Academic Advising Resources

Extreme Millennial Students: Advising Strategies for Working with Honors Students
Authored By: Jacqueline R. Klein 

The support that undergraduate students receive from their institution is a major contributor to college adjustment and growth in developmental areas (Noldon & Sedlacek, 1998). Fortunately, the majority of institutions of higher education have implemented programs targeting specific subpopulations of the college student body. Research suggests that colleges and universities devote attention to creating effective ways of working with international students, minorities, and students with disabilities. However, despite myths indicating that academically talented students do not need specific services (Gerrity, Lawrence, & Sedlacek, 1993), undergraduates with high academic talent have needs that require special consideration (Kerr & Colangelo, 1988). High achieving students encounter challenges similar to their peers (Haynes, 2006).
Honors programs began in the 1920s (Danzig, 1982) when higher education institutions learned that students with high academic talent have a need for specialized services (Gerrity, Lawrence, & Sedlacek, 1993). Currently, honors programs are popping up at all types of institutions including large, public four-year schools, research universities, small liberal arts institutions, and community colleges (Hamilton, 2002). Fischer (1996) indicates that public universities are increasingly creating honors programs to meet the needs of the best and brightest students. The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) is the largest honors organization serving the needs of staff, faculty, and students involved with undergraduate honors programs in theUnited States(Long, 2002). To date, there are 767 member institutions of the National Collegiate Honors Council (Smith, 2006).
While it is difficult to find concrete descriptions of honors students (Achterberg, 2005), Cohen (1966) and Robertson (1966) note that many scholars view honors students as superior in some way to non-honors students (as cited in Achterberg, 2005). Findings from a few studies suggest that honors students have specific characteristics different from their nonhonors student counterparts (Mathiasen, 1985; Pflaum, Pascarella, & Duby, 1985; Stephens & Eison, 1986-1987). Pflaum et al. found that honors students have a higher rate of academic achievement compared to students not enrolled in honors programs. Long and Lange (2002) attribute the high academic achievement rate of honors students to the admission criteria of honors programs. Findings from another study indicate that honors students are more interested in learning for the intrinsic value rather than solely to earn high grades (Stephens & Eisen, 1986-1987). Additionally, honors students engage in extracurricular activities, complete assignments on time, and manage study time effectively at a higher rate than undergraduates who are not enrolled in honors programs (Mathiasen, 1985).

Even though undergraduate honors students have unique needs related to their personality (Mathiasen, 1985; Stephens & Eison, 1986-1987), it is important to recognize that they are part of the Millennial generation of college students. Achterberg (2005) suggests that in many ways honors students are no different than nonhonors students. However, in other ways, honors students may be considered extreme Millennial students. The characteristics of Millennials such as special, sheltered, confident, and pressured (Lowery, 2004) are excessive descriptors of honors students.
Authority figures have told Millennials that they are special and higher education institutions reinforce this (DeBard, 2004). This feeling of privilege extends to honors students. Honors students are often recruited into a program with promises of separate living facilities, financial backing, and access to top professors (Selingo, 2002). Once enrolled in college honors programs, students receive a challenging and high quality education at an affordable cost. Additionally, honors students have contact with outstanding faculty members, opportunities to develop friendships with peers, access to honors courses, special student service offices, and facilities (Long, 2002; Robinson, 1997). Furthermore, honors students have the opportunity to enroll in smaller classes (usually fewer than 20 students) than the general student population. Finally, honors students often participate in study abroad programs, internships, and service learning experiences (Hamilton, 2004).
College students from the Millennial generation are also described as sheltered. According to research(DeBard, 2004), Millennials are protected by their parents from harm's way. They are encouraged to follow the rules and tend to prefer a high level of structure. The parental involvement among the current generation of college students is extremely high (DeBard, 2004). The extra services honors students receive through honors programs help maintain this sheltered feeling.
The trait of confidence is common among Millennial students. Millennials are optimistic about their future. They have been continuously rewarded by authority figures for their positive behaviors. Students from this generation believe they can accomplish whatever tasks are placed in front of them by authority figures, but their own outcomes must also be met (DeBard, 2004). Interestingly, the percentage of students thinking that they will graduate with college honors has increased five times over the past 30 years (Lowery, 2004).


There is a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed placed upon students from the Millennial generation. This pressure began in high school and continues through the college years (Lowery, 2004). DeBard (2004) notes that the expectations others have for students in the Millennial generation translate into students who set high standards for themselves. Delisle (1986) indicates that honors students tend to be perfectionists and consequently place a high level of pressure on themselves. The perfectionist characteristic of honors students (Delisle, 1986) often leads to anxiety and a need to excel in all academic subjects. Additionally, students enrolled in honors programs have added pressures related to the requirements of the program (Ender & Wilkie, 2000).
The characteristics of the Millennial student population create certain implications for how student affairs services should be provided (Lowery, 2004). Specifically, one of the most challenging aspects of working with the honors student population is determining where advisors should devote their attention. Ender and Wilkie (2000) suggest that advisors use a developmental approach when working with honors students. The developmental advising relationship should consist of students striving to reach their educational goals with the advisor providing the support and challenge these student need to succeed (Ender & Wilkie, 2000). Ender and Wilkie futher note that advisors should focus on academic issues, student involvement, and life goals at various points in their advising relationships with honors students. DeBard (2004) indicates that pressure placed on students results in their need for structure; Lowery (2004) suggests that student affairs professionals help students manage pressures effectively in areas that include stress, time, relationships, and finances. It is also recommended that advisors highlight available support services and mechanisms for coping with stress (Ender & Wilkie). Finally, Ender and Wilkie indicate that working through issues about the purpose of life will be the largest focus of the honors advisor relationship.

My relationship with honor students verifies the research. I have found that effective strategies for working with this group include:

  • First-year experiences such as an Honors Freshman Seminar that incorporate developmental advising tools such as time and stress management workshops
  • Programming efforts focused on relieving stress, having fun, and community building such as a Yoga De-Stress and a Knitting Circle
  • Informational meetings that assist honors students in meeting the specific requirements of the honors program such as How to Study Abroad and How to Develop an Honors Resume
  • Community service or service-learning opportunities that assist students in completing the community service requirement of many honors programs
  • Effective advising meetings. Require students to meet their advisors at least once a semester to build a strong relationship
  • Keep appraised of current research on the honors student population to be aware of the specific characteristics and needs of the group

Contrary to common beliefs that honors students do not require special services (Gerrity, Lawrence, & Sedlacek, 1993), research suggests that honors students require specific attention due to challenges unique to enrollment in their program (Mathiasen, 1985; Pflaum, Pascarella, & Duby, 1985; Stephens & Eison, 1986-1987; Kerr & Colangelo, 1988; Gerrity, Lawerence, & Sedlecek; Robinson, 1997). Surprising to some college professionals, honors students may take up even more of advisors' time than non-honors students (Gerrity, Lawerence, & Sedlacek). Honors students face many of the same issues of the general population (Achterberg, 2005; Haynes, 2006) including issues tied to being part of the Millennial generation. The characteristics of Millennials such as special, sheltered, confident, and pressured (Lowery, 2004)are extreme in students enrolled in college honors programs. According to Lowery (2004) student affairs administrators must create new ways of working with the current generation of students. Similarly, the combination of both being a member of the honors student population and working through issues related to the millennial student generation suggest that advisors working with this group must adapt specific approaches that meet the needs of honors students.

Jacqueline R. Klein 
Honors Advisor
CUNY Honors College/Baruch College Honors Program


Achterberg, C. (2005). What is an honors student? Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, 6 (1), 75-81.

Danzig, A. B. (1982). Honors at theUniversityofMaryland: A status report on programs for talented students.UniversityofMaryland.

DeBard, R. (2004). Millennials coming to college. In M. D. Coomes & J. W. Lowery(Issue Eds.)., New directions for student services, Iss. 106. Serving the millennial generation (33-45).San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ender, S. C., Wilkie, C. J. (2000). Advising students with special needs. In V. N. Gordon &W. R. Habley (Eds.), Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook 118-143).San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fischer, D. (1996). The new honors programs. U.S. News & World Report, 121(11), 108-111.

Gerrity, D. A., Lawrence, J. F., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1993). Honors and nonhonors freshmen: Demographics, attitudes, interests, and behaviors. National Association of College  Admissions Directors and Counselors Journal , 13, 43-52.

Hamilton, K. (2004). Courting the best & the brightest. Black Issues in Higher Education,  21 (1), 29-31.

Haynes, C. (2006). The integrated student fostering holistic development to advance learning. About Campus, 10 (6), 17-23.

Kerr, B. A., & Colangelo, N. (1988). The college plans of academically talented students. Journal of Counseling and Development , 67, 42-48.

Long, B. T.  (2002, March 29).  Attracting the best:  The use of honors programs to competefor students.  Spencer Foundation.  Chicago, Illinois.

Long, E. C., & Lange, S.  (2002).  An exploratory study:  A comparison of honors andnon-honors students. The National Honors Report, 23, 20-30.

Lowery, J. W.  (2004).  Student affairs for a new generation.  In M. D. Coomes & J. W. Lowery(Issue Eds.)., New directions for student services, Iss. 106. Serving the millennial generation (pp. 87-99).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mathiasen, R. E. (1985).  Characteristics of the college honors student. Journal of College Student Personnel , 26(2), 171-173.

Noldon, D., & Sedlacek, W. E.  (1998).  Gender differences in attitudes, skills, and behaviorsamong academically talented university freshmen. Roeper Review, 21(2), 106-110.

Pflaum, S., Pascarella, E., & Duby, P.  (1985).  The effects of honors college participation onacademic performance during the freshman year. Journal of College Student Personnel,26, 414-419.

Robinson, N. M.  (1997).  The role of universities and colleges in educating giftedundergraduates. Peabody Journal of Education, 72(3&4), 217-236.

Selingo, J.  (2002, May 31).  Mission creep? Chronicle of Higher Education, 48(38), A19-21.

Smith, N.  (personal communication).  August 15, 2006.

Stephens, J., & Eison, J. A. (1986-1987).  A comparative investigation of honors and non-honorsstudents. Forum for Honors, Fall-Winter, 17-25.


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Cite this using APA style as:

Klein, J. R. (2006).Extreme Millennial Students: Advising Strategies for Working with Honors Students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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