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Best Honor Societies for High School Students

What’s Covered:


Honor societies provide a host of benefits to high school students. In addition to recognizing academic accomplishment, the best honor societies provide the opportunity to engage in meaningful extracurricular activities, participate in interesting projects, and hone valuable skills like leadership. The best honor societies also look good on a college application, especially if you take advantage of all the opportunities they provide.  


What is an Honor Society?


In general, high school honor societies are organizations that bring together academically talented students. It’s common for membership to be tied to scholastic benchmarks like GPA, class rank, and standardized test scores. Some honor societies recognize general achievement, while others are focused on specific subjects like math, music, or languages like Spanish or French. There are a number of variables that depend on the club, including time commitment, membership requirements, and fees. 


Why Should I Join an Honor Society?


The more you engage with an honor society, the more you’re rewarded. The best honor societies provide students with a raft of benefits, such as:


  • Networking: The best honor societies bring academically minded students together and introduce them to professionals who can provide everything from mentorship to career opportunities.

  • College application support: It’s common for the best honor societies to support their members’ college ambitions by holding seminars or providing access to experts in the field.

  • Scholarships: Many of the best high school honor societies award college scholarships to members, along with providing resources for members interested in other outside scholarships.

  • Service projects: The nation’s preeminent honor societies are active on both local and national levels to furnish bountiful opportunities for community service and ultimately demonstrate civic engagement to colleges. 


  • Build in-demand skills: Conferences and summits are a hallmark of the best honor societies and help students build and strengthen the skills and characteristics sought after by colleges. 


As you can see, if you have the time to take an active role in an honor society, there are a lot of ways that it can help you build a compelling college profile.  


Best Honor Societies for High School Students


Not all honor societies are created equal and some carry more weight with colleges than others. Below are some of the best honor societies for high school students in the nation. 


National Honor Society (NHS)


The National Honor Society is the best-known and one of the most recognizable of all high school honor societies. It was founded by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) more than a century ago. Today, the NHS has more than a million members from all 50 states and across the globe. 


For membership in the NHS, you must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, although individual school chapters are allowed to require a higher cumulative GPA. In addition to recognizing academic achievement, the NHS is also focused on personal growth and places particular importance on service, leadership, and character.  


National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS)


The National Society of High School Scholars is commonly confused with the National Honor Society, thanks in part to their similar-sounding names and missions. It’s worth noting that the NSHSS is typically thought of as a less-prestigious organization and has been in existence for a significantly shorter period of time (it was founded in 2002).


To become a member of the NSHSS, you must pay a one-time $75 fee and hit one of the following academic benchmarks: 


  • 3.5 or higher cumulative GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • 1280 SAT score or higher
  • 1150 PSAT score or higher
  • 26 ACT score or higher
  • Score 4 or higher on any AP exam
  • Total combined IB test scores of 36 or higher
  • IGCSE Grade A or higher
  • Top 10% rank in class


The NSHSS lacks the standing and long history of the NHS, however, it exceeds it in membership. The NSHSS has over 1.7 million members from more than 26,000 high schools across 170 countries. 


Cum Laude Society 


The Cum Laude Society predates both the NHS and NSHSS—it was founded in 1906—yet is lesser-known, particularly to public school students. The Cum Laude Society has 382 chapters, predominantly in the U.S. However, only a few dozen chapters are found in public schools, the majority are located in independent schools. The organization welcomes about 4,000 new members annually. 


Like many other of the best honor societies, the Cum Laude Society provides opportunities for students outside of the classroom in activities ranging from service projects to scholarly projects. Membership in the Cum Laude Society is limited to high school seniors and achieved by election; each chapter can elect up to 20% of the senior class for membership.


Tri-M Music Honor Society 


The Tri-M Music Honor Society dates back to 1936 and is open to both middle and high school students. As its name implies, the Tri-M Music Honor Society is for student musicians and recognizes their musical aptitude along with academic achievements. It also provides student musicians with the chance to participate in service projects and gain leadership experience. 


For a student to gain membership in the Tri-M Music Honor Society, they must meet a handful of requirements, including: 


  • Enrollment in a school-sponsored music ensemble and/or class for at least one semester of the current school year
  • Maintained a minimum A average or equivalent in music and at least a B average or equivalent in other academic subjects
  • Involvement in a school and/or community activity 
  • Being of upstanding character 


National Spanish Honor Society (Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica/SHH) 


Founded in 1953 and originally known as the Spanish National Honor Society, Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica is an honor society for high school students enrolled in Spanish and/or Portuguese. Today, there are more than 2,900 national and international chapters of the SHH.


Membership in the SHH is limited to students in 10th grade or higher. To qualify for membership, you must maintain an honor average for a minimum of three semesters in the study of Spanish or Portuguese. Individual chapters are given the discretion to define what constitutes an “honor grade.” 


The SHH is just one of a handful of language-based honor societies. Others include the French language honor society Société Honoraire de Français and the German language honor society Delta Epsilon Phi. 


Mu Alpha Theta 


Mu Alpha Theta is an honor society for high school and two-year college students with an interest in mathematics. The society was founded in 1957 at the University of Oklahoma and today has 100,000+ members in more than 2,420 schools in the U.S. and 23 foreign countries.


Mu Alpha Theta has minimum requirements for high school membership, although individual chapters may opt to impose stricter standards. The minimum requirements for membership in Mu Alpha Theta are:


  • In grades 9 through 12
  • Have completed the equivalent of two years of college preparatory mathematics (including algebra and/or geometry) and have completed, or are enrolled in, a third year of college preparatory mathematics
  • Possess at least a 3.0 math GPA on a 4.0 scale 


How to Choose Which Honor Society to Join


The numerous honor societies available to today’s students can make it difficult to decide which is the right one to join. While there is no formula for calculating the perfect honor society for you, there are some factors to consider when choosing an honor society. 


Prestige: Some honor societies are held in higher esteem than others which can have a significant effect on how they’re viewed by college admissions departments. In general, the more difficult an honor society’s requirements and more selective its admissions, the more cachet it has. For example, NHS is viewed as more prestigious than NSHSS because of its more stringent requirements. 


Growth: From hosting seminars and trainings on topics like college planning to providing service opportunities and a chance for leadership to expanding your network of similarly minded peers, the best honor societies provide their members with the opportunity for growth, whether academically, personally, or socially. 


Scholarships: The chance to earn scholarship money is a nice trade-off for the time, energy, and, in some cases, fees it costs to participate in an honor society. The majority of honor societies have scholarships open only to members. Additionally, many of the best honor societies provide support to students seeking scholarships by hosting trainings or events on how to win scholarships. 


How Does an Honor Society Affect My Chances of Admission?


The effect of your membership in an honor society depends on the selectivity of the society and your responsibilities. For example, being president of NHS is more impressive than receiving an honor for loosely meeting academic requirements. CollegeVine can help clarify the value of an honor society on your odds of college admissions. Our free chancing calculator uses factors such as GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars—like membership in an honor society—to predict your chances of acceptance at hundreds of colleges across the nation.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.