Is National Honor Society (NHS) Worth It?

High schoolers with aspirations of attending an extremely selective college are asked to do a lot—maintain great grades, take challenging coursework, ace standardized exams, and participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. With so much on the plates of high-achieving, college-bound students, every activity requires scrutiny to ensure their investment of time pays off. Consequently, time-crunched high schoolers find themselves asking, is the National Honor Society worth it?

 

What is the National Honor Society?

 

There were many local and regional honor societies before the founding of the National Honor Society (NHS) in 1921 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals—however, none achieved the nationwide scope of the NHS. In the nine years following its founding, the group grew from one chapter to over 1,000, and established itself as one of the country’s leading educational groups. Today, the National Honor Society estimates that more than one million students participate in the NHS in all 50 states and around the world. 

 

More than merely an honor roll, the National Honor Society recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in scholarship, service, leadership, and character—the four pillars of the NHS since its beginnings in 1921.  

 

National Honor Society Eligibility Requirements

 

The NHS uses its four pillars—scholarship, service, leadership, and character—as a lens to view candidates for membership, selecting students in grades 10 through 12 who closely align with their values. 

 

  • Scholarship: The NHS’s national standard is that students must have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale (or an 85, B, or other academic equivalents of excellence). Individual chapters are allowed to require an even higher cumulative GPA, and many do—check with your local chapter to find out their academic requirements. 

 

  • Service: A student’s community and civic involvement is judged by the volunteer contributions they’ve made to their school or community without compensation. For example, working at the local food bank or volunteering to tutor fellow students. Some chapters require a certain number of service hours to qualify for membership. 

 

  • Leadership: The National Honor Society looks for leaders who are “resourceful, good problem solvers, and idea contributors.” Students can demonstrate their leadership skills by highlighting roles like team captain or student body treasurer, or experiences such as organizing a clothing drive. 

 

  • Character: Students are expected to possess a high character and prove they’re a responsible member of the community. They’ll need to have a clean disciplinary record and demonstrate honesty, courtesy, concern, and respect for others. Some chapters require a letter of recommendation to assert the student’s quality of character. 

 

Other Honor Societies 

 

National Honor Society is a well-known and highly respected group, but there are many similar groups open to high school students. For example, the California Scholarship Federation is a state-wide organization honoring outstanding middle school and high school students in California. Another common honor society is the Cum Laude Society, a 382-chapter organization primarily found at private high schools.   

 

There’s also a handful of independently operating subject-specific honor societies. For example: 

 

  • Société Honoraire de Français (French Honor Society): Sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF), this organization recognizes outstanding scholarship in the study of French.
  • The Tri-M Music Honor Society: This honor society recognizes the academic and musical achievement of middle school and high school musicians and is sponsored by the National Association for Music Education. 
  • Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society: Established by the National Council for the Social Studies, this group recognizes high school juniors and seniors for excellence in the field of social studies. 

 

These other societies often have different aims and recognize a different set of accomplishments. So, you can certainly join multiple honor societies if you wish. Just recognize that many are formalities. While NHS can be a formality, many chapters are also involved in service projects.

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Do You Need NHS on Your College Application?

 

Are you still wondering if the National Honor Society is worth it? The answer, like many things, is: it all depends on what you put into it. 

 

The downside of the million-plus NHS members is that, on its own, your membership will not help you stand from a crowded field of candidates. This is particularly true at highly selective colleges. 

 

In general, students who are eligible for NHS already have strong academic and extracurricular profiles, and those can speak for themselves. Being a member of NHS is more of a formality. That said, holding a leadership position in NHS can help you stand out, especially if your chapter is extremely involved.

 

Here are some of the ways NHS can enhance your high school experience and resume.

Community Service Projects

 

NHS chapters are extremely active in their communities, which provides bountiful opportunities to build and demonstrate leadership skills and show civic engagement. The average chapter contributes:

 

  • 1,000 hours of school/community service
  • $26,000 in charitable donations
  • 1,000 pounds of food to local, state, and national causes
  • 100 pints of blood

 

Leadership Conferences 

 

The NHS hosts numerous events and conferences throughout the year, which allow students to build their leadership skills. These events include:

 

  • Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conferences: Designed to encourage interstate communication between students and advisors and prepare attendees for leadership roles on the local, state, and regional levels.
  • National Student Leadership Week: A theme-based week where chapters develop a project to highlight how their efforts positively impact their school and community.
  • State Summits: Single-day events that connect local members in faculty-guided exercises and activities. 

 

Scholarships 

 

The NHS has awarded more than $15 million in scholarships since 1946, and will award $2 million in 2021. Award distribution is: 

 

  • $25,000 scholarship: 1 national winner
  • $5,625 scholarship: 24 national finalists  
  • $3,200 scholarship: 575 national semifinalists 

 

Any high school senior who is an NHS member in good standing of their local chapter and plans to enroll in college may apply for one of these awards. 

 

NHS vs. NSHSS

 

The National Honor Society is often compared against the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS), a similar-sounding, for-profit organization.  

 

The NHS

 

The NHS isn’t the most exclusive club, but it is very well-respected and speaks to a student’s academic success, community involvement, leadership skills, and overall high character. The more active role a student takes in the National Honor Society, the more benefits they’ll reap from their involvement in it. 

 

The NSHSS

 

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) is larger and generally less respected by the college admissions community. The group has 1.7 million members from over 170 countries and boasts that more than 100,000 new scholars join annually, which makes it far from exclusive. The NSHSS also has much broader criteria for accepting new members, which minimizes the achievement. To qualify for the NSHSS, high schools students must meet one of the following achievements: 

 

  • Achieve a GPA of 3.5
  • Score 1280 on the SAT
  • Score 1150 on the PSAT
  • Score 26 on the ACT
  • Score 4 on any one AP exam
  • Score 36 on total combined IB tests
  • Be in the top 10% of their class

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The NSHSS also charges a fee to join their group, which is a practice that many admissions officers are skeptical of. Some admissions officers even warn that including NSHSS membership on a college application distracts from more impressive accomplishments. 

 

To learn more about the differences between the NHS and NSHSS, check out our article, NHS vs. NSHSS: What’s the Difference?

 

The Bottom Line

 

Is the National Honor Society worth it? For students with the time to take an active role in the organization, the NHS is a great place to build a robust college profile and it provides an excellent outlet for developing important skills like leadership and providing service to the community. 

 

However, it’s important to understand that mere membership is not enough to move the needle on applications to competitive colleges. If your profile is strong and you’re not accepted for whatever reason (or don’t have the time to commit), you don’t need to worry too much. 

 

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
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.