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Is NSHSS (National Society of High School Scholars) a Scam or a Real Award?

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.

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.

 

39 replies
  1. Karen G.
    Karen G. says:

    Thank you for this information. My daughter received this invitation and i was a little suspicious. At first i thought it was from the National Honor Society but i know that would come directly from her school. I was really close to putting that bumper sticker on my car until i read your email so thank you!

    Reply
  2. Rita I.
    Rita I. says:

    Thank you so much for this information. We almost paid the membership fee. So glad my husband checked first if it was legit or scam.

    Reply
  3. Theo Younger
    Theo Younger says:

    There are requirements for getting into NSHSS, it isn’t just for everybody and requiring a fee isn’t uncommon so using that as a reason for disqualifying it as legitimate. As a member I know I had to achieve certain goals to enter and I have used it as a reference on several applications for different things and have never run into a problem. Discouraging people from taking every opportunity they can is extremely counter productive.

    Reply
    • Alice
      Alice says:

      Sorry you got scammed. Lol, even I received one of these letters and I’m almost 50 not even in high school. It’s a shame companies like this can exist.

      Reply
      • Erica Perry
        Erica Perry says:

        Just because you received the letter does it mean your child qualifies. Go on to their website and it tells you what the requirements are.

        Reply
    • Megan Dorsey
      Megan Dorsey says:

      Theo,
      While NSHSS makes you think there are exclusive standards, there aren’t. The only requirement is that you pay the fee. I want students to get involved, develop talents and interests, and pursue academics; I don’t want to see families taken advantage of by a program that is NOT exclusive or prestigious.

      Megan Dorsey

      Reply
  4. Bill T.
    Bill T. says:

    Hello, I just wanted to inquire whether or not in your opinion on if it is worth mentioning in my college application that I was accepted into a leadership program offered by NSHSS (Ambassadors). After reading this, I am unsure as to if it will backfire and if it is still better to leave out the leadership program from my applcation entirely.

    Reply
  5. Donna
    Donna says:

    My granddaughter received this invitation yesterday. I am so glad that I did go on line to find out if it’s legitimate or a scam. I am also glad that I read comments from others. We all love to feel that our children are scholars. My husband and I are retired and very careful that we spend our money wisely. Than you for your input

    Reply
  6. Ferid A
    Ferid A says:

    Wow…almost. I was on the payment page, before I decided to do further research. The reviews were confusing. Helpful information. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  7. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    Please explain all of the scholarship opportunities that NSHSS provides for students entering college and in college. I am a newer member and I honestly feel that if they wanted to scam people they’d try to do a better job than this. I got my letter last summer through my school. My school checks everything before sending it to the student. I’m the only person in my school that has received a letter from NSHSS. This was posted around the time that I was accepted. Besides, you have to pay to participate in sports yet you have to earn the awards you get. Plus you even have to pay for certain things pertaining to one’s high school education and yet you have to earn awards. I feel that if you pay for something like that then you can most certainly be noticed for current or past hard work and be awarded later on whether you have to pay to join or not.

    Reply
    • Megan Dorsey
      Megan Dorsey says:

      Morgan,

      In the article I tried to present the fact that these programs are not scams; they do provide the sessions. But the programs are not as prestigious or exclusive as advertised. I’ve had students attend and enjoy the conferences, but I don’t want families to think that NSHSS is an elite program. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of summer programs for high school students that will provide more hands on opportunity and information. In the end, you can choose which program is right for you.

      Megan

      Reply
      • Jackie D.
        Jackie D. says:

        I think your opinion is just that, an opinion. There are a lot of students who have actually benefited from this organization, whether it’s getting scholarships or creating chapters in their schools to organize community activities. NSHSS is what you make it, just like anything you do. Additionally, not all high school organizations are free (I should know, I was in many of them; that’s including NHS!) Let people decide for themselves and do research, I have a feeling you probably haven’t called in to NSHSS or spoken with teachers and counselors who are actually involved with this organization.

        Reply
        • Domeinc
          Domeinc says:

          The BBB has many complaints and they are each valid. The NSHHS always blames the complainant. I find the entity to be an illusion. Parents certain of high achieving students and rigorous organizations are not asking the simple question of ‘is the NSHSS legitimate’, worth it, etc. Hear your inner voice people. If you want statistical facts, just look online. But it seems everyone gets the invite, and once you do, you get your paper achievement to hang. It is no different to me that entities that will give therapy dog titles, a patch and meaningless paper, to anyone who pays the fee. Very few need to look at a surprise invite to realize their child may have done something in school. I guess joining NSHSS means they attended. My advice, save the 95 USD. Give it to your child. Tell them to join a club at school that speaks to their interests. If it is academic, every subject area has a club, or if not, start one. Be special, but don’t be a sheep which is joining the NSHSS. Then, let them use the 95 to invest in a social circle. My kids following college and through college, and now working in excellent jobs, only got there by four things: hard work, not being naive, making friends with up and coming and generational movers and shakers and becoming some, and having (honestly) great parents. I thought I was being a good parent with the first one by forking over the 95 USD for NSHSS, but he ended up at one of the nations top 3 universities. He was quick to pitch his NSHSS membership because those kids scoff at such fake societies. Plus, even if a student did something in high school, they would have been awarded by that school in its own right, and then again, saying you did this or that in HS and are now still looking at HS when you are prepared for college means you are looking back, and not forward to the meaningful challenges. Why does this both me so, I teach kids, some do not have pennies to rub together and the desperate parents and kids who lack visibility get this invite and then find a way to pay the 95 USD and then their kids who many are not even college ready or able on multiple fronts just got taken by society, business, whatever you want to say, but I expect a lot more (something) from any entity who makes a pitch under the guise of education to a still developing and hopeful child and then separates them from what they really need. Self worth (that does not come from a meaningless association), support, encouragement, engagement, options, and the truth – and the 95 USD back that just ended up in a 50 cent piece of paper with maybe 50 cents more for the ink and mailing. I assure you, you will feel dumb at some point if you do it – and the last thing a kid needs who is questioning ‘if’ they can make it at the college level is to feel dumb by the first ‘hey, I like you’ type of contact. That is all this is. So sure, I guess it does upset me a bit.

          Reply
  8. Tom
    Tom says:

    It’s not a scam in the strict definition; however, you’d have just as much luck tossing your $$ in the toilet and flushing. I have two children who finished college and one who will start in the fall. The first two were NSHSS members, the last one not. NSHSS meant nothing in terms of scholarships, awards, of getting into leadership organizations. Your child would be better off volunteering 10 or 20 hours a year to a food bank, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or your favorite charity. You would also be better served to take the money and spend it to help you child get a 31+ ACT score. That seems to be where the real scholarship money is. 33+ with some community service background and a couple of leadership positions is the criteria for a full ride. My last child has a 32 ACT score with some leadership and volunteer positions. She got an 80% tuition scholarship plus $3,500 for housing. She was not a NSHSS member and got the most in tuition of my three children.

    Reply
    • Ralphael
      Ralphael says:

      Thx so much for the info, I’ve been debating whether or not to pay for this, I now know I’m better off without it

      Reply
  9. Susan
    Susan says:

    We paid before we did any research and I am still on the fence if it will be beneficial. My DD got an email from them asking her to participate in a CIA Stem Camp. I have been doing a LOT of research to see if this is legitimate but can’t find anything. I am not putting her on a bus in a parking lot without me. Do you know if this is legitimate? Thank you for any help you can give because she really wants to do this.

    Reply
    • Rosalyn
      Rosalyn says:

      I am a rising junior going into stem and I suggest letting her do this. She can put it on a resume for internships (I suggest putting the event, not the organization on anything. It’s one thing to actually go to events vs just paying into an org.) Shes 16, 17, or 18? She will be off soon anyways. It seems to be two days. Ask her if she has any friends that are going to the camp that she can stick with. Advise her to make friends quickly if not, preferably with a female who she can go to the bathroom, shop, and room with. Safety is in buddies. If you are really concerned, email the directors (or call them, for better assurance that they’ll get back to you) It would be fun for her I think. You can also send a family member or a family friend (preferably female) to go with her. (I say preferably female because as a 16-20 year old shes at her most vulnerable point so safety first, the stats show and can save lives) Let her explore the world, and her future career. I’m still just a 16 yr old though, so this is just my plans if I have a daughter later on.

      Reply
  10. Annette
    Annette says:

    So I am a high school student and I’m in 10 grade and I just got the NSHSS letter saying the same thing you talked about but I really don’t know if I should waste 75 I mean I already had another invitation from National academy of future scientists and technologists and I found out that it was a scam so I don’t know whether or not to apply for it or leave it alone. Help please.

    Reply
    • Blaire
      Blaire says:

      The National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists is actually not a scam. I went to that and it had the best information there, but I went for the Future Medical Leaders and Physicians. One the last day there was a live surgery, that was cool. They give you a plaque, fee waivers and the best learning opportunities. If you can’t pay, they will whatever they can to help you join. Also, there are about only 120 kids there at the event, so it was prestigious and you could meet some of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. If you think it is a scam, next time, call the number provided and ask them a lot of questions. I mean a lot! That is what I did.

      Reply
    • Megan Dorsey
      Megan Dorsey says:

      Annette,

      As I say in the article, NSHSS does offer a program that many students enjoy, but their claims of selectivity or recognition by colleges are untrue. What I find misleading about NSHSS (and similar programs) is the degree to which participation will help you in the future. It can be a positive experience. You can meet people and learn from it. But it is NOT particularly exclusive. Hundreds of students from your area, maybe even your high school, have been invited. The only thing exclusive about the program is who is willing to pay. It is not particularly prestigious; there are hundreds of other summer programs around the country that could give you a similar experience.

      Essentially the program is real. The hype is not.

      If you and your family have the money (or can manage to fight through the process of getting scholarships / sponsorships) then go. But you might want to check out other options before you do. You may find a better program somewhere else.

      Hope this helps!
      Megan

      Reply
  11. Renee Matta
    Renee Matta says:

    They literally send them out to everyone!!!!
    My friend’s son received one last year and he FAILED A COURSE AND HAD TO ATTEND SUMMER SCHOOL LAST YEAR!!! We were cracking up when that actually came in the mail addressed so “officially” to him!!!!! LMAO!!!

    Reply
  12. Krithin
    Krithin says:

    I got a letter saying the samething except it had a lot more private info such as my scholarship info, SAT score and GPA to the dot. It also says it is free. So I am very confused and worried.

    Reply
  13. Andrea Guzman
    Andrea Guzman says:

    I did find a list of criteria in order to be invited. My son has struggled all through junior high. This was his 9th grade year and he pulled out an unweighted GPA of 3.58 with one honors class!! I dont care about the money! I care that my sons hard work was recognized! He’s so proud of that and no doubt will strive for even better next year. And btw we live in a small town. Maybe 3000 people and I have heard of no one else that recieved one, and trust me every mom in town would be all over Facebook and every car in the drop off sporting that sticker. If $60 isn’t worth a possible even $1000, or $5000 oh and not required.. how is that not a worthwhile investment. I’d pay 10 times that to be able to prove what he did was outstanding by more than just moms standards even if he wins zero scholarship. But if he is awarded even $500 that’s obviously worth it. Besides if this makes him strive for even better I wont be dependent on their scholarship money anyway. I have no doubt with sustained high academic performance winning scholarship wont be an issue. And if it gives him the pride and confidence to get their I’d pay $1060!! They do have criteria so instead of sitting down and researching for any possible negatives which so far has been investment versus value let them have there moment!! And my kid worked his butt off for that GPA so he earned that media recognition! One more thing to make him motivated, confident and proud! After his struggles hell yeah I’d pay $60 to have him recognized because he deserves it. I’m not buying him media attention hes getting the attention he should have but other wise eoukf would not and that Is a flaw with media. I’m aghast at some of the things I’ve heard! Am I the only one who cares more about what it does for my childs confident and dedication to do even better above what I may gain from it and whether its worth my measly $60 bucks. Shameful the day any recognition is judged based on what you stand to gain.

    Reply
    • Pablo Sanchez
      Pablo Sanchez says:

      If you made it to here in the comments… ^^ wow that was pretty wild, right? The things you read on a college prep website XD

      Reply
    • anna
      anna says:

      While recognizing ones achievements is fantastic, and doing so is up to the individual, I think the point of the article is merely to inform that paying the money will not benefit you as much as it first appears, at least not for certain. Have you ever considered that some may not have an extra $60 to spend on this? I’m sure struggling families have paid money that they did not have because they were under the notion that it would have a tremendous affect on a resume when it does not . You may think that the money is nothing, but you are completely ignorant to others problems. Not everyone is able to purchase recognition or payola for themselves, Andrea.

      Reply
  14. Jadeja
    Jadeja says:

    I don’t think it’s a scam it kinda sounds silly. Listen I am a rising junior and did a lot of deep research on this. Many people think it is a scam because they feel like everyone is getting it out of nowhere and so they start assuming. If you look on the website your school actually nominates you in order for you to be invited. That’s how they know your address. Come on people read the website. They don’t know you, your school, or address unless the school allows them too or else it’s crazy. Number two, it’s a private organization it’s not very exclusive and that’s where people get it wrong and miss the opportunity. So before you go around looking at everyone else’s opinion do a little more research yourself look at the website use common sense because it’s an actual program. Look at the YouTube channel. It’s a huge program. I almost rejected it when I heard people claiming it was a “scam” but these people did not actually take the time to look at it. Plus it’s a one time fee I know plenty of other programs that cost a fee. Also I watched their videos and they actually have conversations with a room full of children and they give out awards. They also have a college tours at the Ivy League!!!! On July 29 to August fourth!!! And you wonder why it costs money. I’m not missing this opportunity because now I know what this society is all about. People think it’s a scam because others are claiming it’s a scam.

    Reply
  15. Chan Bartlett
    Chan Bartlett says:

    A friend of a friend whose child received an award letter from this organization asked me what it was; I had never heard of it and I went on line to learn something about it. In my mind, I was
    thinking “Elitism…probably CIA”–naughty me! I had trouble finding exactly what the award was that the letter represented, but the first thing I found was a quoted passage from a speech the founder of this group gave in which he mentioned that students such as recognized by this award would be instrumental in carrying out Agenda 2030. Now, for anyone reading this who has not heard of that, I want to say that is huge cause for suspicion. If you haven’t heard of that, go to You Tube and have a look at any number of presentations describing Agenda 2030 (or Agenda 21). And after that, the more I saw the more dodgy this thing looked.

    Reply
  16. rose bero
    rose bero says:

    If I already paid for this, can I somehow cancel my membership? Because I also recently heard of NHS and I’m thinking it is a better organization. I’d like to be a part of NHS but I’m afraid that I can’t because of my current membership with NSHSS.

    Reply
  17. Katelyn
    Katelyn says:

    Hate to tell you but this is not a scam. I am currently a highschool student and I received one. And my guidance counselor told me it’s legitimate

    Reply
  18. Jake
    Jake says:

    My GPA was around a 2.5 when I got my letter so I knew something was fishy from the start also the fact it give you “lifetime membership” for paying proves it’s a scam. Most honors societys don’t give you a “lifetime” membership and require you to keep your grades up. It’s a scam I was no honors student in school but still got this.

    Reply

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