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, 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.


11 replies
  1. 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.

    • Megan Dorsey
      Megan Dorsey says:


      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.


      • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

    • Megan Dorsey
      Megan Dorsey says:

      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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *