We received a letter from the high school that our daughter is eligible for a membership in NSHSS (National Society of High School Scholars). Is this worth the money? Should we do it?
No, it is not really that prestigious or exclusive—everyone you know got the same invitation letter. No, it isn’t really a honor—invitations were sent out to most students regardless of actual achievements. And no, you shouldn’t pay money for it because everyone in the field of higher education know this is really a scam.
Why do these “honor programs” exist?
So why is the National Society of High School Scholars or the Who’s Who of American High School Students letter an annual source of frustration for me and others who help teens and their families with college admission? These companies (and others like them) do an excellent job of marketing to the hopes and fears of parents.
“Acceptance” letters often come on fancy letterhead with gold seals and extra inserts proclaiming the prestige and opportunity of their offer. Who doesn’t want their child to be recognized? And too often parents and students want to jump at any opportunity to stand out when it comes to college admission.
Unfortunately these “awards” are no more than a purchased database of high school names and addresses looking to sell their accolades.
Can I list this as an award / honor on my college applications?
You shouldn’t. Colleges are not impressed with “awards” you have bought yourself.
Colleges want to see what you have DONE. If you have earned recognition for doing something, it is worth noting on your applications. But Who’s Who or NSHSS don’t ask you to DO anything other than pay for the privilege.
But what about the benefits they mention?
If you are looking for scholarships, conferences, discounts from business partners, or any of the other benefits, you can get them elsewhere. Search for scholarships online that don’t require a $75 membership fee to apply. (In fact, one sure sign of a scholarship scam is asking for money in order to apply.) There are dozens of youth conferences to help motivate, inspire, and challenge students in a variety of fields. And your local health club or Costco will have business partners willing to offer you discounts.
How to spot scams targeting teens and their families.
Next time you get an email or letter in the mail announcing an “opportunity,” here are a few ways to spot the scam:
- If it is an honor or award, has my child done something specific to earn this honor? (writing a winning essay, competing in a national event, completing the requirements for an organizational award, etc.)
- Have other neighbors or friends received the same communication? It can’t be exclusive or prestigious if a majority of students receive it.
- Is payment required? You should NEVER have to pay to apply for or receive a scholarship. Membership in some national organizations may involve a registration fee, but most have a local chapter representative who you can ask (i.e. the debate coach who represents your chapter of the National Speech & Debate Association or the NHS sponsor who represents your chapter of the National Honor Society.)
- Is this a recognized organization? It can be hard to keep up, so when in doubt, check the National Association of Secondary Principals’ list of activities and contests that offer actual academic value. These programs have to demonstrate some benefit to participating students.
- Are you considering it solely to “look good to colleges”? There is no silver bullet for admission—no single activity, club, or award that will help you get in. Students should pursue interests and talents. This may be the most genuine way to avoid scams.
So you can throw the NSHSS letter in the trash. You aren’t missing a thing.
Colleges are not impressed. In fact, listing one of these “buy your own award” items on a college application or resume may backfire. Instead of looking accomplished, you look like the fool who got scammed into thinking this marketing ploy was a real achievement.