Is there a benefit to joining all the extra honor societies: English, math, Spanish / French / German, science, etc.? My daughter is already a member of NHS. Do colleges care or want to see all these other honor societies? We’ve heard these groups don’t really do anything, so it seems like we are paying dues just to get a certificate.

What Do Colleges Want?

Lots of good questions here. Let’s start with what college want. Do they want or expect to see membership in lots of honor societies?

Colleges want to see what a student has chosen to DO with his or her free time. How you spend your time indicates something about your interests and talents and the type of student you might be on their campus.

There is no magic list of extracurricular activities that will get you into top schools. Colleges don’t have a specific number they want to see; they don’t have a checklist of “good” activities.

Sounds Important

But all these honor societies sound important. . .

The ones mentioned are well regarded organizations. They recognize students who have demonstrated an interest and talent in a particular subject. All of this is good.

(Quick side note— there are some shady organizations with fancy sounding names that send out important looking invitations to their “honor” societies. These are not well-regarded programs, so throw those mailings in the trash.)

Won’t seeing these honor societies on your application help? Again, colleges want to know what a student has DONE. Simply joining is not impressive— even if the group sounds important or exclusive.

Best Measure of Significance

The best way to see what activities have played a significant role in your life is to see how and where you spend your time. This is why EVERY college application asks for the hours per week and weeks per year for all activities listed on your application.

Years ago, I was helping a client work on her applications and we started with her resume. She was so excited to tell me she was in the Spanish Club at school; in fact, she was going to be president. Then the conversation got awkward:

Me: So what do you do in Spanish Club?

Her: Nothing really. In fact, most of last year we didn’t even meet.

Me: Have you planned any meetings for this year since you are the new president?

Her: No.

Me: So. . . I’m not sure you can list this on your application because you just said you were president of a club that meets 0 hours per week / 0 weeks out of the year.

This is a great example of a student getting dazzled by a fancy sounding title and not thinking about how it might actually appear on an application. (Good news— the Spanish Club started meeting regularly that fall!)

Colleges understand that different students will have different levels of interest and commitment. The student who attends a couple debate tournaments a semester will have a different time commitment that the one who is competing every other weekend.

Different organizations may also have different levels of activity. Just this fall, I’ve worked with students in National Honor Society (NHS) chapters across the country.  Here are just a few examples of what you would see of their applications:

  • 1 hr/wk; 14 wks/yr (the club meets for an hour about once a month)
  • 2 hr/wk; 20 wks/yr (the club meets for an hour once a month and regularly completes service projects)
  • 4 hr/wk; 26 wks/yr (this student is an NHS officer and has planning meetings in additional to club meetings and participation in every service project)

These three students have very different experiences even though they all are listing NHS on their applications.

But We Heard the Group Doesn’t Do Much

It is possible that your campus-based honor society is not very active. The past two years have been challenging for educators, especially when it comes to coordinating afterschool activities. It is also possible that some students are not very involved and the teacher sponsoring the program would love to have interested, committed students do more.

First, contact the sponsor. What does the group do? What is the minimum time commitment for members? Are there opportunities to do more?

Next, if your group is relatively inactive this could be an excellent leadership opportunity. How can you get involved? What activities would make membership more meaningful for you (and others)? What can you do to be the change in this organization?

Should We Join?

It is up to you.

Do you like the subject? Do you have time to commit to the meetings and activities? Could the club help you reach some of your goals? Do you enjoy the people involved?

Don’t join because you think you have to. Don’t join because you have fear of missing out. Join if you think it has the potential to be an interesting, meaningful, or positive experience.