You just received something in the mail that starts with “Congratulations! Based on your outstanding academic achievement at High School X, you have been selected for membership in the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).”
It’s no ordinary letter — it’s an invitation!
NSHSS is just like another honor society, the National Honor Society (NHS), which you may have probably heard about a few or numerous times since, after all, it’s been around since the 1920s. Although it’s true that it shares some stark similarities with NHS, certain things make NSHSS entirely a league of its own.
And in this post, I will give you a much better idea of whether you should respond to NSHSS and grab that opportunity of a lifetime or simply toss the invitation in the trash.
What is NSHSS
The National Society of High School Scholars is an honors society. While some people mistake it for NHS, it’s important to note that, while both have the same goals and objectives, they are two different entities.
NSHSS is a members-only organization that provides students access to a variety of scholarships.
Fields the scholarships NSHSS covers can range anywhere from STEM, art, writing, leadership, advocacy, environmental sustainability to diversity. Thanks to its partners, NSHSS is said to generate more than $2 million in scholarship funding per year, which is shared by some of its 1.7 million plus members.
A brief history
In 2002, the National Society of High School Scholars was founded by James Lewis and Claes Nobel — if the latter’s name sounds familiar, it’s because of the fact that he’s related to the founder of the prestigious Nobel Prizes.
Continuing the family’s legacy of recognizing and rewarding excellence was the primary goal.
The mission of NSHSS is simple: to recognize academic excellence as well as to encourage its members to apply their unique talents, vision, and potential for bettering themselves and the world, too. The organization aims to provide a range of resources supporting transitions not only from high school to college but also from college to profession.
NSHSS offers a wide variety of scholarships and other similar resources for members to take advantage of. The money they can earn from available scholarships can be used to pay for college, study abroad experiences and other special projects. Just like what was mentioned earlier, NSHSS scholarship money amounts to over $2 million annually.
College-bound members may also utilize information on college admissions and listings of colleges that provide the best possible financial aid. There are also tips and advice from members themselves.
Various leadership programs are offered by NSHSS, too.
Member high school students, college students and even college graduates can partake in programs that allow them to learn to become effective leaders as they represent their respective countries through NSHSS. They may also participate in volunteering opportunities and special trips that can help them network.
One of the nicest things about NSHSS is that once you sign up to be a member, you are a member for life — even if you have already graduated from high school and college.
Unlike NHS, joining the National Society of High School Scholars doesn’t come free of charge. After getting an invitation in the mail, you will have to shell out $75 in order to become a member.
But fret not because it’s not an annual thing — your $75 membership fee is good for life!
Candidates who demonstrate substantial financial hardship are eligible for full and partial membership fee waivers as NSHSS believes that monetary issues should not keep an eligible individual from being able to join the society. To apply for a membership fee waiver, an online form must be printed, filled out and submitted to NSHSS.
And what’s more, members can retain their membership status even if they transfer schools. That’s because NSHSS is nothing like NHS where members are chartered by means of the institutions they are attending.
Everything that the National Society of High School Scholars says it offers is true. So, in other words, should you become a member, you can have access to an assortment of scholarships and helpful tools.
As a matter of fact, it claims to have a growing number of highly-respected partners. Some of them, as of this writing, include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US Army and the University of California, Berkeley, which, by the way, US News ranks #1 in Top Public Schools and #20 in National Universities.
Unfortunately, the organization is not as prestigious as it sounds.
For instance, in 2022, an NSHSS partner company vowed to grant only a total of 9 scholarships, each one worth $2,500, to top-performing high school seniors and recently graduated high school students. And, back in 2012, only 10 scholarships amounting to $5,000 each were awarded by another scholarship program under NSHSS.
Considering that the society claims to generate more than $2 million in scholarship funding per year, the cash prizes and number of scholarship awards they grant seem a little underwhelming.
But other than that, NSHSS is as legit as any recognized honors society can be.
How NSHSS Finds Members
The National Honor Society finds members by allowing high schools to define membership eligibility requirements, albeit some of them must align with the national eligibility requirements set by NHS itself, and their teachers to nominate candidates. Nominated individuals may then fill out and submit the membership form for evaluation.
It’s a slightly different thing for the National Society of High School Scholars.
When it comes to recruiting members, NSHSS works directly with high school principals and teachers — their assistance is sought by the honors society in identifying students who may be qualified to join.
Those who meet the eligibility requirements are sent invitations by NSHSS. It is estimated that around 100,000 new high schoolers join the organization per year. Since not all of those who get invited actually join, especially since it’s not free, it’s safe to assume that the organization sends out hundreds of thousands of invitations yearly.
Almost 10 criteria are used by the National Society of High School Scholars in order to determine which nominated high schooler is eligible to join and which one isn’t. But it’s important to keep in mind that becoming accepted into the honors society requires you to meet only at least one of those.
Let’s take a look at one of the things you must meet to get an invitation to join NSHSS:
- GPA of at least 3.5
- Grade of at least 88 on a 100-point scale
- PSAT score of at least 1150
- SAT score of at least 1280
- ACT score of at least 26
- AP exam score of 4 or higher
- IB exam score of 36 or higher
- IGCSE exam grade of A
- Being in the top 10% of the class
While an NSHSS membership is lifetime, students must be nominated while still in high school in order for them to be eligible to receive an offer to join the organization.
Becoming a member
High schoolers who meet at least one of the various criteria mentioned above may receive an invitation from the National Society of High School Scholars itself.
After getting their invitations, interested students may join online by visiting NSHSS’s website.
Frustrated that you have not received an invitation despite meeting one or even more of the eligibility requirements? You may inquire at your high school about the availability of an NSHSS Chapter Advisor — approach him or her and kindly request to get nominated for membership.
Worry not if there’s no NSHSS Chapter Advisor at the high school you are attending. That’s because you can request NSHSS to start a chapter at your institution which you and other eligible students can take advantage of.
While the National Society of High School Scholars is far from being a scam, many people believe otherwise. This is especially true since the organization sends invitations to a lot of high school students, most of which do not apply to be invited. And, more importantly, NSHSS asks for a membership fee, which most honor societies do not require.
It’s true that the $75 NSHSS membership fee is one-time only. Still, $75 is $75!
And it’s because of this why opinions and reviews about the honors society are mixed — some say that it’s not worth the money, while others agree that the many opportunities available are completely worth it.
Numerous Reddit users agree that if it’s something that advertises itself as something prestigious and exclusive and then asks for a fee in exchange for a membership, then it must not be that elite. One user even made it clear that NSHSS won’t give students scholarships for joining — only the prospect of winning them.
Then there’s also a user who was surprised to receive an invitation in the mail to join NSHSS because, admittedly, he or she is nowhere near the scholar the organization has described.
On Quora, on the other hand, a teacher said that many of her high school students get invited.
Both invited to join, a woman declined but her sister did — after paying the one-time membership fee, she got a patch, a pin, some NSHSS stickers and a cord to wear during graduation. She was also invited to partake in a conference in Washington, DC, which she didn’t join.
Recent and past winners
When you visit the Scholarships section of the website of the National Society of High School Scholars, it appears like there’s no shortage of award recipients — there’s a long listing of past winners and a dedicated site for recent scholarship winners, which consists of up to 11 pages.
For example, this is a testimonial from Ruby Tilghman, a $10,000 NSHSS Scholarship winner:
But it’s also by visiting NSHSS’s website that you will realize that you will still have to apply for aid.
Most scholarship applications, according to NSHSS itself, typically involve three parts: a resume, an application essay and some letters of recommendations.
The process is pretty much the same when applying to most institutional and external scholarships, although there is no membership fee amounting to $90. But then again, an NSHSS membership also provides resources that college-bound, college students and career-seeking individuals may utilize to their advantage.
College Admissions Impact
Being a member of an honors society is definitely a privilege for students gearing up for college.
This is most especially true for those from low-income families and could use all the extra scholarship programs they can apply for. However, membership in such an organization may not actually help with college admissions.
The more impressive your college application, typically, the more likely you are to get an acceptance letter.
Because of this, you might be tempted to spend $90 to join the National Society of High School Scholars, not necessarily to have access to scholarships and other tools but as bragging rights.
Alas, including the fact that you are an NSHSS member in your application may not help increase your chances of getting admitted into your top-choice school.
As a matter of fact, being an NHS member may also not be able to make you a standout candidate knowing that there are more than a million other members out there.
College admissions officers are well-aware of NSHSS — what it is, the things it offers and how members are recruited. And they also know for a fact that it’s not a shady organization pretending to be a legit honors society.
Still, some of them highly discourage applicants from adding NSHSS membership to their applications.
Various academic factors are taken into account during the admissions process. There are also a number of non-academic ones taken into consideration, from extracurriculars to demonstrated interest. Talking about getting invited to NSHSS in your supplementals can lead to a missed opportunity for admissions officers to know you better.
With so many criteria used as eligibility requirements and having to meet only one of them being enough, an invitation to become an NSHSS member isn’t at all that mind-blowing for most colleges.
Besides, including NSHSS membership in the application may distract from more remarkable accomplishments.
To list or not to list
When filling out the Common App, you will come across the honors section. As the name suggests, it’s where you can include being a part of your high school’s honor roll. It’s also where you can mention the fact that you are a proud member of an honors society, such as the National Society of High School Scholars.
But, as mentioned earlier, chances are that it will not boost your admissions chances.
Admissions officers won’t make a decision based on an honors society membership alone — they will still look at your high school GPA, curriculum, class rank, AP exam scores, SAT or ACT scores, extracurriculars and others.
Just in case you decide to include in your application your NSHSS membership, it’s a good idea to put it in the right place. If you have made a meaningful contribution to the organization, be it leadership or community service or something else, consider placing it in the activities section with a brief description.
Before we end this post, let’s answer some of the pressing questions you may have in your mind that none of the things I talked about above was able to answer. Or some of them I may have answered to some extent but may require further clarification to help you decide whether or not you should consider becoming an NSHSS member.
Is NSHSS hard to get into?
Provided that you meet at least one of the various criteria used by the National Society of High School Scholars, you may receive an invitation to join in the mail. And if you feel like you deserve an invitation, consider asking your high school’s NSHSS Chapter Advisor to nominate you.
Can you be in NSHSS and NHS at the same time?
It’s completely normal for high-achieving high school students to be invited to join various honors societies. There is no law that says they should only pick one. So, in other words, you can be a member of both the National Honor Society and the National Society of High School Scholars.
Are there study-abroad opportunities for NSHSS members?
Since the National Society of High School Scholars is global, eligible members can apply for study abroad scholarships. NSHSS has various international university partners such as the American Business School Paris and the University of Western Australia.
Is NSHSS more prestigious than NHS?
The general consensus is that the National Honor Society is more prestigious since it has been around longer and fewer people get invited. While legit, on the other hand, many can’t help but think that the National Society of High School Scholars is a scam for it asks for a membership fee.
Can you cancel your NSHSS membership?
Members of the National Society of High School Scholars can choose to cancel their membership at any given time. However, in order for them to receive a membership refund, they should cancel their membership within 60 days from the time their membership was processed.
When should NSHSS members apply for scholarships?
When a scholarship becomes available, all eligible members of the National Society of High School Scholars will receive an invitation to apply via email. Just like when applying to most other scholarships, it’s recommended for eligible members to apply as soon as they possibly can.
What are your chances of winning an NSHSS scholarship?
Scholarships available at the National Society of High School Scholars are exclusive to members. There are also different scholarships for different members. In order to increase the chances of winning a scholarship, members must apply for those that suit their interests and passion.
How are NSHSS scholarship funds disbursed?
The vast majority of scholarships available for members of the National Society of High School Scholars send funds directly to the recipient’s school. However, there are also scholarships that award cash prizes to the winners. The funding method for each scholarship is discussed on NSHSS’s website.
Just Before You Decide to Join NSHSS
There is no denying that the National Society of High School Scholars is legit. After all, many of its 1.7 million plus members have received or are receiving scholarships. It also has many partner schools locally and internationally.
However, you will have to get an invitation or be nominated to have the opportunity to become an NSHSS member. What’s more, you will have to shell out a one-time membership fee worth $90. If you also get an offer to join another honors society, such as NHS that’s cost-free, carefully weigh the pros and cons of joining NSHSS beforehand.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.