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Is the National Society of High School Scholars Legit or Is It a Scam?

Updated on June 21, 2017

How Should Students Respond to Such an Offer?

One of my children received what appears to be a prestigious academic award. What arrived in our mailbox was a creme-colored envelope addressed in nice cursive, much like a graduation invitation.

The name of the high school was also penned on the envelope, making it seem like this was sanctioned by the administration.

At first I was a little excited, but the contents were puzzling. My child was invited to join the National Society of High School Scholars, an organization based in Atlanta. Its acronym is NSHSS, a little like the very distinguished and highly regarded National Honor Society (NHS).

Inside the envelope was a letter that read, “Congratulations!...Based on your outstanding academic achievement...you have been selected for membership.”

The letter went on to say that this invitation was extended to a “select group” of students.

Joining the organization would supposedly give access to a $500,000 in scholarships and "academic competitions" to be awarded over the next year. A student could also list membership on a college application.

We were given a confirmation code and a membership form that needed to be returned with a $60 lifetime enrollment fee. However, families that cannot afford this are given a waiver. Students would receive a certificate and a t-shirt with a NSHSS logo.

The invitation packet also included a black bumper sticker that read, “Proud Parent of a Scholar: The National Society of High School Scholars NSHSS." If I wanted to, I could tell the world my child was part of an “elite” group. (However, I'm not really a bumper sticker type of person.)

Source

The Group Was Co-Founded by a Swedish Philanthropist

But I was interested enough not to throw the packet into the paper shredder without first learning a little more about the sender.

So what is the NSHSS and what does it do?

The organization was founded in 2002 by Claes Nobel, a relative of the man who established the Nobel Prize, and James Lewis, who started the Golden Key International Honour Society.

The Board of Directors is impressive, and includes writer Maya Angelou and several Nobel Laureates.

The NSHSS claims to be the leading, in terms of membership, honor society in the world. So far, about 750,000 people from 160 countries have accepted an invitation. Students must have met one of the following criteria: A GPA of 3.5 or more (4.0 scale) and a score equal to or greater than 1750 on the SAT, 26 on the ACT, or 200 on the PSAT. They can also join if they are in the top 10 percent of their class, according to the organization's website.

By these calculations, however, the NSHSS is not exclusive. There are widespread reports of grade inflation in US high schools. So, if that's the case, membership is available to many.

What About the NSHSS

Have You Ever Heard of the National Society of High School Scholars

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College Has Become Increasingly Expensive

Can NSHSS help with college expenses?
Can NSHSS help with college expenses? | Source

So, What About Those Scholarships?

Standard advice from guidance counselors and other college admissions experts is to skip any offer of a scholarship you need to pay for. I don't see how this is any different. Even though there are a number of opportunities open to just members, the odds of receiving money for your education are not in your favor.

The group so far has distributed more than $1.1 million in scholarships and about 100,000 new members sign on each year, as reported on its website.

The letter we received mentioned the opportunity to apply to exclusive scholarships. From the looks of it, for the 2012-2013 school year, the NSHSS gives out 10 Claes Nobel awards of $5,000. These appear to be non-renewable. There appears to be about 75 National Scholar Award recipients, each of whom have received $1,000. Again, these seem to be only for one year.

The website also lists various other opportunities only for members. Applications are required in order to become eligible. These include NSHSS "Ambassador Awards," which require a 3.7 GPA. Three of these were given out in 2012.

There are also various STEM scholarships in awards of $5,000, $2,500 and $1,000. A total of 20 seem to be available.

If 15 percent of the annual applications are waivers or reduced fees, the number of new members would still generate $5 million a year. That's an awful lot of money, for what seems like relatively little return to the students.

Sleight of Hand, or Not?

Source

Quick Facts About the NSHSS

  • The National Society for High School Scholars was founded in 2002.
  • It claims to have more than 750,000 members.
  • About 100,000 new students join each year.
  • It generally costs $60 to join, unless there is a hardship. Partial fee waivers are also available.
  • A relatively small amount of those enrollment fees is given out as scholarships.

So, Is It a Scam?

The letter arrived either at the end of the school year or shortly after summer break started. So we weren't able to speak with our very competent guidance counselor about whether she recommends this group, or even if she has any knowledge of it.

So I logged on to College Confidential, arguably the largest and one of the least-biased sources of college-related information on the web. In its online forum for students and parents, reviews of the NSHSS were mixed. Most posters didn't believe it was worth the money. Some people said it was a scam. Others said it was like playing the lottery.

The overwhelming consensus was that joining this organization was alright, but it wouldn't cast a student in a more favorable light or give them any advantage with highly selective universities.

I don't believe NSHSS is a scam in the classic sense of the word, when someone takes your money and runs. But it seems as if it might not be worth the money, time, and trouble.

Students are members for life. They will receive a certificate and a membership card. The organization also furnishes a “personalized press release.” This is why you may see write-ups in your local newspaper about students being invited and accepted into the NSHSS.

Actually, I'd be embarrassed to have my child showcased this way, because it means we'd be buying this little bit of recognition.

There are much better and more reliable sources for financial aid, including private scholarships, and, most importantly, the educational institute your child will attend.

So, Did My Child Decide to Join?

One of the stated benefits is the ability to list membership on college or job applications. However, considering how easy it is to get your foot in the door, it probably won't make much of a difference. Chances are, it won't help fund a student's education, since only a small fraction of new members receive a financial award.

There might be some marginal benefit later, in the job market, because if someone quickly glances at a resume, they might assume the acronym stands for the more prestigious National Honor Society. However, it would be misleading for someone to join for that purpose.

In the end, we've decided the $60 fee is much better spent on upcoming college applications. In reality, private scholarships are relatively rare and difficult to obtain. Most grant aid is awarded from the college itself, once the student is accepted.

What do you think about the NSHSS?

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  • profile image

    Shatira Phillips 11 months ago

    Hi everyone. My daughter is in 10th grade and got the letter too. After researching and talking to customer service there, we decided to join. The $60 was in my child's opinion was worth he welcome package..LOL, but to me it was worth being able to list this on her resumes for college. I feel the more the better. I know there are a lot of honor students world wide and though this program is not as hard to get in, I respect the fact that it honors kids still. If the $60 is too much for families, they send you a waiver in the mail and you mail it back. After that you are a member at no cost and they mail the welcome kit after that.

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    Brook 11 months ago

    I received the envelope while my brother did not, so I assumed it was put out to people who actually cared about their grades and test scores. After my family saw the amount of scholarships we could apply for, they thought the 60 dollars would be "nothing compared to what you'll get". Unfortunately that wasn't the case - no matter how many times I attempted, I never won anything. I was winning other scholarships, but none from NSHSS. This could just be chalked up to the fact that another kids entry was better than mine - which is, of course, 100% plausible.

    Unless you're very confident in yours or your childs abilities, I would ignore this all together - and just go for scholarships outside of the organization.

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    ologsinquito 16 months ago from USA

    Hi Imani, I think you know the answer. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image
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    ologsinquito 16 months ago from USA

    Hi, everyone who has commented. Thank you for reading. I wrote this article several years ago. Each year around this time, this organization sends out a flurry of letters to students and their parents. For some families, the $60 is "worth" it. But read the above comment. For a low-income family, that is money that will be much better spent.

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    ologsinquito 16 months ago from USA

    Hi Maddenlyn, yes, it seems like you would not be getting a good return on your investment and that $60 could be going toward books or living expenses when you get to college. Best of luck in your college choices.

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    ologsinquito 19 months ago from USA

    Hi proudmum, I'm so happy to hear this worked out well for your daughter. She beat the odds and received one of those scholarships. For your family, it was a good return on your investment.

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    ologsinquito 20 months ago from USA

    Hi Ransford, that's funny. Thanks so much for sharing and best wishes to you.

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    Ransford 20 months ago

    I received the letter a few days ago and I am not even in high school...

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    ologsinquito 21 months ago from USA

    Hi Andre, I don't know what to tell you. I'm assuming you are a college senior. This is something to ask your guidance counselor. I have to think that admissions officers know about this organization, and realize that it's open to almost anyone.

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    ologsinquito 21 months ago from USA

    Hi David, thank you for reading. Joining certainly didn't seem worth it to us. The odds of getting a scholarship are so low.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Tori, our family didn't have unlimited finances to send our children to school. But we manage to do so, partly because we've avoided such offers. I can understand why you're feeling taken advantage of. Anyone can tour any college, as long as they can get there. This membership didn't seem to earn you any advantage. At least it was only $60.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi JD, if that's the case, then you didn't waste your money. Best wishes to you and your daughter. Thanks so much for reading.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Darron, thanks for reading and best of luck with your college choices.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Magdalena, I'm sure college admissions people are well aware of this organization and how letters are sent out to everyone. I'm of the mind that people should probably save their money, and use it for books or for another application, as you never know what type of financial aid package you'll receive. Best of luck in your college career. I'm sure you do very well.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Jessica, thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Keelyn and Sarah Jean, thanks so much for reading. It looks as if you both made very good decisions. Best of luck in college.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Linda, thanks so much for reading.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi John and Tonya, thank you both for reading. One of the beautiful things about free speech is that we're all entitled to our own opinions and we can agree to disagree.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Joy, thank you so much for reading. Best of luck to you and your son as you continue the college application journey.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Kat and Jo, I agree with both of you. It's not a scam in the classic sense, but just not really worth the money. Thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi Eric, Marbella, Melissa, Jeff and Tracy, thanks so much for reading and for leaving your feedback. If I were a college admissions official, the NHS would carry so much more weight.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Alex, thanks for reading. Good luck in your college plans. Hi Joram, your grandson definitely doesn't need this, you are absolutely right.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi NotDoingIt, Danielle and Hailey, thanks so much for reading. I'm sure you will all do fine without these letters on your college applications, or your children's. The whole thing sounds too much like the legit NHS. NotDoingIt, of course the interviewers care mostly about your college record and achievements, as these are most relevant.

    Cheyenne, do what you think is right. You have every reason to be proud of yourself and your parents should be proud of you as well. On your college apps, just be sure to highlight anything unusual (adult like) that you did while in high school. For instance, filming local city council meetings or something like that. Don't forget how much weight that essay carries either.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    That's too bad they took your money, and you aren't getting anything in return. Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi NHSSParent, thank you so much for reading. I'm glad you're happy with the membership and I wish your daughter the best of luck. This is a very exciting time for her.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi NSHSS, thanks for your feedback. I'm glad this worked for you and your daughter and that she's doing so well. It is ridiculous how much of it comes down to politics.

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    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    I was leery of this organization for the exact same reason. Thanks so much for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Leslie, thanks so much for weighing in. Of course, employers probably don't care a bit about this widely available honor, and having lots of volunteer hours would certainly impress an admissions board more than this. We didn't see the need to do this either.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi AGADFA, I appreciate your input, but my son and I decided we didn't need this additional accolade. He did just fine without it.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi CropDoc, Landing a private scholarship that's attracting applicants from all over the country is a long shot at best. Plus, you shouldn't have to pay to apply. They do claim to waive the fee for families in need though. We decided to save the money.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Sofa7, I'm happy the article helped you make a decision. Best of luck with your college plans.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Greg, I think you're right. Money is better spent elsewhere. It sounds as if your children did not need this additional "award."

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Monique, I have no doubt this group is legit and not breaking any laws. Everyone who gets a letter has to decide if it's worth it for them or not.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi SoccerMum, those are my sentiments exactly. It's not a scam in the classic sense, but just not worth the money. That $60 fee could instead go toward a used textbook. The one thing I do like, though, is that the fee is waived for those in financial need.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Cynthia, thanks for reading. We experienced the exact same thing. The letters were sent out after the guidance counselor was no longer available.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi kokeb, no problem. Thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi David, the scholarships awarded by this organization are not guaranteed. Most scholarship money comes directly from the school you attend. Private scholarships are relatively rare, and the competition is intense. If you are looking for a private scholarship, you'll have less competition if you apply for local scholarships, such as through your credit union. Good luck in your college plans.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi everyone, thanks so much for reading. I appreciate the different perspectives.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    That's exactly what we did. Thanks for reading. Best wishes to your son and his plans for college.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Duchess, that's how I felt as well. rustermemory, thanks so much for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Shanell, sorry to hear that. Maybe you can use the money and take him out to dinner instead. Thanks everyone for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Sine, thanks so much for reading. My sentiments exactly.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Duchess, they may get this offer anyway. It's very common.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    David, that's what I decided as well. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image
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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    To present both sides. :)

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Kaycie, that's excellent advice. You can consider the money saved as money earned.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi 565mae10, I'm sure your grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities and being at the top of your class will carry a lot more weight. Congratulations on all your hard work, and good luck in college.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Caroline, thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Ashley, I wish you the very best luck in your upcoming college plans. It sounds as if you'll have a lot of good options.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Rosa, thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Paisley, I didn't feel that joining this would be useful either. Thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Emmce, thanks so much for reading. I'm happy to have helped.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Congratulations on the full-tuition scholarship. Those are quite rare. As you can see, there would have been little benefit to her joining this organization.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Tanya, my son is a high school senior and he received the same letter last year. We shredded it because the chance of receiving a scholarship seemed pretty remote. If you are interested in scholarships, the school you eventually choose to attend is where most of your aid will come from. The higher your grades and scores are, compared to the institute's average, the more likely you are to receive a more generous package.

    There are also scholarship opportunities to be had locally. Good luck with your college plans.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    It sounds as if you're better off saving your money and using it for something you need. Thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Lakesha, it really didn't seem worth it for us either. Thanks for reading.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Tom, thank you for your feedback, which other people can read and then decide if this is for them or not. In your case, this organization clearly did not deliver what it promised. We decided to not send in an enrollment fee because I thought it was just throwing money away.

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    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi kim, these letters must be going out to everyone who takes the SAT. We decided it wasn't worth it, so we didn't respond. Congratulations on your son's acceptances. He must be very excited.

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    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    Hi Joe,

    I almost shredded all this material, but then decided to first write an article about this. As you can imagine, students from all over the country and beyond have received these mailings. Anyway, thank you so much for reading.

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    I thought you presented a well balanced perspective which made your personal decision at the end credible, respectable, and practical. Thanks for sharing this interesting article with us. Aloha!

    Joe