I am currently studying in an undergrad programme in the social sciences/humanities in North America, and I am debating whether I should pursue the honours degree option (which would require me to take additional coursework, choose a concentration, as well as write and present a honours essay). I want to apply to grad schools (MA programmes, but I want to try to apply directly to PhDs as well) when I finish my BA, so I'm wondering what is the impact of the "honours degree" in the application process? Will this improve (significantly?) my chances of receiving an offer? The main reasons why I'm hesitant about the honours degree are (1) that it would cost me more money and (2) that since I've already graduated from a different programme (in a different discipline) this is my second BA and time is starting to be an issue.
Serving on a doctoral faculty for many years, typically when candidates are evaluated there are specific criteria that first have to be met. So, they will evaluate basic things like your GRE score, GPA, TOEFL score (if applicable). They will also evaluate your writing sample, if required to make sure that you will be able to write at the graduate level (use of references, clarity of writing, etc.).
Other than that, they will evaluate how well you fit with their program. Are you planning to study a topic that is aligned with the work already being done? Do they have an appropriate mentor/advisor to match you with? Do you express a sincere interest in research (our program emphasized research, but we would receive applicants who wanted a PhD and continue working as practitioners in the community. We weeded some of them out if it looked like they would not excel at research).
So, the Honors designation alone won't necessarily put you ahead of other candidates. That being said, if a doctoral program has a limited number of graduate stipends available, they may only accept the most qualified candidates - if the honors program you mention has specific coursework that is in strong alignment with the graduate programs you plan to apply to, then you may want to consider the additional study. However, if you have a strong record of the programs' requirements and write a compelling statement or writing sample, the honors program may not be your best investment. Best of luck!!!!!!
I think the value of an honors degree is much more in the activities required for the "honors" designation rather than the designation itself.
For example, at my undergraduate institution for my field, it was a requirement for honors to write an undergraduate thesis based on research in a lab, and to complete several seminar courses: your institution sounds like it uses similar specifications. Because "honors" means so many different things to different institutions, it is unlikely that a given PhD program will know what your "honors" designation really means; however, they can evaluate your readiness for a PhD based on the work you have done in courses and undergraduate research.