The Bizarre World of The College Honor Societies

According to my Outlook inbox, it’s honor society season. 

Emails ping into my inbox in the early morning with ominous and urgent subject lines like “Sydney: You’re in” and “Reminder: Last day to accept your invitation.”

I get “Last warning! Offer expires tonight!” messages day after day, in the same sneaky way Urban Outfitters tells me its sale ends at midnight, only for it to continue days after.

They urge me to continue on the pathway to academic and professional success by joining societies of similarly driven and studious peers. 

With a simple payment of $85 or $95 or $125, I be “well-positioned to maximize leadership potential” and “distinguished among peers to future employers.” I will also have access to a better dental plan and Outback Steakhouse gift cards. 

These emails remind me of the cream colored (or was it red?), wax-sealed envelope that showed up in my mailbox during one summer in high school.

I was invited  to join the National Society of High School Scholars.

This letter affirmed that I was special and a hard worker. With just a one-time payment of $75, I would become a lifetime member who can prove these qualities to the world and college admissions officers alike — via bumper sticker and resume blurb.

In the few hours between reading the invitation letter that promised “Opportunities Abound for an Intellectual Like Me” and reading blog posts that warned that NSHSS was neither seen as exclusive nor credible by college admissions officers, I remember feeling proud and seen and decidedly less anxious about the college application process; for a moment, I was confident in myself and the external accomplishments that defined me. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

A year and a half into college, multiple NSHSS copycat societies have emerged, seemingly out of thin air.

Instead of personalized letters, they make their way through university listservs.

They attempt to lure students using less grace and more gimmick: upon opening one email, I faced so many “Click here to accept!” links that I suspected I was either about to experience a pop-up telling me I had won an iPhone or get a computer virus that would endanger my identity.

Instead, they were links to the website of a certain “honor society.” 

Some emails are signed by seemingly random individuals whose names don’t show up in a google search.

Others include a “personal message” from  societies’ founders themselves.

Even this video, however, has a certain vagueness to it: he answers questions in a roundabout way, with no concrete evidence of what there truly is to gain from joining such society. But after all, isn’t that the most important question? 

One program that I get emails from is genuinely named Honor Society.

Another is the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Then there’s the National Society of Leadership and Success.

All of these websites tout similar pillars of scholarship and success, emphasize the value of networking, and insist that their names will be a resume booster when it comes to employers. 

Most of their websites, actually, revolve around signing up to be a member.

There are “About” and “FAQ” tabs, even “Credentials.”  From “leadership” to “job opportunities,” these websites spell out every buzzword that a goal-minded, career-oriented student with worries about the future.

Yet, their emphasis seems to convince people to join (read: pay) rather than helping members already in the society.

The takeaway thus remains the same as the one I found while researching NSHSS — it won’t explicitly harm you to join these honor societies, but they are not worth the $70 membership fee their emails claims they are.