Date of Completion


Embargo Period



gifted, honors, college students, achievement goal orientation, perfectionism

Major Advisor

Catherine A. Little

Co-Major Advisor

Orville C. Karan

Associate Advisor

Sally M. Reis

Associate Advisor

James M. O'Neil

Associate Advisor

Jennifer Lease Butts

Associate Advisor

E. Jean Gubbins

Field of Study

Educational Psychology


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Over 1000 colleges and universities in the United States have established honors programs to attract and serve high-achieving students. These students must decide whether participation in an honors program is compatible with the goals they have for their college educations, and not all will choose to join. Very little research has investigated the factors influencing this choice. In this mixed-methods study, honors-eligible students from two public research universities completed an online survey with five parts: the Achievement Goal Questionnaire-Revised (AGQ-R), Hewitt and Flett’s (1991) Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS), prior educational and extracurricular experiences, self-reported motivating factors for joining or not joining honors, and demographic information. Multivariate analyses were used to conduct comparisons among the parts of the survey; among students who joined honors as incoming freshmen, those who joined later, and those who did not join; and between honors students at the two universities. Students’ open-ended responses to the question of why they decided to join or not join honors were also analyzed qualitatively.

Results of this study indicated that students joined honors based on some combination of expected benefits, anticipated opportunities, and social and emotional needs. Students’ reasons did reflect their achievement goal orientations; citing opportunities for challenge and growth was positively associated with mastery-approach goals. Students who did not join honors anticipated honors classes to be more difficult, require more work, and jeopardize their GPAs. However, this was not reflected in overall differences in achievement goal orientation or perfectionism between those who joined honors and those who did not. There were preliminary indications that students’ prior academic and extracurricular activities were related to achievement goals, perfectionism, and when they joined honors. Finally, honors students at the two universities differed significantly in levels of perfectionism and in the interactions between prior experiences and either achievement goals or perfectionism. They also placed different weights on the relative importance of benefits versus opportunities. These findings highlighted the influence of context when researching college honors programs and the students who qualify to participate in them.