Is That Honor Society Legitimate?

It’s officially summer! School is out for real (not just for COVID-19)! And now that your student has officially moved up in grades, you may have gotten some mail. Did your student get something from an… honor society? Or something that sounds like an honor society? They might be very excited and happy about it even. But is that direct mail honor society legitimate or a scam?

I’m going to carefully toe a legal line here, because other education websites have gotten angry letters from attorneys, and that is not what my 2020 needs. But this is a big moment for you and your critical thinking skills… something 2020 is in need of! So let’s look at this carefully.

Is this the National Honor Society?

Your first reaction to getting a letter saying that you’re awesome is, and should be, “wow, I’m awesome.” And you’re still going to be awesome without paying anyone $75 for a certificate.

If you’ve gotten a letter in the mail from an honor society stating that for a fee, you can join their group or be entered into scholarship pools, throw it away. A “pay to play” opportunity is NOT the same thing as registration fee.

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I’m going to say that again for the people in the back: Paying for the opportunity to join a society that you have to Google is not a registration fee.

The National Honor Society is a school-based organization. It does not send letters to students in order to announce eligibility. You can search for local chapters on their website or contact your school’s adviser for more information.

Is it a scam? Not specifically, no. They do give you what they tell you they’re going to give you. It’s just that for the price, it’s not worth it. And they’ll give the same “credentials” to everyone who gives them money. Ask your friends if they, too, got the letter or email. Chances are, they did.

But it’s something for my college application, right?

If you’re thinking of paying the fee anyway for something to put on your application, because you think it might be looking a little thin, don’t. Spend that money on some work gloves and call Habitat for Humanity. Add that to your application. Or invest that money in a savings account.

College admissions counselors know the pay-to-play honor societies, and they won’t be impressed by it. If anything, honestly, they’ll feel a little cringey for you.

So what is a real honor or award?

If you have gotten mail specifically highlighting your achievements or work, that is different. First, it should have a bunch of personal details. If you entered an essay contest, submitted artwork, or helped on a big project specifically for a program, that’s legit. Secondly, it shouldn’t be a big surprise. Your teacher(s) would have clued you in to something coming from a specific program.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals keeps a great list of approved student programs. Check it out (even if only to get a great perspective of how many programs are out there to help recognize high school students!)

Lastly, you are still awesome. Really. There are plenty of great programs out there that will showcase your awesomeness and individuality and accomplishments. But recycle this letter.


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