In the US honors students may refer to
- Students recognized for their academic achievement on lists published periodically throughout the school year, known as honor rolls, varying from school to school, and from enlarged different levels of education.
- Students enrolled in designated honors courses or honors program.
- Students who are members of the National Honor Society or other honor society.
Honors students are often recognized for their achievements. A student who has made numerous appearances on the honor roll may be awarded with some form of academic letter, or any other form of notification. A similar concept to honor rolls exists in colleges and universities in the United States, known as the Dean's List.
In many other countries the meanings of the academic phrase honors or honours come in different forms. Generally, 'honours' is not actually a de jure degree itself, it is used to indicate (the level of) a distinction with which a undergraduate degree was earned. Usually, Honours degrees are four-year programs (sometimes also three year programs e.g. in UK). 'Honours' basically means that students have achieved their degree with a high overall average GPA and they, typically, have undertaken a small final project, paper or essay (also known in UK as dissertation). An undergraduate honours distinction should not be confused with a "postgraduate" with Honours or Cum Honore degree, which is actually (part of) an academic degree itself, e.g. the one-year Bachelor with Honours degree in Australia, the one-year Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree in Canada or the four-year integrated Master with Honours degree in Scotland. "Postgraduate" Honours degree programs generally involves completion of master's level courses and the submission of a long high-research thesis. A student who holds a de jure Honours degree is eligible for direct entry either to a Doctorate (PhD) or to a two- to three year very-high-research Master´s degree program.
Some researchers have questioned the validity of the honor roll as an effective form of positive reinforcement. It is argued that the pursuit of extrinsic reward is not an accurate reflection of intrinsic interest in course material.  There are also questions on the effectiveness of separating high-achieving students from their peers, in the form of magnet schools or honors courses. 
An honors course is a class in which the most advanced students are placed. Most students placed in honors courses are highly motivated and dedicated to their educational experience.
Motivation is the main quality that characterizes an honors student. In addition to being committed to academics, they are encouraged and many participate in volunteer work, organizations & clubs, cooperative education, research, study abroad and cultural activities.
Honors classes also cover advanced material, permit more in-depth study than a standard course of study and may require independent research.
- "Academic Letterwinners". Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District. 2008.
- Greene, David; Lepper, Mark R. (Dec 1974). "Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Children's Subsequent Intrinsic Interest". Child Development (Wiley) 45 (4): 1141–1145.
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- "Honors Study". Texas A&M University. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21.
- "Mission of the Honors Program". University of Kansas.