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Is this a Scam?

A friend’s daughter was recently invited to join the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), and her pride was ignited in a way it only can be by one’s own child. Until a fellow mom doused her with “It’s just a scam.”

Image courtesy of Rochelle Nicole via

Image courtesy of Rochelle Nicole via

So she asked me, “Is this a scam?”

Short Answer: No.

More of an Answer…that Begins with a History Lesson

Honor societies have long been a staple of the college landscape. Many hail from an era when only the American aristocracy attended college and they all studied the same “classical” education, so honor societies were a way to distinguish oneself as especially gifted in general, or more accomplished than others in a particular subject.

There wasn’t much of a need for honor societies at the secondary school level until public education became compulsory and middle- and working-class students entered the fray. Suddenly competition for recognition of academic achievement—and the resulting economic advantage—gave rise to a number of organizations.

Every high school has them. Key Club. Future Farmers of America. Interact Club. Future Business Leaders of America. DECA. I’m sure you can name several more and that’s just from your own high school experience. Some of these programs exist regionally, or hold more sway in varying locations, but they’re all serving the same function.

The king of them is the National Honor Society (NHS). Founded in 1921, NHS is in every state and carries with it a hefty reputation. Many colleges have merit scholarships for NHS members who are often singled out in graduation ceremonies and elsewhere as the top scorers in their school.

Present Day

In today’s ultra-competitive environment, students want an edge, a way to signal to colleges that they too are amazing and worthy of recruitment. The marketplace for accolades has grown, and the dominance of NHS was never going to last. So new programs have sprung up. The NSHSS was founded in 2002 and has worked hard to establish itself as a credible program. And by all measures it is.

So Why Do People Suspect Honor Societies may be a Scam?

People are naturally suspicious of anything new, especially when that new thing asks for money. But every honor society asks for nominal dues. It’s how they afford to operate. So the NSHSS’s ask for $60 to join is in line with its peers.

In this specific case, though, the new honor societies are going up against one well-established program that high school institutions are heavily vested in. So there’s some jealousy that tinges this suspicion. It will fade with time.

How Colleges View Honor Societies

As an admissions counselor reviewing an application, membership in NHS didn’t carry weight with me. Why? Because it’s held by students who I already knew were excellent. It does nothing more than confirm the high GPA and challenging course schedule their transcript and class rank told me they had.

But remember, colleges want to recruit high achieving students, and tracking NHS membership is an easy way to identify them. So they offer scholarships. They send marketing material praising an NHS student for their status. They may even have special opportunities for NHS members to visit campus.

Should Your Student Join an Honor Society?

Why not? If they’re working hard and eager to show it, then let them join. Or if they’re awesome but getting little recognition in a competitive high school, perhaps an honor society will give them a much needed boost in confidence? There’s absolutely no harm in joining one. Just don’t think it’s a “must have” on their college application to get admitted.

Jen ParticaComment