What is the real benefit of joining an honor society in high school?

We chatted with experts in the field to see how honor societies affect high schoolers throughout the Northern Virginia region.

© Jacob Lund / stock.adobe.com

From SAT prep courses to admissions counseling, the ways in which high schoolers prepare for higher education in NoVA are extensive. On top of academics, students are expected to participate in extracurricular activities, such as athletics, clubs and community service.

For those students who stand out at their respective schools, there will be an offer to join an honor society or two. There are many in existence, including those specific to topics in academia like math or science, as well as broader, commonly known institutions, including the National Honor Society (NHS), with a common perception that joining a prestigious society will have an impact on a student’s admission into a university.

Yet as academic achievement in youth grows across the board in the US, just the title of a scholarly organization won’t have much of an impact, according to Dave Bergman, director of content for College Transitions, LLC, a company that provides admissions counseling to students across the country.

“Colleges need to see what each kid did in the organizations they’re involved in,” says Bergman. “It can motivate students to keep a certain GPA, to be among a certain peer group, things like that. But in terms of college admissions and any effect it would have, it is very limited, because the criteria to join aren’t very high.”

Each school across the US has varied qualifications for acceptance into an honor society. With NHS, for example, the process is complex, in that a school first has to apply for a charter to start a chapter, there must be a principal in charge, a faculty adviser and five faculty members. Those individuals then select students who stand out among their peers across the board.

NHS, which was created in 1921, considers itself a recognition program, focusing on four core pillars for the high school level: scholarship, service, leadership and character. According to Director of NHS, Nara Lee, the program has nothing to do with college acceptance, but rather serves as a chance for young adults to be lifted up and recognized as role models in their schools.

“It is not a checkbox for college applications or a resume,” says Lee. “That is not our view at all.”

In recent years, NHS has put a greater emphasis on alumni relations through the 600-plus scholarships annually offered to top scholars within the society. According to Lee, the organization is in the process of growing alumni engagement for current students to take advantage of when they move on to colleges and universities.

Lee Styles, owner of college counseling company Admission Styles, based in Leesburg, feels as though honor societies have become far less relevant for graduating high schoolers, yet some families still put heavy emphasis on the organizations. Bergman agrees, as he has seen parents hold a false assumption that being rejected by an honor society is “make or break” for the student’s admission into a university.

Whether in an honor society or not, it is essential to actively participate in activities that align with their interests and passions, according to both Bergman and Styles. Some examples of extracurriculars Bergman, Styles and Lee have seen include tutoring elementary school students in math if in a math-focused society, raising awareness on relevant issue such as the opioid crisis and leading a dance marathon to benefit children with cancer.

“Colleges don’t like serial joiners who are padding their resumes; they want to see that students have a passion in something,” says Styles.

The key is to not overdo it or pressure your kid and remember that he or she is still developing into a young adult, Bergman explains.

“Students often feel overwhelmed by the 10 spaces on a common app, but they really don’t need to fill them all out,” says Bergman. “It is better to fill out three that really align with your interests and show how you ascended the groups in high school.”

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