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Is NSHSS Legitimate? Is it a Scam?

What’s Covered:

 

Should you accept an invitation to join the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS)? It may seem like a no-brainer. After all, the organization describes itself as “a distinguished academic honor society, committed to recognizing and serving the highest-achieving student scholars.”

 

But before you spend the $75 on a lifetime membership, it’s worth considering how you’ll benefit—if at all—from inclusion in the organization and if your money would be better spent elsewhere.

 

What is NSHSS?

 

The National Society of High School Scholars was founded in 2002 with a declared mission to  “recognize academic excellence and honor the highest achieving high school students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career and community.” NSHSS’s co-founder is the grand-nephew of Alfred Nobel—the scientist, inventor, businessman, and founder of the Nobel Prizes. 

 

NSHSS has grown quickly over the two decades since its founding—today, it boasts more than 2 million members from more than 26,000 high schools across 170 countries. The NSHSS’s swelling ranks are partly thanks to the organization’s relatively broad and generous membership requirements. Students who meet any one of the following criteria are considered for membership: 

 

  • Achieve a GPA of 3.5 or higher   
  • Score 1280 or higher on the SAT
  • Score 1150 or higher on the PSAT
  • Score 26 or higher on the ACT
  • Score 4 or higher on any AP exam
  • Total combined IB tests of 36 or higher 
  • In the top 10% of their class

 

Another requirement of membership is a one-time $75 fee, although fee waivers are available to students able to demonstrate financial need. 

 

How is NSHSS different from NHS?

 

It’s common for students to confuse the National Society of High School Scholars with the National Honor Society (NHS). The two organizations share similar-sounding names and missions, however, they have stark differences. First and foremost, NHS has a much longer history than NSHSS—NHS was founded more than a century ago (in 1921), 80 years before NSHSS. 

 

The NHS’s stricter qualifications are another characteristic that set the two organizations apart. NHS membership is open to students in grades 10 through 12 and each school’s chapter has its own membership requirements. Although each NHS chapter has unique prerequisites its potential members must meet, they are all based on the four pillars of NHS: 

 

 

  • Scholarship: a minimum 3.0 GPA (although a school chapter can require higher) 
  • Service: contribute to the school or community without compensation 
  • Leadership: demonstrated at school or community activities while working with, or for, others
  • Character: cooperative, honest, and reliable, showing courtesy, concern, and respect for others while maintaining a clean disciplinary record

 

The NHS is serious about contributions outside of the classroom—on average, an NHS chapter contributes 1,000 hours of school/community service, $26,000 in charitable donations, and 1,000 pounds of food to local, state, and national causes annually. 

 

Because the NHS has a higher bar for entry than the NSHSS, its membership is smaller—it’s about half that of the NSHSS. Another substantial difference between the two organizations is that the NHS is free, while you need to pay to play with the NSHSS.

 

Is NSHSS a Scam?

 

NSHSS isn’t a scam, per se—it’s a legitimate organization and even has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. That said, there are several things NSHSS does that lead people to call it a scam. 

 

For one, they intentionally chose a name that could be easily mistaken for the NHS—an older, better established, and more prestigious competing organization. A quick scan of the complaints against NSHSS filed with the BBB shows that it’s common for people to jumble the two organizations. 

 

The invitation letter sent by NSHSS also lists the high school of the student, leading to students and parents to believe that the organization is endorsed by the school (and creating further confusion with NHS, which operates in school chapters).

 

More importantly, NSHSS doesn’t return on the $75 investment it requires members to make. The huge membership of the NSHSS means involvement with the organization isn’t particularly impressive, doesn’t add value to your college profile, and will do little to set you apart from other college applicants. 

 

NSHSS also offers regalia for sale to be worn during graduation, but many high schools don’t recognize the organization or allow it to be worn during the ceremony, leading to further wasted money.

 

While NSHSS provides a variety of scholarships—NSHSS and its partners offer more than $2,000,000 in scholarships annually—the large number of members means a high probability of fierce competition for the awards. 

 

The NHS is a more reputable honor society to join, due to its higher standards and association at the school level. Also adding to the NHS’s credibility is its lack of a membership fee, which makes it feel less of a quid pro quo. 

 

Does Joining NSHSS Improve Your College Chances?

 

Joining NSHSS isn’t very selective; consequently, participation in the organization will do little for your college chances. The four tiers of extracurricular activities are a good guideline for understanding how your activities outside of the classroom—in organizations like NSHSS and NHS—affect your college chances. 

 

The four tiers of extracurricular activities are a way to categorize them by the influence they have on college admissions. The highest tiers (one and two) are the most impressive to admissions, while the lower tiers (three and four) are less impactful. 

 

  • Tier 1 activities are the most attention-grabbing and influential to college admissions—they’re extremely rare and demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership, such as being the #3 tennis player in the state or making the national youth orchestra.

 

  • Tier 2 activities also demonstrate high levels of achievement and leadership, but they’re not quite as rare as Tier 1 activities, such as being student body president or your debate team making states.

 

  • Tier 3 activities show leadership and achievement, but are more common, such as being varsity team captain or making the most selective dance group in your school. 

 

  • Tier 4 represents participatory activities, such as volunteering or being a member of a club—although they’re not as impactful as their counterparts in the higher tiers, Tier 4 activities are beneficial for showing admissions officers your interests outside of school.

 

Which tier of extracurricular activity does NSHSS belong in? Because the organization isn’t particularly selective and doesn’t provide the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, it’s best placed in Tier 4. Comparatively, the NHS is a Tier 3 activity, thanks to its stricter requirements. Assuming a leadership role within the NHS will make your participation with the organization even more impressive to colleges. 

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Interested to learn what colleges think of your participation in an extracurricular activity like NHS or NSHSS? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing calculator uses a variety of factors—like grades, test scores, and extracurriculars—to estimate your chances of getting into hundreds of colleges and universities while also providing tips to improve your profile.


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.