Published on January 24th, 20190
Thus read the subject line of an email that George, a college student, received from HonorSociety.org.
“Because of your academic excellence, you’re invited to join Honor Society,” the body of the email said.
Honor Society promotes itself as “the largest academic and professional network” with more than 1.5 million undergraduate, graduate, and alumni members worldwide. On paper, this sounds great. Networking is essential in finding a job and furthering one’s career. But what real benefits does Honor Society offer? Among the “featured member benefits” that Honor Society lists on its website are discounts on magazine subscriptions and Restaurant.com gift certificates.
While membership in an honor society (note: lowercase) can lead to scholarships and internships and can even jump-start your base salary in a government job, it has to be the right honor society. And Honor Society (note: uppercase) presents its share of red flags.
For starters, Honor Society is not on the list of honor societies certified by the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), which the Office of Personnel Management, i.e., the federal government, recognizes as a trustworthy arbiter of an honor society’s fitness. ACHS is also a member of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.
ACHS says an honor society should aim “to recognize and encourage high scholarship and/or leadership achievement in some broad or specialized field of study.” By that definition, an honor society should have somewhat rigorous academic requirements to join.
Honor Society has a more “inclusive” attitude towards membership. It breaks down its requirements here. The top position is “Highest Honors Member,” for students with a GPA between 3.8 and 4.0. Then, “High Honors Member,” for students whose GPA falls between 3.5 and 3.79. Next in line is “Honors Member,” which requires a GPA between 3.2 and 3.49.
The above grade point averages are certainly worth celebrating, especially in demanding fields of study. If Honor Society wants to award academic excellence, it could stop there. It doesn’t. There is a fourth category of membership that has no GPA requirement whatsoever. Honor Society explains:
As an inclusive society, we want to give our members the tools needed to succeed. A true Honor Society is about the present and future. You can reach your goals, and our community is here to help.
We found anecdotal evidence of this here, wherein a student describes being invited to join despite sporting an unseemly 0.882 GPA.
Which begs the question: What honor can one derive in an honor society that recruits members without a focus on academic performance?
There’s also the issue of dues.
Not only is Honor Society not on the ACHS list of certified honor societies, it charges just as much, if not more, than honor societies that are. Take Alpha Chi. It is only open to the top 10 percent of upperclassmen and graduate students at colleges and universities and the lifetime dues are $50 (though individual chapters may charge more). Compare that to Honor Society, which is open to everyone and charges $120 a year to be a member.
Finally, Honor Society claims on its site to have an A+ rating with the BBB but if you follow the link, its page is being updated and has no information available. (UPDATE 4/9/20: Honor Society now has an A+ rating.)
ACHS has a checklist that students can use to help determine whether an honor society is legit.
Find more of our coverage on scammy ads targeting students here.