PENDLETON — The invitations come on high-quality paper, sealed in gold. But that doesn’t convince biology teacher Shelle Bixler that National Society of High School Scholars is the real deal.
Bixler, who also advises the National Honors Society at Pendleton High School, is one of a few area educators who are warning students to be wary of prestigious-seeming organizations that look to recruit students for a fee, like NSHSS.
“Our high school does not recognize NSHSS or allow students to wear cords from them at graduation,” she said.
The National Society of High School Scholars is listed as a nonprofit organization. They have a website and tote the motto “Be Honored. Be More.” They recruit by sending mail and emails to students, asking them to accept invitations to the society for a one-time payment of $75.
The organization advertises that in return, students will gain access to scholarship opportunities and exclusive events at different college campuses. High schoolers have the opportunity to become ambassadors for the organization as well.
“It’s always a mystery to us how they get their mailing list,” said Liz Marvin, Project College Bound coordinator at Hermiston High school. “Over the years, many students have brought in their letter and asked what it is.”
Marvin and Bixler both seem troubled by the organization’s recruiting techniques, lower qualifications, and the fact that it requires payment to join.
Marvin said that the National Honors Society is more credible and has tighter requirements. Both Pendleton and Hermiston high schools have NHS advisors, so the application process is done in conjunction with the schools.
Nationally, the NHS has a GPA requirement of 3.5, although different schools are allowed to increase that requirement. Schools look at the pool of students who meet the GPA requirement, and offer candidacy based on demonstration of leadership and service at the school.
Selected candidates may then apply to be part of NHS, but not all are granted membership. Last year, the Hermiston High School NHS chapter inducted 27 new members.
According to Karen Kane, director of communications and scholarships at NSHSS, the society offers membership to students if they meet one of the organization’s seven criteria, such as a 3.5 GPA, an SAT score of 1250 or higher, or a score of four or higher on an Advanced Placement exam.
Kane said the organization offers fee waivers to interested students who can’t afford the payment, so they can gain access to the events and scholarship information NSHSS offers. She said she feels the organization is misunderstood.
“There’s a network here to support students. The membership fee helps us stay in business so that we can be a functioning entity,” she said. “Every day, I read scholarship applications and get to communicate. The impact we’re having on these kids is profound.”
She said that NSHSS encourages students to be a part of other honor societies as well, and that the organization is much different from the NHS.
Bixler compared the NSHSS to the Who’s Who of American High School Students, an annual publication that at one time published the names and achievements of high school students, which people could purchase. The company behind the product, Education Communications Incorporated, shut down in 2007, according to the Austin Business Journal.
“Some of my students say they receive emails from NSHSS almost monthly,” Bixler said. “From what I understand, colleges and universities do not seem to put much value in membership because (the) standards of eligibility are low and because students must pay for the honor.”
Marvin said parents and students should keep in mind what college preparation opportunities and honors exist already at their school at no cost. She said over the years, she’s seen various honor societies and groups that recruit students for a fee.
“To be a good candidate for their next steps, students should get involved in their high school and their community,” she said. “And really be involved. Don’t just get involved because you want the name. Go to the meetings, participate, do volunteer work.”