potential

An impressive academic honor or award will also emphasize your leadership potential.  These are typically   awards that involve group or collaborative work.  S o if you ever led others to success — as a captain or president, for instance — this kind of honor would look great to potential colleges.

Just make sure that you explain on your application what kind of role you had and how your leadership specifically led your team to success.

Academic Honors Examples of Leadership/Group Awards

  • Volunteer awards
  • Girl Scouts or Eagle Scouts awards

How to Talk About Honors on Your College Application: 4 Tips

Since you likely won’t have a lot of room to write about academic honors and awards on your application, it's important that   you present your academic achievements in an effective, impressive way.  Here are some tips on how to talk about the awards you've won.

Tip 1: Open With Your Most Impressive Awards

Admissions officers don’t usually spend a lot of time with each application they get, so you want to make sure that you’re catching their eyes right away by starting with your most impressive honors and awards.  These will generally be awards that are highly competitive and required a lot of work and commitment on your end.

Tip 2: Focus on Your Spike

A "spike" is a particular academic passion you have.   For example, if you’re a science buff who plans to major in chemistry, you'd want to emphasize your spike on your application by focusing primarily on your chemistry- and science-related activities and awards.

Having a spike will ultimately help you stand out from other applicants.  To learn more about how you can develop a spike, check out our guide on how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League .


Tip 3: Describe Awards That Are Vague or Unclear

Not all academic awards and honors are well known or obvious, especially if they’re unique to your school or area. Therefore, m ake sure that you’re using the space you have in the awards section of your application to describe any academic honors that the admissions committee is probably unfamiliar with.

The last thing you want an award to do is confuse admissions officers, so be clear about what it is, how you won it, and what makes it impressive.

Tip 4: Explain the Competitiveness of the Award

For each academic award or honor you’ve won, you want to clarify its level of competitiveness by explaining the scope of the competition.  For example, was the science tournament you won a national one? A local one? A school-based one?

Note that if the award has the word "national" or "international" in it, you shouldn’t have to add much explanation to its description since it'll be obvious that the award is fairly selective.

The overall point here is to show off!

Recap: Honors and Awards to Put on a College Application

As you can see, there's a huge variety in the types of academic honors and awards examples you can put on your college application. The 70+ academic honors examples listed above are just some of the possible honors you could include.

In general, the best academic honors to include on your application will have some or all of the following qualities:

  • They’re highly selective/competitive
  • They’re unique
  • They highlight your academic interests and strengths (your "spike," that is)
  • They emphasize your leadership skills/potential

You won’t have a ton of space on your application to explain the academic awards you’ve won, so it’s important to use the room you have wisely. To reiterate, h ere are our four best tips for how to talk about your academic awards and honors on your application:

  • Open with your most impressive awards and honors
  • Focus on your spike —i.e.,  your biggest academic passion and commitment
  • Describe any vague, unclear, or lesser-known awards/honors you've received
  • Explain the competitiveness of the award

Now get out there and win some awards!

What’s Next?

Lots of colleges use the Common App . If you're going to be using this platform to apply to college, make sure you know what to expect with the Common App honors section .

Planning to take AP tests in the spring? If you're hoping to snag a distinguished AP award , read our guide to get tips on how you can do this.

Honors can prove that you're a serious and ambitious college applicant.  Check out our expert guide to learn what high school honors is and how you can achieve honors status at your own high school.

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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Honors College Essay: Tips, Prompt examples and How to Write

Honors College Essay: Tips, Prompt examples and How to Write

Writing honors college essay

Writing honors college essay

An honors college essay is an academic paper that students typically complete to establish entrance into an honors college, program, or division. An honors paper seeks to test students’ research skills and focus their analytical abilities on a subject of academic interest. 

Due to the specialized focus of the paper, students benefit from serious attention to the college essay topics, which are vital in developing the essay.

honor student essay

An Honors College essay is unique in terms of its requirements, structure, and background. The purpose of this article is to provide advice on writing and structuring an Honors College essay.

Which Universities do Ask for Honors College Essay

1) uci (university of california irvine) .

The UCI has two programs, the Academic Honors Program and the Honors Program. Both are popular with many members. They are not mutually exclusive, but they have different requirements and different goals.

The Academic Honors Program is for students who want to get recognized by their professors for academic achievement. It does not require an essay but several letters of recommendation from faculty members.

You should not apply to either program if you are only interested in one or the other because there is no guarantee that either program will accept your application or that you will gain acceptance into either program.

2) VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University)

Colleges for Honors Essay

The applicants must complete the 500-word Essay on Honors. The essay should address the following topics:

  • Your interests and goals, especially as they pertain to your intended major(s) and career path(s). How do you feel about being a lifelong learner?
  • Your ideas about leadership, including h
  • How you would define leadership, what your leadership style is, how you would use your abilities as a leader to positively impact your community in and out of college, and how you would lead if given the opportunity.

3) NJT (New Jersey Institute of Technology)

NJT requires you to write an essay and submit it along with your application.

These honors college essays usually focus on your intellectual interests and experiences, using specific examples to illustrate your points. It’s essential to select an area you are interested in and know about. 

You should also pick something that you can write about easily; it will be evident if you are writing a research paper or other academic work instead of an honors college essay, so don’t try to fake it!

4) Purdue University

Purdue University’s Honors College focuses on scholarship, leadership, research, and engagement by integrating residential and co-curricular learning opportunities with academic classroom experiences.

Your college application essay needs to breathe life into your application. It should capture your genuine personality, explaining who you are beyond a series of grades, test scores, and after-school activities. 

Take a minute and think about the college or university admission officers who will be reading your essay.

5) Stony Brook University

The Stony Brook Honors College provides an exceptional opportunity for students who want to pursue a challenging course of study in the company of talented peers. Your essay should be no longer than three double-spaced pages and should address certain questions.

It is an opportunity to explain an event that took place on any day in history; what would that event be? Discuss why you chose this particular day. Also, as this question, what do you hope to learn/experience by being present?

How to Write a Good Honors College Essay

Honors college essays follow a formal style with a clear structure. To get your honors college essay, follow these tips:

an essay introduction

  • Think about the prompt and what you want to say.
  • Brainstorm.
  • Organize your thoughts into a logical outline.
  • Write your introduction.
  • End with a conclusion that sums up the main points of your argument and connects those points back to the prompt.

Technically, the honors college essay can be a five-paragraph essay, but it should be more than that.

It should be closer to a 10-paragraph essay, with an introduction and conclusion paragraph that are each about four or five sentences long.

The introduction and conclusion paragraphs should be about the same size. The middle of the essay should be about three paragraphs long, and each of them should be about four to five sentences long.

1. Introduction 

The introduction should have a hook which is a catchy sentence or two that gets the reader interested in reading your essay. Furthermore, it should have an explanation of why you want to go to Honors College: This is usually possible in one sentence. 

Also, there should be a thesis statement. This is usually evident in one sentence at the end of the paragraph. The thesis statement tells the reader what you plan to write about in your essay. For example: “I want to attend honors college because of their strong pre-med program.”

Write the body of your paper using transition words to connect your ideas and explain the connections between them.

The middle paragraphs should include an explanation of why you have chosen your career path and why you are interested. 

3. Conclusion

End with a strong conclusion that ties together everything you discussed within your paper, providing important takeaways for readers as well as leaving them feeling satisfied with what they just read.


  • You are writing an essay, not a text message. In other words, please use complete sentences and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If proper English is not your strong suit, enlist someone proficient at it to help edit your essay.
  • Be specific about what you want to study and why. Do not just say that you want an education; tell the reader what kind of education you want and why. This is particularly important if you plan to study something that you did not find at your high school. 
  • The readers do not expect you to know everything about the field you plan to enter. They expect that you give serious consideration to it and explain why you want to pursue it beyond the fact that “it sounds interesting” or “it pays well.”
  • Proofread your essays before sending them in. Errors will distract from whatever else is in those essays and may give us a negative impression of your abilities.

To remember

Things to Remember about Honor Essays

The honors essay is one of your best chances to stand out in a meaningful way from other applicants, so be sure to invest time in crafting a great response.

The admission office is looking for the following:

  • The office wants to know that you understand what makes the honors program special. We have a diverse group of students and faculty who are passionate about learning and interacting across disciplines.
  • What do you think this will mean for you? How will you take advantage of being in an environment that values interdisciplinary thinking?
  • Your accomplishments. Let the audience know your talents. Have you excelled academically? What leadership roles have you taken on, or awards have you won? They want to discover what drives your passion for learning, leadership, and service.
  • Your plans for the future. The honors program will prepare you for success beyond your skills, whether that’s graduate school or medical school, or a career in a completely different field. 

Examples of Honors College Essay Topics

  • Considering your lifetime goals, explain how your present and future academic activities will assist you in achieving your goals. 
  • Settle for an issue of importance to you, whether it is political, personal, local, or international related. Then, craft an essay to explain the significance of that issue to yourself, your community, and your generation. 

Josh Jasen

When not handling complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.

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How to Become an Honor Student

Last Updated: October 21, 2022 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. There are 25 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 141,135 times.

Becoming an honor student is a major milestone in an academic career. Joining the Honor Roll or Dean’s List tells others that you are not only a top student in grades, but that you demonstrate maturity and take your studies seriously. Although it isn’t easy, achieving honors status can have real benefits: it may get you into a good college, it may impress scholarship or financial aid committees, it may earn you a tuition discount, or it may help you land that job you’ve always wanted. The commitment can be intense, though. You’ll need to approach the task with seriousness of purpose.

Getting Started

Step 1 Find your motivation.

  • Studies suggest that intrinsic motivation, or feeling motivated to do something because it aligns with something you believe or value, is more powerful than extrinsic, or external, motivation. Intrinsic motivation is driven by three basic needs: competence (doing something successfully), relatedness (connecting with other people), and autonomy (feeling in charge of your own life). [1] X Research source
  • For example, if you're motivated to become an honor student because you love performing well at your studies, or because it makes you feel like you're in charge of your education, this is intrinsic motivation.
  • If you are motivated to pursue honor status because you want your parents to be proud of you, or to enhance your resume, this is extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation isn't a bad thing, but it isn't as strong as intrinsic motivation. [2] X Research source

Step 2 Organize...

  • Do you tend to forget assignments? Try using a daily planner as a way to remember. You can even enter in reminders on your phone or in an online calendar such as Google Calendar or Apple's iCloud Calendar. [3] X Research source
  • Keep separate folders for each course or subject. Make sure you keep all your assignments, notes, rubrics, etc. for the course in this folder. When it comes time to study for an exam or write an essay, you'll have all your material in one place.
  • Set deadlines for yourself. Your teachers likely have deadlines for projects, but setting your own deadlines ahead of these will help you stay on track. Break large projects down into smaller sub-tasks and set a mini-deadline for each task. For example, instead of "term paper due December 4," figure out how much time you will need for each stage of that paper. You'll need time to plan, research, write a draft, revise it, and turn it in (preferably ahead of the due date). Set deadlines for each of those stages. [4] X Research source

Step 3 Set a routine.

  • A routine prepares you to work. Set aside a time each day or each week to work on a subject without distractions. Or, give yourself a quota to meet each day -- so many pages to read or words to write.
  • Make appointments with yourself for study time. Fill them in on your calendar just as you would going to class or soccer practice. Keep these appointments faithfully.
  • Get in the habit of studying for a set amount of time, such as 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute break. This method is much more effective than trying to study for huge chunks of time. [6] X Research source [7] X Research source

Step 4 Create a good...

  • Some people work best in silence. Others prefer to work to music or background noise.
  • Avoid studying in bed, as this can encourage you to goof off or take a nap instead. [9] X Research source
  • Change up your study locations at times. A desk at home, a library carrel, or a table at a quiet cafe are good choices.

Hitting the Books

Step 1 Go to class.

  • Many honors courses have additional requirements, such as class participation or class discussion. If you miss class, you miss out on this part of your grade.
  • A good circle of friends or study partners can hold you accountable. Consider making a deal with your study-buddies to keep each other in class.

Step 2 Get help from others.

  • Talk with your teacher if you're having difficulty, or you'd just like to understand a topic more clearly. As long as it's not an hour before the test, most teachers are happy to answer your questions.
  • Join a peer tutoring program if you need more intensive one-on-one help. Peer tutors know their stuff -- you have to do well in a subject in order to become one. They can guide you through assignments and major concepts, build up your base of knowledge, or help you prepare for an upcoming exam.
  • Don't despair if your school doesn't offer these resources. It's always possible to form your own study circle. But be careful if your study circle consists only of close friends. Minimize your distractions and remember to hit those books!

Step 3 Take good notes in class.

  • Taking notes is an art form. It will take you some time to learn how to listen and read effectively and identify the most important things. Oftentimes school writing centers offer students tips for this. [12] X Research source
  • How you take notes – whether by computer or hand – is up to you. Studies suggest that taking notes by hand is better for comprehension and recall, though. [13] X Research source Some (but not all) teachers are also fine with students recording them in class. Just make sure to ask for their permission beforehand.
  • Many honor students like using the Cornell method , which involves taking notes during class and then later returning to them to review and condense. This method is great for courses that cover clearly-defined subjects, such as math, science, and history. It is less useful for more abstract courses that focus less on memorization and recall, such as a discussion-heavy literature course.

Step 4 Do your assignments.

  • There are also reasons to do your homework besides just the grades. Studies have shown that completing your homework is linked to higher achievement and to the development of skills like time management, responsibility, and good study habits.
  • Turn in your assignments early when possible. If your paper is due online at midnight, it's practically a guarantee that there will be a dozen students trying to upload it at 11:59, which could cause system crashes. Do your assignments as soon as possible, and definitely turn them in early when you can. [15] X Research source
  • A strong history of turning in your assignments on time also makes teachers more likely to be flexible if you have a genuine emergency. If you've only turned in a third of your homework to start with, though, your teacher is unlikely to be impressed by your excellent excuse for not doing it this time.

Step 5 Be honest about your work.

  • Be especially careful when it comes to homework assignments. Unless it's a group project, it may be inappropriate to do an assignment with others.
  • Never plagiarize. Using another person's answers, or copying words from a book or website into an essay, are forms of plagiarism and academically dishonest. Plagiarism can cause you to fail an assignment or course or even get you expelled. [16] X Research source

Step 6 Study often and early.

  • Try bringing flashcards with you on the bus or public transit. You can review them while you're riding to school, or even while you're standing in line at the store.
  • By reviewing your material in smaller chunks frequently, you're more likely to commit it to long-term memory.

Step 7 Forget trying to multitask.

  • This works the other way around, too. Even the most dedicated honor student needs time to decompress and relax, or you'll burn out. Schedule in some dedicated "me time" and keep it faithfully. If you're on a half-hour break, try not to think about homework.

Following Through Outside the Classroom

Step 1 Stay focused.

  • Motivations change sometimes. Maybe having the perfect resume was really motivating in August but isn't so much in November. Try thinking about your long-term goals and how being an honor student plays into them.
  • Try to find sources of intrinsic motivation when you can. It can be much harder to stay focused and dedicated if you're doing something to make someone else happy, rather than yourself. [22] X Research source

Step 2 Talk to your teachers.

  • Being willing to admit that you need help and ask questions actually reflects well on you as an honor student. It ultimately shows that you understand the need for collaboration and growth.
  • Teachers will often make time before or after class to field students’ questions. It is usually a good idea to approach them then. However, if before or after class doesn't work, talk with your teacher about meeting another time. Often, teachers are happy to accommodate you if you have genuine questions and curiosity.
  • In college, professors also generally hold weekly office hours. Find out where and when they are and visit a couple of times during the semester. But have a clear reason for going. They will appreciate your visit so long as you do not waste their time.

Step 3 Don’t get discouraged.

  • Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes. Making a mistake, or even a failing grade, is not the same as being "a failure." Students who hold themselves to unreasonable standards of perfection often suffer increased levels of depression and anxiety, and may not even perform as well as those who have more reasonable standards.
  • Perfectionism is not the same as the healthy quest for excellence that being an honor student represents. When you have a perfectionist approach, you use all-or-nothing thinking: a single bad grade represents total failure, which is unacceptable. You also tend to internalize mistakes, as though doing poorly on a quiz says something negative about you as a person. [24] X Research source Instead, set yourself standards that are high, but that don't demand utter perfection. Remember that learning is a process and not a product.
  • Channel any frustrations into productive energy. Try to accept criticism and use it to improve in the future. View mistakes not as failures, but as opportunities to grow and learn so you can perform differently next time.

Step 4 Maintain a healthy school/life balance.

  • Do things to keep yourself healthy and in good spirits. Consider joining an extracurricular activity. Not only will you have fun, extracurricular activities often look great on a resume or college application.
  • Have a support network. Friends can help you catch up when you are absent on a particular day, but they are also invaluable for your overall well-being. An active social life can be a great release and give you a much-needed break from studying. Family is important, too. There will probably be times when you’ll need to lean on them for moral support.

Step 5 Eat right and exercise.

  • Eat breakfast every day, preferably one that incorporates sources of quality protein such as eggs, yogurt, and whole grains. [27] X Trustworthy Source American Heart Association Leading nonprofit that funds medical research and public education Go to source
  • Incorporate plenty of fresh, dark-colored fruits and vegetables into your diet. These foods are high in vitamins and antioxidants and are literally "brain food." [28] X Trustworthy Source Harvard Medical School Harvard Medical School's Educational Site for the Public Go to source
  • Get enough glucose. Studies have shown that glucose is important for brain function. If you're diabetic, of course, you need to follow instructions from your physician. In general, though, sources of glucose such as potatoes and whole-grain bread, and even the occasional glass of lemonade or chocolate, will help boost your memory and attention.
  • Get enough daily exercise. Even 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic exercise, such as running, dancing, or kickboxing, will keep you de-stressed and healthy. [29] X Trustworthy Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Main public health institute for the US, run by the Dept. of Health and Human Services Go to source

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Ace Your National Honor Society Essay with These Tips


Entering the National Honor Society can be a student's dream and requires devotion, good grades and expanding your interests into social activities, sports, and volunteering in your community. The NHS application is a sumptuous procedure and you'll need to compose an appropriate national honor application essay to get accepted. This essay will generally work as a recapitulation of your academic history, your dreams, and aspirations and your future plans. It is a decisive part of the application and needs to be written super carefully, with flair and method.

In fact, most chapters of NHS require an essay as part of your application for membership. The philosophy behind the essay varies; it might be a broad overview description of your academic achievements so far or work as a response to a specific question set and then insert your personal touch. Difficult as it might sound, the essay is, in fact, an opportunity to develop your full personality and convince the committee that yes, you are worthy of their attention. This means that acing it is a big step towards your goal to be accepted at the NHS, and there are tips to help you in the process.

Most chapters of NHS require an essay as part of your application for membership.

Understand the philosophy behind the essay

Before even starting to write the essay structure, it is important to fully understand the philosophy behind the essay. In general, the NHS concept is based on four pillars: scholarship, leadership, service, and character. Define the criteria and prepare your thesis to meet them all. Make sure you make some preparatory notes of all your scholarships and grants, activities that would show the leader in you (i.e. captain of the school football team) and list all volunteering work you have done in the past. Remember to explain why volunteering to the specific cause is important to you and makes you passionate in your side notes-you will need them as you proceed writing the essay.

Then tell your personal story-in writing

Your life story is what makes you unique and the NHS appreciates personal journeys that are built with dedication and passion at a young age. Think of the essay as an introduction of who you actually are, where to do aim to go and then try to communicate it efficiently. Building the essay around a general idea will also help you focus; for example, if your passion is getting to college to acquire a Math Ph.D. then focus your writing on jour personal journey with Math in high school-your Grades, extra work assignments, and awards. If animals are your passion, volunteering in an animal's shelter can show your devotion to later become a vet, so work your way around it.

Introduce yourself in a professional yet unique way

Perfection is a matter of balance-and your essay should be an example of both professionalism and flair in equal doses. Don't reinvent your writing style in the process or try to experiment with writing styles that are not you. Be clever yet professional. If you are generally a funny person, add your touch with a funny intro, if your style is more academic, and then keep it simple and clean. What is important is that the style expresses your personality as much as the content and that both assist your final goal-to be accepted in the NHS.

Talk in detail about your grants and scholarship achievements

The NHS aims to include the best of the best and provide them opportunities for the future so you have to convince them you belong to the elite. Again, make a list of your grades, awards, and scholarships. Then structure a big part of your writing around them-but in detail. Speak about the grants or scholarships you won, the Physics award or about being top your class in the first semester-in this process, the more the better. Excelling in activities outside school is also important but keep that separate-your academic life should be your primary focus here. You can also list prestigious classes you attended or name the teachers you have worked with and helped you obtain your top grades-in this section, the more is the better.

Include your non-academic achievements and activities

The next step in composing your essay is to include all your community or volunteer work, your activities and hobbies. Don't just list them-the idea here is to showcase your character traits and full personality. Again, the NHS is focusing on leadership, service, and character so structure them in order to meet those criteria. Where you the captain of a sports team? Did you do volunteering work at your city's animal shelter? Or participated in the theatre group at your school? Write them all down and then describe your character and qualities through them. Creativity, leadership and a collaborative manner within a team all work in your favor so don't be shy to mention your problem-solving qualities or focus on your best moments.

Acing the essay doesn't require you exaggerating on your achievements—the board members are well seasoned and can see past an essay whose focus is to impress. The key here is to be sincere-present your qualities and then mention your flaws. Make note that yes, you do have flaws but you are working to better yourself constantly. This is the kind of devotion that can make your flaws even work in favor of your application if presented correctly. Mentioning, for example, that you are a perfectionist but you are working to leave space for more creativity in what you do cannot do you harm—on the contrary.

Structure it appropriately

Writing a long essay is an arduous task—what makes a great one stand out and grasp the attention of the reader is structure. Decide what the focus of the essay should be and then structure all your information accordingly. The focus can be your love for a specific class or your future aspiration to be a lawyer and what you do to help you get there. Start from academic achievements, then pass to grants and scholarships, then mention your non-academic activities. Double-check you are following the structure in a way that your essay is clear, easy to be read and that communicates your message. This uniqueness will also make you stand out from the crowd and be remembered.

Introduce your paper in a clever and catchy way

Another great tip is to introduce your paper in a clever and catchy way; pick a life incident that you feel is important and then develop the whole essay around it. A trip with the boy scouts, a school incident or you starring at the school play can work well if you find the right angle, the one that will showcase your devotion and wit. You can also write about your experience working with a particular teacher or on a particular project that you loved. The introduction is where you can both catch the attention of the reader and evolve your full essay after it, so be creative. Again, balance is key, so never lose sight you are actually writing a well-structured NHS essay and not the intro of a novel so stay focused throughout your writing.

Another great tip is to introduce your paper in a clever and catchy way.

Write a killer conclusion

You have written all the boring stuff, elaborated on your academic qualities and presented your community work; now it's time to close the essay with a killer conclusion the board will remember. This, in fact, is the part where you can become more creative and show that you are also good at communicating your message so use whatever you feel best represents you. A school incident where you show your values or leadership qualities can work and so can your aspiration to enter college and get the job of your dreams. More of a creative type? This is the place where you can use a famous person's saying that best represents you and elaborate on it-or a moment in your school life that has defined you.

Proofread it, and then again!

Proofreading is key; you just can't convince your readers you are a straight-A student with spelling mistakes, and even the smallest of them can very well ruin an otherwise perfect essay so be focused and double-check everything. Then have a member of your family, your teacher, or a professional editor to check it again for mistakes you can spot by using automatic spell correctors. A crown is different from a crowd but it's hard for the spell checker to spot what you are trying to say, so be extra careful. Make sure the essay flows effortlessly and that you don't exaggerate on promoting yourself—this can be alienating and not work on your favor. Be perfect but be yourself along the way.

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National Honor Society (NHS) Essay Examples & Expert Advice

July 8, 2023

honor student essay

Every year, high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors write National Honor Society essays in the hopes of becoming a member. It’s certainly an admirable recognition. Joining the ranks means partaking in an interscholastic tradition alongside future movers and shakers. Past National Honor Society (NHS) members have consisted of Olympians, astronauts, senators, neurosurgeons, Nobel prize winners, Navy admirals, and more. Some of the more celebrity-famous NHS-ers include journalist Katie Couric, writer, and comedian Tina Fey, and poet Robert Warren Penn. Former first lady Michelle Obama, of course. Even Taylor Swift joined the NHS in high school. You can bet her songwriting skills came in handy for the National Honor Society essay. Intimidated? Don’t be. View our NHS essay example below as well as our more general advice for the National Honor Society essay.

Before composing your own NHS essay, you may want to ask yourself, “Why should I join NHS ?” Your answer to this question will help determine if, and how, you should craft a relevant NHS essay.

The NHS in Brief

It all began with a high school principal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who founded the National Honor Society in 1921. Today, this hundred-and-two-year-old society boasts local chapters in all 50 U.S. states and territories. It also has chapters in American and international schools abroad. Membership, open to select high school students, can open doors to interesting service and leadership opportunities. In fact, service and leadership form the cornerstone of NHS.

The one million plus students who participate in the NHS yearly have service and leadership in common. That’s because the NHS requires demonstrated community service, and demonstrated leadership. It also requires a GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (though this number varies depending on the chapter) and demonstrated good character. You’ll want to check your local chapter’s specific guidelines when beginning the NHS application.

Other reasons to join the NHS include gaining access to the NHS network, an array of college planning tools, and the chance to apply for hefty scholarships. These perks naturally make for a competitive acceptance rate. So, the best way to make your application stand out involves crafting a stunning NHS essay. Here’s how.

Quick Tips for Drafting the National Honor Society Essay

1) Structure your NHS essay around the NHS Pillars: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. A high GPA acts as an indicator of your “scholarship”, or dedication to academia. This pillar must appear in your essay as well, in the form of impeccable writing skills. Demonstrate your service and leadership through the content of your essay. In other words, service and leadership form the action, or plot, of your essay. Finally, infuse your character throughout your essay, by showing how your behavior indicates your values and integrity.

2) Write from your heart, and make your NHS essay personal. The most memorable essays rely on a sincere writing voice and contain personal details. But note that by “personal,” I don’t mean you must share your deepest secrets. Rather, ground an event in your own experience by incorporating your emotions, thoughts, and sensations. This will make your essay unique to you.

3) Weave together a story; don’t make a list. As you tell your story, pull from your strongest experiences. Perhaps you have a handful of leadership and service roles. Pick only a few that say something about your interests and personality, and develop your story by threading these ideas together. While a list might look impressive, a story will come across as better crafted and more captivating. If, however, none of your service activities seem significant enough to single out and describe on their own, weave these activities together through a theme. For example, the theme could be how you overcame shyness to lead.

Quick Tips for Drafting the National Honor Society Essay, Continued

4) Mind your audience. In this case, your audience is your school’s faculty member who’s taken on the role of chapter adviser. You may want to meet with them ahead of time to let them know you’re applying. This initiative on your part will look impressive. Moreover, you can ask in person what they look for in an NHS essay. Certainly, they’ll want to know how you stand out from the other applicants. So, you’ll also want to keep your competition in mind. As with college application essays, the tone of your NHS essay should be polite, formal, and charismatic.

5) Brainstorm, draft, edit, and repeat. A National Honor Society essay isn’t written overnight. Once you have your initial ideas down on paper, return to the page for a round of editing. Ask yourself where you can expand and where you sound redundant. Look for common threads and themes to enhance. Create transition sentences between paragraphs. Revise your conclusion. Next, show your essay to someone you trust. Their feedback will indicate where your essay excels and where you need to improve.

NHS Essay Example

My grandmother, or Ma-Maw , was the kind of generous busybody who made six different pies for her granddaughters’ birthdays. She invited everyone on the block, so nothing went to waste. Once, when we both went to shovel up the last slice of pie, she laughed, and said, “ noblesse oblige .” She often spoke French, a Louisiana French foreign yet familiar to me. I didn’t think to ask what she’d meant. Did she think I was noble? Was that why I got to scarf down the last of the cherry pie?

Ma-Maw died the summer before I entered high school. I missed her terribly, long after my parents sold her house. Receiving her redirected mail felt like a blow. So many newsletters from Friends of the New Orleans Public Library! Since I loved books as much as Ma-Maw, I opened these up. Inside, I read about a partnership program, Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR). They needed in-person volunteers to tutor second- and third-graders in reading.

Before I knew it, I was cracking open vocabulary books twice a week with a kid named Harper. When I wasn’t tutoring, I was lesson planning, going over Harper’s writing journal, and scouring shelves for more early reader books. This got me thinking about literacy in New Orleans. 39% of high school students my age have the reading level of a 5 th grader—or worse. Harper lived in a part of town that didn’t even have bookstores. Would she keep up her reading once the tutoring was over, despite the odds? I also thought about representation and accessibility. If Harper had more books about people like her, and if those books were all over the place, and easy to take home, would things change?

NHS Essay Example, Continued

Due to this newfound interest in advocating for literacy, I decided to build a Free Little Library (FLL). To do so, I needed help. That spring, I founded a school club, Reading the World, and convinced 8 members to join. Together, we dismantled one of Ma-Maw’s kitchen cabinets and incorporated other used materials to build an upcycled stand that could fit 20 books.

Next, we got in touch with the program Read for Color, which helps make BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse and marginalized voices heard. I believe their initiative parallels our own, which is to provide a diversity of voices through language itself. Our FLL features books in Cajun French and Creole and works in translation. With permission, we installed the FLL outside Ma-Maw’s old home. For its inauguration, our club invited the local organizations Youth Empowerment Project, One Book One New Orleans, and Read in Color. We plan to collaborate with these groups next year.

Now a sophomore, I’ve continued literacy advocacy by volunteering at Alliance Française events. This has given me new ideas about how to run Reading the World. I’ve added monthly book club events. Furthermore, every club member tutors a STAIR student. Finally, we’ll visit local senior homes at Thanksgiving and Christmas and read to the residents.

Ma-Maw would be happy to hear I won the L’Union Française’s Prix d’Excellence this year. She’d be even more thrilled to see how I’ve shared her love of reading with my community. Now I understand noblesse oblige : if you believe you are someone of noble character, then you must act accordingly. This NHS motto was easy for Ma-Maw to follow. She gave everything and led by example. I plan to follow in her footsteps. It would be an immense honor to do so through the National Honor Society.

NHS Essay Example, Dissected

This National Honor Society essay succeeds for many reasons. First, the student structures her essay around the theme of language and literacy. (Perhaps she also captains her softball team and volunteers for the Red Cross. But the student has correctly judged that these elements would distract from her story.) Rather than list her achievements and service, the student builds every element into a journey. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It shows how the student evolved to be someone who wants to make a difference. The ending completes the story by circling back to the beginning, through the idea of “noblesse oblige.” The student also manages to state clearly her thesis: she deserves acceptance into the National Honor Society.

This student’s story also centers around an emotional current, that of the student’s grandmother. The reader wants to invest in the story more because of this emotional aspect. Literacy is clearly not a random activity, but a meaningful one for the student. Including a role model allows the student to avoid bragging by transferring her praise to her grandmother.

Finally, the tone of the essay is formal (“It would be an immense honor”). Meanwhile, the unique voice of the student comes through (“We both went to shovel up the last slice of pie”). She accurately cites the names of the organizations she’s involved with and uses specificity (such as her grandmother’s kitchen cabinets) to draw the reader in.

Finished Your National Honor Society Essay?

Hopefully, you found our NHS essay example to be helpful. Now, feel free to check out our list of academic contests for more ways to boost your academic profile.

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Kaylen Baker

With a BA in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, and a Master’s in Translation from Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Kaylen has been working with students on their writing for over five years. Previously, Kaylen taught a fiction course for high school students as part of Columbia Artists/Teachers, and served as an English Language Assistant for the French National Department of Education. Kaylen is an experienced writer/translator whose work has been featured in Los Angeles Review, Hybrid, San Francisco Bay Guardian, France Today, and Honolulu Weekly, among others.

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Follow YES! For Teachers

Nine brilliant student essays on honoring your roots.

Read winning essays from our fall 2019 student writing contest.


For the fall 2019 student writing contest, we invited students to read the YES! article “ Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself? ” by Kayla DeVault. Like the author, students reflected on their heritage and how connected they felt to different parts of their identities. Students then wrote about their heritage, family stories, how they honor their identities, and more.

The Winners

From the hundreds of essays written, these nine were chosen as winners. Be sure to read the author’s response to the essay winners, literary gems and clever titles that caught our eye, and even more essays on identity in our Gallery of Voices.

Middle School Winner: Susanna Audi

High School Winner: Keon Tindle

High School Winner: Cherry Guo

University Winner: Madison Greene

Powerful Voice: Mariela Alschuler

Powerful Voice: Reese Martin

Powerful Voice: Mia De Haan

Powerful Voice: Laura Delgado

Powerful Voice: Rowan Burba

From the Author, Kayla DeVault: Response to All Student Writers and Essay Winners

Gallery of voices: more essays on identity, literary gems, titles we loved, middle school winner.

Susanna Audi

Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, N.Y.

Susanna Audi


Saudades. No word in the English language sums up the meaning of this Portuguese term: a deep feeling of longing that makes your heart ache and pound like a drum inside your chest. I feel saudades for Brazil, its unique culture, and my Brazilian family. When I’m in my second home, Bahia, Brazil, I’m a butterfly emerging from its cocoon—colorful, radiant, and ready to explore the world. I see coconut trees waving at the turquoise waves that are clear as glass. I smell the familiar scent of burning incense. I hear the rhythm of samba on hand-beaten drums, and I feel my grandma’s delicate fingers rub my back as I savor the mouth-watering taste of freshly made doce de leite .  Although I’m here for only two precious weeks a year, I feel a magnetic connection to my father’s homeland, my heart’s home.

My grandfather or vovô , Evandro, was born in Brazil to a family who had immigrated from Lebanon and was struggling to make ends meet. His parents couldn’t afford to send him to college, so he remained at home and sold encyclopedias door-to-door. My vovô eventually started a small motorcycle parts company that grew so much that he was able to send my father to the U.S. at age sixteen. My father worked hard in school, overcoming language barriers and homesickness. Even though he has lived in America for most of his life, he has always cherished his Brazilian roots. 

I’ve been raised with my father’s native language, foods, and customs. At home, I bake Brazilian snacks, such as the traditional cheese bread, pão de queijo , which is crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. My family indulges in the same sweet treats that my father would sneak from the cupboard as a child. Two relaxing customs we share are listening to Brazilian music while we eat breakfast on weekends and having conversations in Portuguese during meals. These parts of my upbringing bring diversity and flavor to my identity. 

Living in the U.S. makes me feel isolated from my Brazilian family and even more distant from Brazilian culture. It’s hard to maintain both American and Brazilian lifestyles since they are so different. In Brazil, there are no strangers; we treat everybody like family, regardless if that person works at the local shoe store or the diner. We embrace each other with loving hugs and exchange kisses on the cheeks whenever we meet. In the U.S., people prefer to shake hands. Another difference is that I never come out of Starbucks in New York with a new friend. How could I when most people sit with their eyes glued to their laptop screens? Life seems so rushed. To me, Brazilians are all about friendships, family, and enjoying life. They are much more relaxed, compared to the stressed and materialistic average American. 

As Kayla DeVault says in her YES! article “Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself,” “It doesn’t matter how many pieces make up my whole: rather, it’s my relationship with those pieces that matters—and that I must maintain.”  I often ask myself if I can be both American and Brazilian. Do I have to choose one culture over the other? I realize that I shouldn’t think of them as two different cultures; instead, I should think of them as two important, coexisting parts of my identity. Indeed, I feel very lucky for the full and flavorful life I have as a Brazilian American. 

Susanna Audi is an eighth-grader who lives in the suburbs of New York. Susanna loves painting with watercolors, cooking Brazilian snacks, and playing the cello. On weekends, she enjoys babysitting and plays several sports including lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. Susanna would love to start her own creative design business someday. 

High School Winner

Keon Tindle

Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

Keon Tindle

Walking Through the Forest of Culture

What are my roots? To most people, my roots only go as far as the eye can see. In a world where categorization and prejudice run rampant, the constant reminder is that I am Black. My past is a living juxtaposition: my father’s father is a descendant of the enslaved and oppressed and his wife’s forefathers held the whips and tightened the chains. Luckily for me, racial hatred turned to love. A passion that burned brighter than any cross, a love purer than any poison. This is the past I know so well. From the slave ship to the heart of Saint Louis, my roots aren’t very long, but they are deeply entrenched in Amerikkkan history.

This country was made off of the backs of my brothers and sisters, many of whom have gone unrecognized in the grand scheme of things. From a young age, White children are told stories of heroes—explorers, politicians, freedom fighters, and settlers whose sweat and determination tamed the animalistic lands of America. They’re given hope and power through their past because when they look in the mirror they see these heroes. But what about me? My stories are conveniently left out of the textbooks; I have never been the son of a king or a powerful African leader, just expensive cargo to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. It seems we, as a people, never truly left the ship.

Even now, we’re chained to the whitewashed image of Black history. I can never truly experience the Black tradition because there are multiple perspectives. The truth is clouded and lost due to the lack of documentation and pervasive amount of fabrication. How am I supposed to connect to my heritage? America tells me to celebrate the strength of my ancestors, the strength of the slaves, to praise something they helped create. The Afrocentrics tell me to become one with the motherland, celebrate the culture I was pulled away from. However, native Africans make it clear I’ll never truly belong.

Even the honorable Elijah Muhammad tells me to keep my chin pointed to the clouds, to distrust the creation of Yakub, and to take my place among the rest of Allah’s children. Most people don’t have the luxury of “identifying with all of the pieces of [themselves],” as Kayla DeVault says in the YES! article “Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” 

They’re forced to do research and to formulate their own ideas of who they are rather than follow the traditions of an elder. For some, their past works as a guide. A walk through life that has been refined over generations. Others, however, are forced to struggle through the dark maze of life. Hands dragging across the walls in an attempt to not lose their way. As a result, their minds create stories and artwork from every cut and scratch of the barriers’ surface. Gaining direction from the irrelevant, finding patterns in the illogical. 

So what are my roots? My roots are my branches, not where I come from but where this life will take me. The only constant is my outstretched arms pointed towards the light. A life based on the hope that my branches will sprout leaves that will fall and litter the path for the next generation.

Keon Tindle is unapologetically Black and embraces his African American background. Keon is an esports competitor, musician, and producer, and especially enjoys the craft of pairing history with hip-hop music. He is always ecstatic to dabble in new creative outlets and hopes to pursue a career in neuroscience research.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

Cherry Guo

Tying the Knot

The kitchen smells like onions and raw meat, neither unpleasant nor pleasant. Nainai’s house slippers slap against our kitchen floor as she bustles around, preparing fillings for zongzi: red bean paste, cooked peanuts, and marinated pork. I clap my pudgy hands together, delighted by the festivities. 

Nainai methodically folds the bamboo leaves into cones, fills them up with rice, and binds the zongzi together with string that she breaks between her teeth. I try to follow suit, but when I try to tie the zongzi together, half the rice spills out. Tired from my lack of progress, I abandon Nainai for my parents, who are setting up the mahjong table. 

After raising me to the age of ten, my grandparents returned to China. They dropped back into their lives like they had never left, like they hadn’t shaped my entire upbringing. Under their influence, my first language was not English, but Chinese. 

At school, my friends cajoled me into saying Chinese words for them and I did so reluctantly, the out-of-place syllables tasting strange on my palate. At home, I slowly stopped speaking Chinese, embarrassed by the way my tongue mangled English words when I spoke to classmates. One particular memory continually plagues me. “It’s Civil War, silly. Why do you pronounce “L” with an ‘R’?” Civil. Civil. Civil.

At dinner, my dad asked us to speak Chinese. I refused, defiantly asking my brother in English to pass the green beans. I began constructing false narratives around my silence. Why would I use my speech to celebrate a culture of foot binding and feudalism? In truth, I was afraid. I was afraid that when I opened my mouth to ask for the potatoes, I wouldn’t be able to conjure up the right words. I was afraid I would sound like a foreigner in my own home. If I refused to speak, I could pretend that my silence was a choice.

In Kayla DeVault’s YES! article “Native and European – How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” she insists that “Simply saying “I am this” isn’t enough. To truly honor my heritage, I found I must understand and participate in it.” And for the first time, I wonder if my silence has stolen my cultural identity. 

I decide to take it back.

Unlike DeVault, I have no means of travel. Instead, my reclamation starts with collecting phrases: a string of words from my dad when he speaks to Nainai over the phone, seven characters from two Chinese classmates walking down the hall, another couple of words from my younger sister’s Chinese cartoons. 

The summer before my senior year marks the eighth year of my grandparents’ return to China. Once again, I am in the kitchen, this time surrounded by my parents and siblings. The bamboo leaves and pot of rice sit in front of me. We all stand, looking at each other expectantly. No one knows how to make zongzi. We crowd around the iPad, consulting Google. Together, we learn how to shape the leaves and pack the rice down. 

The gap in knowledge bothers me. Does it still count as honoring a family tradition when I follow the directions given by a nameless pair of hands on YouTube rather than hearing Nainai’s voice in my mind? 

Instead of breaking the string with my teeth like Nainai had shown me, I use scissors to cut the string—like I had done with my ties to Chinese language and culture all those years ago. And now, I’m left with the severed string that I must hurriedly tie around the bamboo leaf before the rice falls out of my zongzi.

Cherry Guo is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. Cherry rows for her school’s crew team and plays the viola in her school orchestra. She spends what little free time she has eating pretzel crisps and listening to podcasts about philosophy.

University Winner

Madison Greene

Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Madison Greene

Carrying the Torch

I have been called a pizza bagel–the combination of a Catholic Italian and an Ashkenazi Jew. Over time, I have discovered the difficulty of discretely identifying the ratio of pizza to bagel. It is even more arduous when the pizza and the bagel have theologies that inherently contradict each other. Therefore, in a society that emphasizes fine lines and exact distinctions, my identity itself becomes a contradiction.  

In the winter, my family tops our Christmas tree with the Star of David. I’ve recited the Lord’s Prayer; I’ve prayed in Hebrew. I attended preschool at a church, and my brother was a preschooler in a synagogue. Every week at Sunday morning mass, my maternal family donates money to the collection basket during the offertory. My paternal family has donated authentic Holocaust photographs to a local Jewish heritage museum. Growing up, none of this was contradictory; in fact, it all seemed complementary. My Jewish and Catholic identities did not cancel each other out but rather merged together.

However, the compatibility of my Catholic-Jewish identities was in upheaval when I decided to become acquainted with the Jewish community on campus. While attending Hillel events, I felt insecure because I did not share many of the experiences and knowledge of other Jewish students. Despite this insecurity, I continued to participate — until a good friend of mine told me that I was not Jewish enough because of my Catholic mother. She also said that families like mine were responsible for the faltering of Jewish culture. I wanted my identity to be validated. Instead, it was rejected. I withdrew and avoided not only my Jewish identity but also my identity as a whole.

I soon realized that this friend and I look at my situation using different filters. My Catholic-Jewish identities have evolved into a codependent relationship, and I am entitled to unapologetically embrace and explore both aspects of my identity. I realized that even without my friend’s validation of my identity, I still exist just the same. Any discredit of my Catholic-Jewish identities does not eliminate my blended nature. So, after a few months of avoiding my Jewish identity, I chose to embrace my roots; I resumed participating in the Jewish community on campus, and I have not stopped since.

Kayla DeVault’s YES! article “Native and European – How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” describes the obligation to one’s ancestral chain. The best way to fulfill this duty is to fully dedicate oneself to understanding the traditions that accompany those cultural origins. In this generation, my mother’s Catholic-Italian maiden name has no men to carry it on to the next generation. It is difficult to trace my last name past the mid-1900s because my Jewish ancestors shortened our surname to make it sound less Semitic, to be less vulnerable to persecution. Given the progressive fading of my family’s surnames, how do I continue the legacies of both family lines?

On behalf of my ancestors and for the sake of the generations still to come, I feel obligated to blend and simultaneously honor my Jewish and Catholic heritage to ensure that both prevail. 

Now I know that whether I am sitting next to my Jewish father at my young cousin’s baptism, or whether I am sitting at the Passover Seder table with my mother’s Catholic parents, it is up to me to keep both flames of my ancestry burning bright. The least I can do is hold each family’s candle in my hands. Imagine the tremendous blaze I could create if I brought the flames of my two families together.

Madison Greene is a Communication Studies major at Kent State University. Madison is also pursuing a minor in Digital Media Production. She is currently the president of her sorority.

Powerful Voice Winner

Mariela Alschuler

honor student essay

Behind My Skin

My roots go deeper than the ground I stand on. My family is from all over the world with extended branches that reach over whole countries and vast oceans.

Though I am from these branches, sometimes I never see them. My Dominican roots are obvious when I go to my abuela’s house for holidays. My family dances to Spanish music. I fill my plate with platanos fritos and my favorite rice and beans. I feel like a Dominican American girl. Maybe it’s the food. Maybe it’s the music. Or maybe it’s just the way that my whole family—aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins— laugh and talk and banter in my grandparents’ small, beautiful apartment.

Even though I am blood to this family, I stick out like a sore thumb. I stick out for my broken Spanish, my light skin, my soft, high-pitched voice and how I do my hair. I feel like I don’t belong to my beautiful, colorful family, a disordered array of painted jars on a shelf.

If my Dominican family is like a disorganized and vibrant shelf of colors, then my European family is a neat and sparse one with just a hint of color. For Christmas in New York, there are dozens of us crammed in the small apartment. For Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, there are rarely more than twelve people in the grandiose, pristine house that looks like something out of House Beautiful . I adore my grandparent’s house. It is expansive and neatly painted white. After growing up in a small house on a school campus and visiting my other grandparents’ small apartment in New York, I thought that their house was the greatest thing in the world. I would race up the stairs, then slide down the banister. I would sip Grandma’s “fancy” gingerbread tea, loving the feeling of sophistication. There, I could forget about the struggles of my Dominican family. I was the granddaughter of a wealthy, Jewish, Massachusetts couple rather than the granddaughter of a working-class second-generation Dominican abuela and abuelo from the Bronx.  

I don’t fit in with my European family either. My dark skin and my wild hair don’t belong in this tidy family. In Massachusetts, the branches of my Dominican family, no matter how strong and extensive, are invisible. The same way my European roots are lost when I am in New York.

So what am I? For years I have asked myself this question. Wondering why I couldn’t have a simple garden of a family rather than the jungle that I easily get lost in. As Kayla DeVault says in her YES! article “Native and European—How can I honor all parts of myself?,” “Simply saying ‘I am this’ isn’t enough.” And it isn’t. My race, color, and ethnicity do not make up who I am. I am still a daughter. A sister. A cousin. A friend. My mixed identity does not make me less whole, less human. I may have lightly tanned skin and my lips may not form Spanish words neatly, but behind my skin is bright color and music. There is warm gingerbread tea and golden platanos fritos. There is Spanish singing from my abuelo’s speaker and “young people” songs that play from my headphones. There is a little, cozy apartment and a large, exquisite house. Behind my skin is more than what you can see. Behind my skin is what makes me me. 

Mariela Alschuler is a seventh-grader at Ethical Culture Fieldston School and lives in the Bronx, New York. When she’s not in school, Mariela likes to read, write, do gymnastics, watch Netflix, and spend time with her friends and family. She hopes to be a doctor and writer when she grows up.

Reese Martin

University Liggett School, Grosse Point Woods, Mich.

Reese Martin

A True Irishman?

Similar to Kayla Devault in her YES! article “Native and European-How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself,” I hold holistic pride in my cultural identity. As a descendant of Irish immigrants, my childhood was filled with Irish folk music, laughter, and all things green. I remember being a toddler, sitting on my Popo’s lap wearing a shiny green, slightly obnoxious, beaded shamrock necklace. There, in the living room, I was surrounded by shamrocks hanging on the walls and decorations spread throughout, courtesy of my grandmother who always went overboard. My father and his siblings were Irish fanatics, as well. My aunt, whom I loved spending time with as a child, was notorious for wild face painting, ear-splitting music, and crazy outfits on St. Patrick’s Day. The holiday typically started in Detroit’s historic Corktown for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade with the promise of authentic Irish corned beef and soda bread at the Baile Corcaigh Irish Restaurant following the festivities. Charlie Taylor, a local Irish musician, belted folk songs from Baile Corcaigh’s makeshift stage. It was one of the few days a year my father and his large family came together. Although my aunt and grandparents have passed, our family’s Irish pride is eternal.

There was, however, one peculiar thing about our Irish heritage— none of my family looked classic Irish. My father and his five siblings have nearly black eyes and fairly dark skin, not the typical Irish traits of blue eyes and light skin. DeVault wrote, “When I was older, the questions came, which made me question myself.” I fell into a similar predicament, questioning my heritage. It truly came as a shock when a couple of my paternal aunts and several cousins took DNA tests through 23andMe and AncestryDNA. The results revealed the largest percentage of our ethnicity was Lebanese and Middle Eastern, not Irish.

It felt like a punch to the gut. I was clueless on how to move forward. According to the numbers, we possessed an insignificant amount of Irish blood. How was it possible to be wrong about such a huge part of my identity? Not only was I confused about my culture and history, but I also experienced a great deal of shame—not of my newfound Middle Eastern heritage, but the lack of Irish DNA, which I had previously held so close and felt so proud of. It felt as though I was betraying the memory of my late grandparents and aunt.

Even amidst my confusion, I found this new heritage intriguing; I was excited to explore all that my newly found Lebanese culture had to offer: unique foods, unfamiliar traditions, and new geography. In addition to the familiar boiled and mashed potatoes, my family now eats hummus and shawarma. I also know more about the basic facts, history, and government of Lebanon. One thing dampens my enthusiasm, however. I wonder how I can fully develop a love for my newly discovered culture without being too deliberate and appearing to be insensitive to cultural appropriation.

It is here, in the depths of uncertainty and intrigue, I relate most to DeVault’s question, “How do I honor all parts of myself?” Although my Irish ancestry may not be as authentic as I once believed, I still feel a strong connection to the Irish culture. I’ve found that to truly honor all pieces of my identity, I must be willing to accept every aspect of my ancestry. I don’t need to reject Lebanese ethnicity, nor disregard the Irish memories of my childhood. I am allowed to be everything all at once. At the end of the day, with both Irish culture and Lebanese heritage, I am still simply and perfectly me.

Reese Martin is a junior at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. Reese plays hockey and soccer, swims competitively and is a violinist in her school orchestra. She enjoys volunteering, especially peer tutoring and reading with young children.

Rowan Burba

honor student essay

Saluting Shadows

On the floor, a murdered woman lays bloody and dead. Two young boys stare in horror at their dead mother. At only 10 years old, my great-grandfather experienced unfathomable suffering. A generation later, my grandfather and two great-uncles grew up under an abusive roof. My great-uncle Joe, the youngest of three boys, endured the worst of the abuse. Joe’s scarred brain altered during the sexual and emotional abuse his father subjected him to. From the time he was 18 months old, trusted adults of Joe’s community violated him throughout his childhood. These traumas spiraled into a century of silence, the silence I am determined to break. 

My father’s lineage is littered with trauma. Our family doesn’t openly share its past. We constantly masquerade as “normal” so we can fit in, but the alienation we experience is understandable. In Kayla DeVault’s YES! article “Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” she explains her numerous identities, which include Shawnee, Anishinaabe, Eastern European, Scottish, and Irish. Although I don’t have her rich ethnic ancestry, I question my roots just as she does. I have limited photos of my deceased relatives. There are only two prominent ones: my paternal grandmother as a child with her siblings and my maternal grandmother’s obituary photo. These frosted images hide the truth of my family’s history. They’re not perfect 4″ x 6″ moments frozen in time. They’re shadowed memories of a deeply disturbed past.

For 17 years, my family was clueless about our past family trauma. Two months ago, my great-aunt explained Joe’s story to me. Joe developed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as a result of his abuse. By the age of 18, his brain contained 95 alters (fragments of his identity that broke off and developed into true individuals), causing Joe to appear as the “weird one,” the one who my family dismissed, the outcast of my dad’s childhood. My dad only learned one year ago, long after Joe died, about Joe’s DID. My family’s adamancy to hold secrets outweighed accepting and helping Joe. The shadows around these secrets quickly dispersed. 

The silence and shame from a mother’s death a century ago still have a chokehold on my family today. My family appears a disaster to outsiders.  My mom’s side is so religious they would never fathom a conversation about these harsh realities. In addition to Joe, my dad’s side has uncles who struggle with codependency and trauma from past abuses. Joe’s brother coped by latching onto another “normal” family, and my grandfather coped by never talking about issues. My parents married soon after my maternal grandmother and three of her four siblings died within a few weeks of each other. Despite years of therapy, my parents divorced when I was 11 years old. I grew up surrounded by dysfunction without recognizing it. 

How do I honor my roots? I work to break the silence and stigmas of abuse and mental health. I’ve participated in therapy for about five years and have been on medicine for about two. I must reprogram my brain’s attachment to codependent tendencies and eliminate the silence within me. I’m working through my intrusive thoughts and diving into my family’s past and disrupting harmful old patterns. I’m stepping away from the shadows of my ancestors and into the light, ensuring that future generations grow up with knowledge of our past history of abuse and mental illness. Knowledge that allows us to explore the shadows without living in them. Knowledge that there’s more in life outside of the frames.

Rowan Burba, a junior at Kirkwood High School in Missouri, loves to participate as a witness in Mock Trial competitions, build and paint sets for the KHS theatre department, play viola in her school orchestra, and do crafts with kids. She is involved in politics and wants to help change the world for the better.

Mia De Haan

Estrella Mountain Community College, Avondale, Ariz.

Mia de Haan

What Being a Part of the LGBTQ+ Community Means to Me

Being queer is that one thing about me I am most proud of, yet also most scared of. Knowing that I am putting my life at risk for the simplest thing, like being gay, is horrifying.

Let’s talk about my first crush. Her name was Laurel, and she was always in front of me when we lined up after recess in first grade. I remember wishing that girls could marry girls because she had the prettiest long, blonde hair. I left these thoughts in the back of my head until middle school. I couldn’t stop staring at a certain girl all day long. That one girl who I would have sleepovers with every weekend and slow dance with at school dances—but only as friends. She changed my life. She was the first person to tell me that I was accepted and had no reason to be afraid. 

Being part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t all rainbows and Pride parades. It is watching your family turn away from you in disgust but never show it on their faces. It’s opening Twitter and learning that it’s still illegal to be gay in 71+ countries. It’s astonishing that we had to wait until 2015 for the U.S. Supreme Court to make it legal to marry in all 50 states.  

My identity is happiness yet pain, so much pain. I hated myself for years, shoved myself back into a closet and dated my best friend for two years because maybe if I brought a boy home my family would wish me “Happy Birthday” again or send me Christmas presents like they do for my brother and sister.

When I began to explore my identity again, I asked myself, “Am I safe?” “Will I still be loved?” I was horrified. I am horrified. Legally, I am safe, but I am not safe physically. I can still be beaten up on the streets for holding a girl’s hand. Protesters at Pride festivals are still allowed to shout profanities at us and tell us that we are going to burn in hell—and the cops protect them. I am not safe mentally because I still allow the words of people and homophobes in the media and on my street get inside of my head and convince me that I am a criminal. 

When I read Kayla DeVault’s YES! article “Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” I could feel how proud DeVault is to be Shawnee and Irish. While we do not share the same identity, I could tell that we are the same because we both would do anything for our cultures and want to show our pride to the rest of the world.

I honor my LGBTQ+ identity by going to Pride festivals and events. I also participate in an LGBTQ+ church and club, where, for years, was the only place I could be myself without the fear of being outed or harmed. Whenever I hear people being ignorant towards my community, I try to stay calm and have a conversation about why our community is great and valid and that we are not doing anything wrong. 

I don’t know if the world will ever change, but I do know that I will never change my identity just because the world is uncomfortable with who I am. I have never been one to take risks; the idea of making a fool of myself scares me. But I took one because I thought someone might listen to my gay sob story. I never expected it to be heard. If you have your own gay sob story, I will listen, and so will many others, even if you don’t realize it yet.  

Amelia (Mia) De Haan was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Mia has devoted her entire life to art, specifically theatre and dance. While she has struggled to figure out what she wants to do for the rest of her life, she does know that she wants to inspire people and be a voice for the people of the LGBTQ+ community who still feel that no one is listening. Mia dreams of moving to New York with her cat Loki and continuing to find a way to inspire people.

Laura Delgado

Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.

Lauren Delgado

I moved to the United States when I was eight years old because my father knew Venezuela was becoming more corrupt. He wanted to give his family a better life. My sense of self and belonging was wiped clean when I moved to the United States, a country that identified me and continues to label me as an “alien.” On U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) documents, I am Alien Number xxx-xxx-xxx.  I will not let that alien number define who I am: a proud Venezuelan and American woman.

In her YES! article “Native and European—How Do I Honor All Parts of Myself?” author Kayla DeVault says that “to truly honor [her] heritage, [she] found [she] must understand and participate in it.” This is why during Christmas I help my mom make hallacas (a traditional Venezuelan dish made out of cornmeal, stuffed with beef, pork, chicken, raisins, capers, and olives, wrapped in a banana leaf that is boiled to perfection), pan de jamón (a Christmas bread filled with ham, cheese, raisins, and olives—the perfect sweet and salty combination, if you ask me), and ensalada de gallina (a chicken, potatoes, and green apple salad seasoned with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper). While the gaitas (traditional Venezuelan folk music) is playing, we set up the Christmas tree and, under it, the nativity scene. The smell of Venezuelan food engulfs our small apartment. Every time I leave the house, the smell of food sticks to me like glue, and I love it.

We go to our fellow Venezuelan friend’s house to dance, eat, and laugh like we were back in Venezuela. We play bingo and gamble quarters as we talk over each other.  My favorite thing is how we poke fun at each other, our way of showing our love. There is nothing better than being surrounded by my Venezuelan family and friends and feeling like I belong.

My ancestors are Spanish settlers, West African slaves, and Indigenous Venezuelans. To my peers, I am a Latina woman who can speak Spanish and comes from a country they have never heard of. To my family, I am a strong and smart Venezuelan woman who is succeeding in this country she calls home. 

I was immediately an outcast as a young newcomer to this country. I was the new, exotic girl in class who did not speak a word of English; all of that led to bullying. Growing up in a country that did not want me was—and still is—hard. People often ask me why I would ever want to identify as American. My answer to their question is simple: This is my home. I knew that the chances of us going back to Venezuela were slim to none so I decided to make this country my home. At first, I fought it. My whole life was back in Venezuela. Eventually, I made lifelong friends, had my first kiss and my first heartbreak. I went to all of the homecoming and prom dances and made memories with my best friends to last me a lifetime. Yes, I was born in Venezuela and the pride of being a Venezuelan woman will never be replaced, but my whole life is in the United States and I would never trade that for the world. 

I am Venezuelan and I am American. I am an immigrant and I am Latina. The United States government will always know me as Alien Number xxx-xxx-xxx, but they will not know that my heritage is rich and beautiful and that I am a proud Venezuelan and a proud American woman.

Laura Delgado is a Junior at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, majoring in Graphic Design and minoring in Hispanic Studies. Laura and her family migrated to the United States from Venezuela in 2007 to escape the Chavez regime. She is a DACA recipient and a first-generation college student who has a passion for graphic design and hopes to one day open her own interior design company.

honor student essay

Dear every human who wrote in this contest or thought about writing,

I want to start by addressing all of you. 

I think stepping out of your comfort zone and writing your truth—even if you think you aren’t a writer— is a brave thing to do. 

I want you to understand that not being selected does not mean your story isn’t valid or that your identity wasn’t “enough.” Remember, you’re always enough. You’re enough to God, to Allah, to your Higher Power, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky, to your parents, and to your ancestors who endured long enough for you to come into existence. 

As I read through the various essays, I saw a common thread of food . Whether it’s the pierogi sales at churches in Pittsburgh, the neverias around Phoenix, or the soul food joints in Birmingham, the history of our ancestors’ movements have left their impressions in our cuisine. 

Another theme I found in several essays was a “uniformed diaspora.” Some of you talked about not being able to fully trace your lineage, having your history stolen by some method of political racism, and even grappling with finding that your genetics are not all you thought they were. As a Native person, I know all too well that we had much taken from us. I know that the conquerors wrote our history, so ours is recorded with bias, racism, and flippancy. 

And now to the essay winners:

To Susanna: Obrigada for your story. I encourage you to keep exploring your identity and how it informs your existence today on Lenape, Rockaway, and Canarsie traditional lands (New York City). Your imagery reflects saudades well. I think there is an intriguing and untapped story embedded in your father’s experience from Lebanon, and I encourage you to explore how that merges with your Brazilian identity.

When I read that passage about Starbucks, I thought about how the average young American seems to be private in public, but public in private—meaning this culture and its technology isolates us (private) when we are around other people (public), yet so many of us share most about ourselves on social media (public) where we can pick and choose if we want to engage with someone (private). By the way, I, too, played lacrosse… Did you know it has Indigenous roots?

To Cherry: 非常感谢你!  Don’t listen to the American stereotypes of who you are, as hard as that can be. You sadly may always hear them, but hearing is not the same as listening. People undermine the things they don’t understand because the things they don’t understand scare them. While it is not your job to feel you have to educate them, you do have the freedom to choose how you navigate those spaces.

I understand how it may feel inauthentic to learn how to make traditional foods like zongzi from a YouTube video. For me, I have had to learn beading and other crafts because I was too ashamed to learn them when I had the elders still in my life. I  tell young folk to know their elders now while they can. Furthermore, please speak every language no matter how imperfect because it’s a gift. Also, I’ll eat your zongzi any day, even if all the rice falls out!

To Keon: The imagery and symbols of slavery you use, powerfully describe a revisionist history that further blocks access to what would be a culturally-rich ancestry. 

I remember standing on the shores of Ouidah, Benin, from where the majority of slaves left, looking through La Porte du Non Retour (The Door of No Return) memorial, and hearing a local say, “Our relatives, they left these shores for the ships and then… we never heard from them again.” And so we come to realize our stories are known only so far as they have been carried. 

I see hope in the way you have embraced your roots as your branches to move forward. I believe that, in looking towards your branches, you have actually found your roots. You are a product of all the stories, told and untold, remembered and forgotten. I encourage you to keep writing and exploring how your seemingly contradicting and somewhat unknown roots shaped your ancestors and shape their product: you. Don’t hold back. 

To Madison: Grazie and תודה. First of all, pizza bagels are delicious… just saying… talk about the best of both worlds! You write about the challenge of fitting into your communities, and I can certainly see how religious differences can become contentious. 

I am sorry that you had a negative Hillel experience. In the end, we can’t let the persecutors steal our ancestral identities from us because that allows them to win. Cultures are fluid, not rigid and defined as peers might bully us into thinking. It’s rotten when people label us with things like “pizza bagel,” but if you boldly embrace it, you can turn it on its head. So I encourage you to be the smartest, wittiest, and most deliciously confident pizza bagel out there, writing your experience for all to read!

To Laura: Gracias , you write with a motif of sorts, one that conflates your identity to a number and the label of “alien.” For people in the United States to be dismissive of immigrants and judgmental of their cultures and languages is for the same people to forget their own origins, their own stories, and their own roles (as benefactors or as victims) in this age-old system of oppression for gain. It is also rather ironic that we call people “aliens;” unless they are from an Indigenous nation. Are not nearly all Americans “aliens” to some degree?

You write about being bullied as the new, exotic girl in school and I have also experienced that as my family moved around a bit growing up; however, I have also had the privilege to speak English.

It’s sad that these experiences are still so proliferate, and so I think it is vital that people like you share their experiences. Perhaps your background can inform how you think about spaces as an interior designer. 

To Mariela: Gracias and תודה for the story you shared. You write about a complex existence that is a mix of poor and wealthy, white and brown, warm and cool. Learning to navigate these contrasting sides of your family will help you work with different kinds of people in your future.

I can understand your point about feeling out of place by your skin color. Lighter skin is largely considered a privilege in society, yet for those of us with non-white heritages, it can make us feel like we don’t belong amongst our own family. We have to walk a fine line where we acknowledge we may be treated better than our relatives in some circumstances but we have to sit with the feeling of not being “brown enough” other times. I encourage you to keep exploring your branches and sharing your feelings with your relatives about these topics. Perhaps one day you can use your deep understanding of human relations to inform your bedside manner as a doctor!

To Mia: Thank you for your brave piece, despite your fears. Your emotional recollection about the first girl you loved is very touching and powerful. 

I am sorry that you don’t feel as though you are treated the same by your family on account of your identity and that you have to take extra steps to be accepted, but I believe your continuing to be your authentic self is the only way to prove you mean what you mean.

I hope the utmost safety and acceptance for you. I also thank you for seeing and relating to my pride that I have for myself, and I encourage you to consider creative outlets— maybe even podcast hosting—to uplift your story and the stories of others, spread awareness, and facilitate change.

To Reese: Go raibh maith agat . That’s how you thank a singular person in Irish, if you didn’t know already. I enjoyed your piece because, of course, we have an Irish connection that I understand.

I find it pretty interesting that you came back with a lot of Lebanese results in your family tests. Understand those tests only represent the inherited genes, so if both of your parents were a quarter Irish but three-quarters Lebanese, for example, you would get half of each of their genes. You might get half Lebanese from both and you would appear full Lebanese—or any other variation. My point is those tests aren’t exact reports.

I am excited you have found new aspects of your heritage and I hope you will continue to explore—as best you can—what your ancestral history is. And, by the way, I, too, play hockey and the violin—fine choices!

To Rowan: Many families put up a facade, and it’s only the brave ones, like you, addressing the trauma head-on who will be able to break the cycle that causes intergenerational trauma. 

When we explore the parts of our identity, many of us may find how much trauma —including historic policy, racism, and displacement—has impacted our ancestors, perhaps centuries upon centuries ago. Learning about my family history and about religious factors has revealed stories of abuse and secrets that have been hushed wildly, even within my immediate family. Photos can be sad when we know the stories behind them and even when we never knew the person; they’re still a part of us and we can honor them by remembering them. I think you choosing to write about your Uncle Joe and the effects of trauma in your family— especially as you process and heal yourself—will be a tremendous resource both internally and for others. Thank you for sharing and I hope you find happiness in those frames.

Again, thank you all for your essays. It is exciting to see the youth writing. I am grateful for my piece to have been chosen for this contest and, I hope I’ve encouraged readers to consider every part that makes up their whole and how it has informed their life experiences.

Kayla DeVault

“ In seventh grade, I went to an affinity group meeting. And all I remember was being called a bad Asian again and again. I was called a bad Asian because I couldn’t use chopsticks. I was called a bad Asian because I didn’t know what bubble tea or K-pop was. Time and again, I was called a bad Asian because I didn’t know the things I was expected to know, and I didn’t do the things that I was expected to do. That meeting made me truly question my identity. “ . —Sebastian Cynn, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y. Click here to read the entire essay.

“It’s difficult being Dominican but born and raised in New York. I’m supposed to speak fluent Spanish. I’m supposed to listen to their music 24/7, and I’m supposed to follow their traditions. I’m supposed to eat their main foods. I’m unique and it’s not only me. Yes, I may not speak Spanish. Yes, I may not listen to their kind of music, but I don’t think that defines who I am as a Dominican. I don’t think I should be discriminated for not being the same as most Dominicans. Nobody should be discriminated against for being different from the rest because sometimes different is good. “ —Mia Guerrero, KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, New York, N.Y. Click here to read the entire essay.

When I hang out with some of my older friend groups, which are mainly white, straight kids, I don’t mention that I’m Asian or Gay, but as soon as I’m with my friends, I talk about my identifiers a lot. A lot of them are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and 11 out of 14 of them are a person of color. With my grandparents, I am quieter, a good Asian grandchild who is smart, gets good grades, is respectful. And I don’t act “Gay.” … Why do I have to act differently with different people? Why do I only feel comfortable with all of my identities at school?

—Gillian Okimoto, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y. Click here to read the entire essay .

“ Torah, Shema, yarmulke, all important elements of Jewish identity—except for mine. All these symbols assume the existence of a single God, but that doesn’t resonate with me. Religion is a meaningful part of my family’s identity. After all, wanting to freely practice their religion was what brought my great-grandparents to America from Eastern Europe. Being very interested in science, I could never wrap my head around the concept of God. Can I be Jewish while not believing in God? “ —Joey Ravikoff, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ Yes, I am transgender, but I am also a son, a friend, an aspiring writer, and a dog trainer. I love riding horses. I’ve had the same volunteer job since sixth grade. I love music and trips to the art museum. I know who I am and whether other people choose to see me for those things is out of my control.  Holidays with my family feels like I’m suffocating in a costume. I’ve come out twice in my life. First, as a lesbian in middle school. Second, as a transgender man freshman year. I’ve gotten good at the classic sit-down. With hands folded neatly in front of me, composure quiet and well-kept, although I’m always terrified. “ —Sebastian Davies-Sigmund, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ No longer do I wish to be stared at when civil rights and slavery are discussed. In every Socratic seminar, I shudder as expectant white faces turn to mine. My brown skin does not make me the ambassador for Black people everywhere. Please do not expect me to be the racism police anymore. Do not base the African American experience upon my few words. Do not try to be relatable when mentioning Hannukah is in a few days. Telling me you tell your White friends not to say the N-word doesn’t do anything for me. “ —Genevieve Francois, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ I often walk into the kitchen greeted by my mother sitting on her usual stool and the rich smells of culture—the spicy smell of India, the hearty smell of cooked beans, or the sizzling of burgers on the grill. Despite these great smells, I find myself often yearning for something like my friends have; one distinct culture with its food, people, music, and traditions. I don’t have a one-click culture. That can be freeing, but also intimidating . People who know me see me as a fraction: ¼ black, ¾ white, but I am not a fraction. I am human, just human. “ —Amaela Bruce, New Tech Academy at Wayne High School, Fort Wayne, Ind. Click here to read the entire essay.

“‘We just don’t want you to go to hell. ‘ I am not an atheist. I am not agnostic. I have no religion nor do I stand strong in any one belief. My answer to the mystery of life is simple: I don’t know. But I live in a world full of people who think they do.  There will be a day when that capital G does not control my conversations. There will be a day when I can speak of my beliefs, or lack thereof, without judgment, without the odd stare, and without contempt. The day will come when a life without religion is just another life. That is the day I wait for. That day will be Good. “ —Amara Lueker, New Tech Academy at Wayne High School, Fort Wayne, Ind. Click here to read the entire essay.

“¡Correle!” yell the people around him. He runs to the grass, ducks down and starts to wait. He’s nervous. You can smell the saltiness of sweat. He looks up and hears the chopping of helicopter blades. You can see the beam of light falling and weaving through the grass field … out of a group of thirteen, only four were left hidden. He and the others crossed and met up with people they knew to take them from their own land down south to the opportunity within grasp up north. That was my father many years ago. I’ve only asked for that story once, and now it’s committed to memory. “ —Luz Zamora, Woodburn Academy of Art Science & Technology, Woodburn, Ore. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ How do I identify myself? What do I connect to? What’s important to you? Here’s the answer: I don’t. Don’t have a strong connection. Don’t know the traditions. Don’t even know the languages. I eat some of the food and kinda sorta hafta** the major holidays but thinking about it I don’t know anything important. I think that the strongest connection to my family is my name, Mei Li (Chinese for “beautiful” Ana (a variation on my mother’s very American middle name: Anne) Babuca (my father’s Mexican last name). “ —Mei Li Ana Babuca, Chief Sealth International High School, Seattle, Wash. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ My whole life I have felt like I don’t belong in the Mexican category. I mean yeah, I’m fully Mexican but, I’ve always felt like I wasn’t. Why is that you ask? Well, I feel that way because I don’t know Spanish. Yes, that’s the reason. It may not sound like a big deal, but, for me, I’ve always felt disconnected from my race. I felt shameful. I felt like it was an obligation to know what is supposed to be my mother tongue. My whole family doesn’t really know fluent Spanish and that has always bothered me growing up. “ —Yazmin Perez, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kan Click here to read the entire essay.

“ I believe differently from DeVault, who believes it’s important to connect and participate with your heritage. I believe that our personal pasts have more to do with who we are as people than any national identity ever could. Sure, our heritage is important, but it doesn’t do nearly as much to shape our character and perspective as our struggles and burdens do. Out of all my past experiences, illness—and especially mental illness—has shaped me. “ —Chase Deleon, Central York High School, York, Penn. Click here to read the entire essay.

“ … I can now run that whole grape leaf assembly line, along with other traditional plates, by myself. I have begun speaking out on current topics, such as Middle-Eastern representation in acting. I have become so much closer with my relatives and I don’t mind busting a move with them on the dance floor. Although a trip to Syria is not in my near future, DeVault made me realize that a connection to your geographical cultural roots is important. According to my aunt, I have become a carefree, happy, and more passionate person. I no longer feel stuck in the middle of ethnicity and society. Becoming one with and embracing my identity truly is ‘A Whole New World.’” —Christina Jarad, University Ligget School, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. Click here to read the entire essay.

“While my bow is not made of wood and my arrows lack a traditional stone tip, the connections are always present, whether I am stalking bull elk in the foothills of the Rockies or fly fishing in the mystical White River. The methods and the technologies may be different, but the motivations are the same. It is a need to be connected to where my food originates. It is a desire to live in harmony with untouched lands. It is a longing to live wild, in a time where the wild is disappearing before our eyes. “ —Anderson Burdette, Northern Oklahoma University, Stillwater, Okla. Click here to read the entire essay.

“Black people always say that White people don’t use seasoning. This saying is one of those sayings that I always heard, but never understood. I am Black, but I was adopted into a White household … Even though I identify as a Black woman, all my life I have struggled with breaking into the Black culture because other people around me consciously or unconsciously prevent me from doing so. “ —Brittany Hartung, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala. Click here to read the entire essay.

We received many outstanding essays for the Fall 2019 Student Writing Competition. Though not every participant can win the contest, we’d like to share some excerpts that caught our eye:

How can other people say that I only have one identity before I can even do that for myself? —Arya Gupta, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y.

‘Middle Child’ by J. Cole blasts through the party. Everyone spits the words like they’re on stage with him. J. Cole says the N-Word, and I watch my Caucasian peers proudly sing along. Mixed Girl is perplexed. Black Girl is crestfallen that people she calls friends would say such a word. Each letter a gory battlefield; White Girls insists they mean no harm; it’s how the song’s written. Black Girl cries. —Liz Terry, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

To me, valuing my ancestors is a way for me to repay them for their sacrifices. —Jefferson Adams Lopez, Garrison Middle School, Walla Walla, Wash.

A one-hour drive with light traffic. That’s the distance between me and my cousins. Short compared to a 17-hour flight to the Philippines, yet 33 miles proved to create a distance just as extreme. Thirty-three miles separated our completely different cultures. —Grace Timan, Mount Madonna High School, Gilroy, Calif.

What does it mean to feel Korean? Does it mean I have to live as if I live in Korea? Does it mean I have to follow all the traditions that my grandparents followed? Or does it mean that I can make a decision about what I love? —Max Frei, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y.

Not knowing feels like a safe that you can’t open (speaking about her ancestry) . —Madison Nieves-Ryan, Rachel Carson High School, New York, N.Y.

As I walked down the halls from classroom to classroom in high school, I would see smiling faces that looked just like mine. At every school dance, in every school picture, and on every sports team, I was surrounded by people who looked, thought, and acted similar to me. My identity was never a subject that crossed my mind. When you aren’t exposed to diversity on a daily basis, you aren’t mindful of the things that make you who you are. —Jenna Robinson, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

When my Great-Great-Grandfather Bill was 12, he ran away to work with his uncles. And then when he was older and married, he called up his wife and said, “Honey, I’m heading off to college for a few years. Buh-Bye!” Because of his adventurous spirit, Bill Shea was the first Shea to go to college. Ever since my mom told me this story, I’ve always thought that we could all use a little Bill attitude in our lives.  —Jordan Fox, Pioneer Middle School, Walla Walla, Wash.

I defy most of the stereotypes of the Indian community. I’m a gender-fluid, American, Belizean kid who isn’t very studious. I want to be a writer, not a doctor, and I would hang out with friends rather than prepare for the spelling bee. —Yadna Prasad, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y.

While my last name may be common, the history behind my family is not. A line of warriors, blacksmiths, intellectuals, and many more. I’m someone who is a story in progress. —Ha Tuan Nguyen, Chief Sealth International High School, Seattle, Wash.

My family is all heterosexual. I did not learn about my identity from them. LGBTQ+ identity is not from any part of the world. I cannot travel to where LGBTQ+people originate. It does not exist. That is the struggle when connecting with our identities. It is not passed on to us. We have to find it for ourselves. —Jacob Dudley, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

My race is DeVault’s childhood kitchen, so warm and embracing. Familiar. My sexuality is DeVault’s kitchen through adulthood: disconnected. —Maddie Friar, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

At school, I was Dar-SHAW-na and at home DAR-sha-na. There were two distinct versions, both were me, but neither were complete. \ —Darshana Subramaniam, University Liggett School, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

I do not think that heritage and ethnic roots are always about genetics. It is about the stories that come with it, and those stories are what shapes who you are. —Lily Cordon-Siskind, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y.

In my sixteen-year-old mind, the two ethnicities conflicted. I felt like I couldn’t be both. I couldn’t be in touch with Southern roots and Cuban ones at the same time. How could I, they contradict each other? The Cuban part of me ate all my food, was loud and blunt, an underdog and the Southerner was reserved, gentle, and polite. —Grace Crapps, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Ala.

I thought I was simply an American. However, I learned that I am not a jumbled mix of an untraceable past, but am an expertly woven brocade of stories, cultures, and hardships. My ancestors’ decisions crafted me…I am a story, and I am a mystery. —Hannah Goin, Pioneer Middle School, Walla Walla, Wash.

We received many outstanding essays for the Fall 2019 Student Writing Competition, and several students got clever and creative with their titles. Here are some titles that grabbed our attention:

“A Mixed Child in a Mixed-Up Family” Caitlin Neidow, Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School, Bronx, N.Y.

“Diggin’ in the DNA” Honnor Lawton, Chestnut Hill Middle School, Liverpool, N.Y.

“Hey! I’m Mexican (But I’ve Never Been There)” Alexis Gutierrez-Cornelio, Wellness, Business & Sports School, Woodburn, Ore.

“What It Takes to Be a Sinner” Amelia Hurley, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.

“Mirish” Alyssa Rubi, Chief Sealth International High School, Seattle, Wash.

“Nunca Olvides de Donde Vienes ” ( Never forget where you came from ) Araceli Franco, Basis Goodyear High School, Goodyear, Ariz.

“American Tacos” Kenni Rayo-Catalan, Estrella Mountain Community College, Avondale, Ariz.

“Corn-Filled Mornings and Spicy Afternoons” Yasmin Medina, Tarrant County Community College, Fort Worth, Tex.

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honor student essay

A Great Pitt Honors College Essay Example

What’s covered:, essay example , where to get feedback on your essay .

The University of Pittsburgh is a large public university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that is known for its great academics. The David C. Frederick Honors College at Pitt offers even more opportunities to a select group of talented students. Given the highly selective nature of the Pitt Honors College, you need to have strong essays to help your application stand out and gain admission. In this post, we’ll share a real essay a student submitted to the University of Pittsburgh Honors College, and outline its strengths and areas of improvement. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Pitt essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

Prompt: If you could change anything in the world, what would it be? Explain why and how you would change it. (No word count given)

While growing up, I was constantly reminded about my health. When I would rant about my trivial problems, my mother would respond with: “the most important thing is you are healthy.” As a young and naive child, this response irritated me. I never understood the blessing of good health until I was diagnosed with migraines. Every month I was met with throbbing headaches that made me lose all sensation and control of my body.

On one New Year’s Eve, I went to visit family friends with my father and sister. The flashing lights on the television and little sleep triggered a migraine attack. Without my mother present, everyone was unfamiliar with my frightening symptoms. Out of panic, they decided to call an ambulance. That one simple call and visit resulted in a one-year battle with our insurance company. For months on end, my mother argued against the unfair and hurtful statements the insurance listed as reasons for their refusal of payment. These endless calls brought about extreme stress and frustration, but we did not have the means to pay. There was no other option but to keep on fighting.

This was my first memorable experience with healthcare and its failures. From that day forward, I associated care with payment. I became worried about affording medical treatment at an early age. And so, if I had the power to change the world, I would make healthcare more affordable. Every individual deserves to be treated without the worry of a costly bill.

While I realize that affordable healthcare is a point of debate in our nation, I maintain my stance that it is a human right. I also understand that it will take years to put into place, but this does not discourage me. I can help start the change. With Pitt Honors, I will be exposed to interactive research, a matched mentor, and personalized co-curricular activities. I will be able to become a skilled nurse with critical thinking abilities. With the development of leadership skills, I plan to make a difference. Whether it be taking a high position role at a no-cost clinic or shaping healthcare reforms, I know Pitt Honors College will help me achieve my dream. Whether it be taking a high position role at a no-cost clinic or shaping healthcare reforms, I plan to make a difference.

What the Essay Did Well

Something that makes this essay strong is how it takes time to tell a story and build an understanding for the author before we even learn what they would change about the world. The essay begins by introducing the idea of health, but because we aren’t told what they want to change yet, we are compelled to keep reading. Then, the anecdote helps us appreciate the personal connection this student has to affordable healthcare. They take the time to fully flesh out the context needed to answer the why aspect of the prompt, while at the same time building suspense for the what .

Additionally, this student went above and beyond the prompt by connecting it back to Pitt. They weren’t explicitly asked to discuss how an education from the Pitt Honors Program would help them change the world, but by including this paragraph it demonstrates genuine interest in the school. If an essay can prove that you can only accomplish your goals — especially such impressive ones like changing the world — by taking advantage of unique opportunities at that specific school, then admissions officers might feel they are denying you the chance to reach your full potential by not accepting you.

What Could Be Improved

The area that could use the most improvement in this essay is the last paragraph dedicated to Pitt. Although it’s great that this student took the extra step to include how attending the Honors College will allow them to achieve their goals, the paragraph is a bit vague. To improve it, there should be more specific details, about classes, programs, professors, etc, to show that they have done their research and think taking advantage of these offerings are the only way to change the world. 

For example, the essay says, “With the development of leadership skills, I plan to make a difference.” This sentence would be far stronger if the student mentioned a specific club or volunteer program they want to be a part of and how emerging as a leader in that experience would help them become a leader in the medical field. Or, they mention the Honors College will expose them to research and match them with a mentor, but they don’t elaborate on this. 

The entire paragraph could have just been dedicated to one specific professor whose research aligns with affordable healthcare and what this student hopes to learn from them. Having a more focused and detailed approach to why you want to attend a college will always make for a stronger essay than briefly touching on general opportunities offered at most schools. 

Want feedback like this on your University of Pittsburgh essay before you submit? We offer expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with an expert to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers.

Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Advisors on CollegeVine also offer expert college counseling packages . You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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Being an honors student

You are assigned an essay and you are given two weeks to complete it. You spend those two weeks working tirelessly on the essay because you know you need a good grade. You conference with your teacher and you feel like you have done everything you can. When you turn it in you know it has been worth it. After class you turn to a kid who is in mostly honors or advanced classes and ask “So how was your essay?” He replies, “Pretty good seeing as I started it yesterday. I was up until three writing it and it better have been worth the lack of sleep.” You are stunned. Why would someone do that to themself when they knew they had plenty of time to do it before. When the essays are given back you get a good grade but when you look at the other kid you see he got a better grade. How is that fair? Well, that’s honors students for you. Making stuff sound good and getting good grades for it. I have been an honors student since fourth grade. It was then that my small elementary school class was split up into an “A” math class for the “smart kids,” a “B” math class for the “average kids,” and a “C” class for the kids who struggled with math. These different math classes covered the same material just at different paces and we pretty much stayed in the same classes (people-wise) through eighth grade. Our “honors” classes were not very challenging but neither was my elementary school overall. I went to a small Catholic school from kindergarten to eighth grade with sixty or so kids in my class so there wasn’t much room for actual challenging classes. Going into high school I took on only two honors classes with a skipped year in math but a regular class level. Since then, I have taken four honors classes and two AP’s. Next year, I plan to take four more AP’s. I realized that now in high school being in honors classes takes some work. Being an honors student definitely has its ups and downs. With honors and AP classes, I know I have been overwhelmed for the majority of the year I am in the class and I know that the majority of kids in my classes would agree. There is so much expected from us that sometimes it’s too much and we have to sacrifice, usually sleep. It sucks. Some of my friends think I’m a masochist because I know when I sign up for these hard classes that I will sometimes regret it. They have that “I told you so” tone of voice when I complain about an essay or some big project. Sometimes I wish I was not an honors student because then I could be in regular classes and not have to try. That would make my life so much easier and relaxed and virtually stress-free. Only problems are: my mother and myself. My mom would never let me drop my honors classes because she says, “You will be bored and it will be a waste of your talents.” Which is true, I just don’t always want to have to put in the time. I want to take the easy way out but I know that isn’t the right way. I don’t think I would feel right being lazy as much as I want to. Being in regular math classes while some of my friends are in honors sometimes makes me feel inferior or just lazy. I have this competitive edge that makes me want to strive to be the best. I could take honors math I just never actually switched up. I think it was because I enjoy how easy it is for me and I think I enjoy being at the top of the class without having to try as much. Sometimes I can ignore it but even when I do really well but someone else does better I secretly wish I could have put a little more effort into the project. I may not always put in the extra effort but then I feel the failure and I wish I hadn’t procrastinated so much. This usually ends in disappointment and I hate when I feel like I have disappointed a teacher, my parents, or myself. That feeling of letting someone or yourself down can be the worst but I must say it can be a good motivator at desperate times. When I end up procrastinating and I leave my work to the last minute, I tend to freak out. I get stressed but I always end up finishing my work. It is usually not the best I could make it but it is usually not terrible. Some people work best under pressure and honors student tend to perfect the practice of procrastination. When I start an assignment before its due even if it’s not accurate with where I should be I am called an overachiever. No one wants to start to work on an essay or a book before they have to because they aren’t motivated. I have seen it happen countless times and experienced it just as much. Because I have been an honors student since fourth grade, I have a determined and competitive nature. These aspects tend to come out in many different things in my life. Especially sports. I play badminton and you need to stay determined and keep your mind clear. If you want to win, you can’t give up. The same thing applies with school. In my work I can’t allow myself to give up. As I said, I hate feeling like I’ve failed. When you have tasted victory you cannot be satisfied with failure or okay. I try to work hard on all my work because then it means the most when it pays off. Because with being an honors student comes pride. I have pride in the things I do that I care about. If I work my butt off on an essay or a test I want a grade that reflects that. Then I can take pride in my work. For me, I never really feel like anything is perfect or is ever finished but I want to be able to take pride in my work nonetheless. I care about my future. To get to my dreams I need to start with good grades. By having good grades I can then open up so many doors to my future. Being an honors student helps me to open more doors because that honors part reflects in my grades. I want to get somewhere in my life and right now there is little I can do to reach my goals until I’m out of school. So until then, I have to focus on doing the best I can to set myself up to get to my future faster. Some people don’t see that far into their futures. I do and I want to get there in the most efficient way I can. Being an honors student has definitely made my life more stressful and difficult but it has been worth it or it will be. I can’t count the number of times I have said I can’t wait for this school year to be over so I can be done with (insert honors or AP class here). Until the year is over, all I can do is try hard on the rest of the work I am given. I might as well end the year with a bang.

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Favorite Quote: What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Dream like you will live forever, live like you will die today.

Favorite Quote: Failures help one grow as a person.


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honor student essay

  • Faculty & Staff

CU Honors College

  • Academics Overview
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Schedule a Visit

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  • Intellectual Growth Overview
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  • Clemson Honors Homecoming Tailgate

Important Dates for Fall 2024 Admission Cycle

Early action vs. regular decision deadlines.

The Honors College offers  Early Action and Regular Decision deadlines  for potential students.

Applicants are eligible for consideration for the  National Scholars Program  and  Breakthrough Scholars Program  if they complete all three of these steps:

  • Choose Early Action on their  Clemson undergraduate application .
  • Meet Early Action Clemson undergraduate application deadlines.
  • Meet Honors Early action deadlines.

Honors decisions will be released only to students who have received an admission decision from Clemson Undergraduate Admissions . Honors College Early Action applicants who receive a deferred Early Action decision from Undergraduate Admissions will not receive an Honors decision until March 15.

Potential students who start an Honors College Early Action application but are not able to complete it before the Early Action deadline will be considered a Regular Decision applicant if Regular Decision deadlines (as well as Clemson undergraduate application Early or Regular Decision deadlines) are met.

Applications completed between January 11 and April 1 are considered late and may be reviewed on a space available basis. However, we cannot guarantee that such applications will receive consideration.

Late Honors applicants will be updated about their Honors status on or before April 15. The incoming first-year student application will close on April 1.

2024 First-Year Admission Process

Why clemson honors.

The Honors College provides many opportunities and experiences to help you thrive during and beyond your time at Clemson – enhancing your undergraduate experience and strengthening your academic, personal, and professional development.

As an Honors student, you have exclusive access to Honors courses and seminars, as well as expanded research and program opportunities that aren't necessarily related to your major – broadening your perspectives in ways that many of our students say create their most valuable Honors experiences. 

In addition to individualized access to Honors facilities, faculty, and courses, you become part of a community that intentionally nurtures friendship, support, and success through options that range from mentorship by peers and leading Clemson faculty to incredible experiential learning opportunities.

How to Apply

Admission to the Honors College is highly selective. Through their high school activities, application essays, and other application materials, successful applicants will show clear evidence of intellectual engagement and vision as well as community engagement and leadership. The Clemson University Honors College selects the best candidates through a holistic review of Honors applications.

Your application to the Clemson University Honors College is separate from (and in addition to) your undergraduate application.

After you submit your first-year undergraduate application , you will receive access to the Honors College application in your Clemson admissions portal if you selected “Honors Interest” while completing your undergraduate application.

You can also scroll to the bottom of your Clemson admissions portal to find the section that asks if you have interest in applying to the Honors College.

Before you apply, you are welcome (but not required) to sign up for a visit to the Honors Center , where you will meet Honors staff, tour our facility, and meet current Honors students.

Review Before You Submit

Please take great care in reviewing your Honors application before submitting.

We are not able to edit your application after submission. The only changes you can make after submission are to upload additional, optional supplemental materials or to withdraw your application.

We're Here to Help!

If you have any questions after reading this guide to the application process, please email [email protected] .

The Honors College application consists of:

  • Two required essays
  • An involvement and activities section
  • An awards section
  • Two letters of recommendation (submitted as required materials in Step 2)

The Honors application is available to students applying through the Common app starting August 15. After that date, you will be able to access your Honors application within 24 hours via your Clemson admissions portal.

To be considered, please take great care in producing a thoughtful and well-written application. 

Write well-developed essay responses (650 words maximum each) for the required essay prompts. Essays constitute a critical part of your Honors College application. Thoughtful and original responses will provide the application reviewers with key insights into your accomplishments, intellectual curiosity, and vision.

Be genuine in your essay responses, highlighting personal insights and experiences, rather than merely listing your accomplishments. Use these essays as an opportunity to separate yourself from the competition - what makes you an ideal candidate for the Honors College?

Involvement and Activities

Describe up to seven of the most significant leadership, service, work, learning, and/or enrichment activities (e.g., independent research or study, clubs, studies abroad, internships, employment experience, family or childcare, athletics, hobbies) in which you have participated in your high school career.

For each activity, you will be asked to provide:

  • An overview of the activity
  • Your time commitment
  • Your leadership
  • The impacts you have made

Describe up to five awards or recognitions you have received during your high school career that you regard as significant.

All required materials need to be uploaded directly to your admissions portal . Please make note of the following:

Standardized Test Scores

Clemson is test optional. Applicants are not required to submit a standardized test score to be considered for admission for the 2024-25 academic year. If a student elects to have test scores included in the review of their application to Clemson, that will apply to the Honors College as well.

Self-Reported Academic Record (SRAR)

Upload your SRAR through your Clemson  admissions portal . 

Honors Recommendation Letters

Two letters of recommendation are required for your Honors College application to be considered complete. We strongly suggest one letter from a school counselor and one from a teacher.

If you applied to Clemson University via the Common Application, please use the Common Application recommendation system to send your recommendation letters to Clemson University.

If you applied to Clemson University via the Clemson University or Coalition applications, you can upload your recommendation letters to the Upload Materials section of the Clemson University admissions portal. You or your counselor can also submit recommendations via your school’s system such as Naviance or SCOIR.

Your Clemson admissions portal will continue to accept support materials through the end of the application cycle; however, these additional materials may not be considered once your application status is Awaiting Decision.

Other Supporting Materials

You have the option to upload up to two additional supporting materials (e.g., resume, writing sample, etc.) when you complete your Honors application. After your Honors application has been submitted you cannot make changes to it; however, you can add up to three additional supporting documents.

Fall 2024 essay prompts are in your Clemson Honors application. 

Essay 1 (650 word limit, Required)

Tell us about your academic interests and professional goals (to the extent that you have identified them at this point). What experiences, talents, accomplishments, and/or characteristics inspired and contributed to these goals? What avenues have you explored to learn more about this or to gain experience in this area to date? [ Note: This is your opportunity to tell us who you are as a thinker. Please focus your essay on you, your experiences, and your ideas, not on what the Honors College or Clemson offers. ]

Essay 2 (650 word limit, Required)

The second essay is based on your response to one of the  Common Application essay prompts .

If you have already written a response to one of these prompts in your Common Application, that response is considered your second Honors application essay. If one is not on file, you are required to submit a response to one of the seven prompts.

Essay 3 (650 word limit, Optional)

Please use this space to share any special circumstances affecting your application that warrant consideration by the selection committee.

You can verify receipt of ALL of your Honors application materials by reviewing your Clemson admissions portal . This information is available to you immediately upon submission of your Honors application.

Remember to keep track of your username and password and to watch your Clemson admissions portal for your decision notification!

First-year enrollment in the Honors College is limited to approximately 350-400 students, less than ten percent of the first-year class.

A link to the Honors admission appeal form will be provided to you in your Clemson admissions portal . 

Students who receive an Honors admission decision in mid-January can submit their appeal by:

  • March 1 for an April 1 decision notification
  • April 1 for an April 15 decision notification

Students who receive an Honors admission decision on March 1 can submit their appeal by April 1 for a decision notification on April 15.

Being proactive and prepared will help ensure that your application is complete and ready for review. Other tips include: 

  • Submit your Clemson undergraduate application early to give yourself time to also complete your Honors application. 
  • Before the end of the undergraduate application, you will be asked if you are interested in applying to the Honors College. If you are, select "yes" in order to gain access to the Honors application after you submit your undergraduate application. 
  • Ask for recommenders early! We recommend you submit your recommenders' contact information as soon as you access the Honors College application. 
  • Pre-write your essays, involvement, and awards sections in advance using a word processing application. Proofread your essays many times, use spell check, and have others review them as well. 

Above all, please take great care in reviewing your application before you press submit. Neither you nor Honors College staff can make changes to your application once it is submitted. The only option is to upload additional, optional supporting materials.

Although many members of the Clemson University Honors College receive scholarships and/or financial aid from Clemson University, there are only a very limited number of scholarships specifically associated with membership in the College.

Moreover, the awarding of an academic merit scholarship from any source does not carry with it automatic admission to the Honors College.

For scholarship and financial aid questions, please contact Clemson's Financial Aid Office .

A female student sitting at a desk and working on a laptop.

“ “Clemson’s culture, especially in the Honors College, promotes a well-rounded environment of research and socialization. Both of those were important to me from the beginning, so when I learned I could get them here, it was an easy decision for me.” Terryn Witherspoon Biological Sciences Major ('23)

Students sitting and talking on Bowman field.

Talk to one of our advisors about the Clemson Honors experience! Learn about program and class options, opportunities to work with world-class faculty, how we build an Honors community, living on Clemson campus – and most importantly, how our faculty and staff encourage our students to excel and reach their fullest potential.

honor student essay

What is Presidents Day and how is it celebrated? What to know about the federal holiday

Many will have a day off on monday in honor of presidents day. consumers may take advantage of retail sales that proliferate on the federal holiday, but here's what to know about the history of it..

honor student essay

Presidents Day is fast approaching, which may signal to many a relaxing three-day weekend and plenty of holiday sales and bargains .

But next to Independence Day, there may not exist another American holiday that is quite so patriotic.

While Presidents Day has come to be a commemoration of all the nation's 46 chief executives, both past and present, it wasn't always so broad . When it first came into existence – long before it was even federally recognized – the holiday was meant to celebrate just one man: George Washington.

How has the day grown from a simple celebration of the birthday of the first president of the United States? And why are we seeing all these ads for car and furniture sales on TV?

Here's what to know about Presidents Day and how it came to be:

When is Presidents Day 2024?

This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19.

The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of every February because of a bill signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Taking effect three years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill mandated that three holidays – Memorial Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day – occur on Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and add long weekends to the federal calendar, according to Britannica .

Other holidays, including Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day , were also established to be celebrated on Mondays when they were first observed.

However, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11 in 1978 and continues to be commemorated on that day.

What does Presidents Day commemorate?

Presidents Day was initially established in 1879 to celebrate the birthday of the nation's first president, George Washington. In fact, the holiday was simply called Washington's Birthday, which is still how the federal government refers to it, the Department of State explains .

Following the death of the venerated American Revolution leader in 1799, Feb. 22, widely believed to be Washington's date of birth , became a perennial day of remembrance, according to .

The day remained an unofficial observance for much of the 1800s until Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed that it become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, according to

While initially being recognized only in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. The first to celebrate the life of an individual American, Washington's Birthday was at the time one of only five federally-recognized holidays – the others being Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

However, most Americans today likely don't view the federal holiday as a commemoration of just one specific president. Presidents Day has since come to represent a day to recognize and celebrate all of the United States' commanders-in-chief, according to the U.S. Department of State .

When the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971, a provision was included to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's on Feb. 12, according to Because the new annual date always fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Americans believed the day was intended to honor both presidents.

Interestingly, advertisers may have played a part in the shift to "Presidents Day."

Many businesses jumped at the opportunity to use the three-day weekend as a means to draw customers with Presidents Day sales and bargain at stores across the country, according to

How is the holiday celebrated?

Because Presidents Day is a federal holiday , most federal workers will have the day off .

Part of the reason Johnson made the day a uniform holiday was so Americans had a long weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," he wrote. As such, places like the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – which bears the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are bound to attract plenty of tourists.

Similar to Independence Day, the holiday is also viewed as a patriotic celebration . As opposed to July, February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks, but reenactments, parades and other ceremonies are sure to take place in cities across the U.S.

Presidential places abound across the U.S.

Opinions on current and recent presidents may leave Americans divided, but we apparently love our leaders of old enough to name a lot of places after them.

In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau pulled information from its databases showcasing presidential geographic facts about the nation's cities and states.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the census data shows that as of 2020 , the U.S. is home to plenty of cities, counties and towns bearing presidential names. Specifically:

  • 94 places are named "Washington."
  • 72 places are named "Lincoln."
  • 67 places are named for Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans to march along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Contributing: Clare Mulroy

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]


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