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  • Writer's pictureBridget Williams Golden

Honor Societies: To join or not to join?

Photo by Leon Wu on Unsplash

We receive many questions from client families about invitations received to join an honor society or paying to receive “special recognition.” Our oldest son, a rising senior, has recently received several mailings and e-mails inviting him to accept membership and various awards. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers about someone’s dog being smarter than your honor student. We, as parents and consumers, have to be smarter than these mailings. A recent mailing we opened even included a “Proud Member of ___ Honor Society” sticker and Andrew hadn’t even applied or joined.

But how do you know what is legitimate and what is just a scam?

I am a member of Mortar Board National Senior College Honor Society. I was initiated into the Barbara Cook chapter of Mortar Board at Purdue University, way back in 1997. Since being tapped for membership, I have also served as a section coordinator, National Council member, and even national office staff member for eight years. I have seen and experienced firsthand how a legitimate honor society functions and leads. As stated by Mortar Board, “True honor societies exist to recognize and promote excellence in academic accomplishment.”

In addition, Mortar Board is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies. Founded in 1925, ACHS is the only certifying agency for college and university honor societies. They currently recognize and certify 67 collegiate honor societies across all academic disciplines. The ACHS website has exceptional resources for parents and students to consider when deciding to join an honor society. Sadly, there isn’t a similar certifying body for high school honor societies, but many of the ACHS guiding points and questions are applicable.

In addition, consider if the organization is recognized or chartered by your student’s high school. For example, National Honor Society and Beta Club are both recognized by high schools, have student officers, faculty advisors, and initiation ceremonies at the school. For these “.com” honor societies, there is no affiliation, recognition, or involvement at the high school level.

For the (repeated) invitations our son has received via email and postal mail for one particular society, I started looking into how he was “nominated” since his local high school isn’t affiliated with this group and “an educator” didn’t nominate him. Remember those names (your names) that are often purchased by colleges from the College Board for marketing and promotion? They are also purchased by groups such as this.

I looked up the website for the “honor society” that continues to solicit him. Their website states, “Student contact information is provided by teachers and counselors, educational partner organizations, the National Research Center for College and University Admissions, and the College Board Student Search Service. Reference to how ___ receives a student’s information is noted in the student’s letter of invitation for membership with the Society.”

Also, keep in mind that the National Research Center for College and University Admissions is actually part of the ACT.

Remember when Dr. Thom talked to you about question 8 - that question can also bring these “invitations” to your mailbox.

For my son’s invitation, it references his “outstanding high school achievements” - this “society” knows his high school, address, and other information because they purchased his name from the College Board Student Search Service, not because someone at his school who actually knows him thought he was deserving of this “honor.” As stated by ACHS, “An invitation from an off-campus group will most likely be based upon something other than academic achievement, thus indicating that it is not a genuine honor society.”

Questions to consider when you receive an invitation:

  1. Is this organization a non-profit that bases acceptance on academic standards? As stated by ACHS, “Low standards (or no standards) indicate that a group is looking to maximize total membership without regard for quality to maximize revenue. In evaluating such an invitation, it is wise to consider whether it is truly an “honor” to belong to a group that will accept any and everyone who is willing to pay the membership fees.”

  2. Does the website include information about a national headquarters and staff (more than a PO Box) including names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses?

  3. What are the membership criteria?

  4. Are members involved in governance?

  5. Is there an opportunity for your student to be involved and engaged? With other actual humans?

  6. Is there an official chapter at your school? An invitation from an organization that does not have an actual presence at your school should be very suspect. Is a faculty advisor or sponsor teacher listed on the invitation?

  7. Can the regalia (such as graduation cords) be worn at your school’s graduation ceremony? (Most high schools do not allow students to wear cords or other regalia from groups or organizations they haven’t chartered or sponsored.)

  8. Have you checked to see if there are any complaints with the Better Business Bureau? (Please note that being “accredited” by the BBB does not mean an organization is legitimate. I just noticed a notorious college honor society scam that is listed as accredited because they have registered with the BBB; they also have 52 recent complaints!)

  9. Having the words “honor society” in the organization does not mean you are, in fact, an honor society. I just found an Honor Society Tattoo Parlor on the Better Business Bureau!

Do your homework. Ask good questions. Honor comes with respect and dignity - make sure that is what your student is receiving!

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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