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.
June 2019 Update—
I know when the NSHSS letters go out each year because I start getting messages from parents and students unhappy with what they read here.
“But it is exclusive; no one else in our town got it.” “My child has worked so hard this year. How dare you diminish this achievement for him / her.”
Let me add some additional thoughts to the original article.
Does anyone with experience in higher education consider this an exclusive honor?
Maybe I should re-title this article with the above question. The answer is clear. NO. No one with experience in high school and post-secondary education considers NSHSS an exclusive honor. College admissions officers do not respect NSHSS or consider it an academic achievement. You will not impress people with experience in higher education if you list or claim this “award.”
Consider the source as you weigh opinions on NSHSS.
I have over 25 year’s experience working with high school students seeking admission to colleges and universities. I have a BA from Rice University, a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from University of Houston, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling from UCLA. In other words, I have the credentials and experience to speak on this issue.
Additionally, I am an unbiased party to this discussion. I do not work for NSHSS or any of its partners. I also have not spent any money with NSHSS. I don’t have to justify my purchase in order to save face.
Still think you should consider NSHSS— just in case? Start asking other experienced college admissions consultants what they think. Visit a college fair and ask at every booth what they think of NSHSS. I can tell you the results. You might get a few blank faces with lack of recognition. (That should be a tip right there when people who should know don’t.) You will also get a lot of head shaking, eye rolling, and possibly some uncomfortable conversations where the person you ask tries diplomatically to say it isn’t a real award while trying not to insult you in case you fell victim to the slick letter and website. (They don’t want to say directly how stupid it is.)
Consider your sources as you make a decision. Look for experienced educators who aren’t trying to sell a NSHSS membership.
It is ok to celebrate the recognition as long as it stops there.
I am the parent of a recent high school graduate and a rising seventh grader. I know how hard it is. I understand there are times every kid, even the ones who seem to have it all together, need a confidence boost. I know that some students are just not finding success the way their schools are structured, so any external validation is appreciated.
I don’t want this article to take away your joy. Go ahead and celebrate. I understand it and don’t fault anyone who does.
But what you do next is important. Don’t fall for the sales pitch. Don’t send NSHSS your money. And don’t list NSHSS on your college applications or college-bound resume.
NSHSS is preying on the hopes and fears of high school students and their parents. We want our children to be recognized. We want opportunities to open up and any chance to improve options for college admission and scholarships. Unfortunately, NSHSS will NOT help.