Is the National Society of High School Scholars Legit or Is It a Scam?
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.)
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
College Has Become Increasingly Expensive
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?
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.
The College Process
- FinAid | Scholarships | Beware of Scholarship Scams
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High School Web Page on NSHSS
- Be Aware: National Society of High School Scholars | Seward High School Counse
It is that time of year - letters from the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) start arriving. Please know that the counselors at Seward High School have not nominated your son or daughter, because this organization is for-profit. We sup