A common item on many students’ high school resumes is the name “National Honor Society.” You likely have a National Honor Society chapter at your school; your teacher might be the advisor. Maybe your friends are even a part of it! So what exactly is the National Honor Society? Is it prestigious? And what benefit does it give to a high school student? In this guide, we’ll aim to break down the mysterious society piece by piece for you.
What is the National Honor Society?
The National Honor Society (NHS) is a nationwide organization that recognizes high schoolers (9th-12th graders) who meet certain academic standards. Founded in 1921, today over 1 million students are a part of the society. NHS emphasizes leadership and service and often requires an amount of community service hours once you join. The National Honor Society, in recognizing outstanding high schoolers, also awards 2 million dollars in scholarships each year. It’s a great opportunity to get more involved in your school and your community and to demonstrate your academic achievements.
How do I join the National Honor Society?
The organization operates through chapters in local schools. Each school will likely have a slightly different application process. First, check online or with a school faculty member and ask if your school has an NHS chapter. If it does, contact your school’s chapter advisor to learn about the specific requirements to become a member. The application looks at your GPA and usually consists of a couple of essay questions. One question that will likely be there is why you hope to be a part of NHS. Make sure to think this question through: what do you think NHS will give you the opportunity to accomplish? What do you think you will gain from being a part of this organization?
What do you do in National Honor Society?
NHS chapters hold various events that will require you to demonstrate leadership and participate in your community. Some of these activities might include peer tutoring, public space cleanups, soup kitchen volunteering, or organizing community fundraisers. As an organization that promotes leadership, service, character, and scholarship, you can expect to build and develop your skills in each of these areas by joining.
National Honor Society Requirements
Although each chapter can set its own specific standards for membership, the national organization also creates common benchmarks for all chapters to follow. These national requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, or a cumulative grade of 85%. Some chapters do set higher academic standards to join, so make sure to check your school's guidelines. NHS also asks for three qualitative components.
Volunteer service: prospective members volunteer time to their school or community
Leadership: applicants demonstrate leadership experience in the school or community
Character: members will demonstrate evidence of good character
What is National Junior Honor Society?
You might have also heard of the National Junior Honor Society. While the National Honor Society is for high schoolers, the National Junior Honor Society is for middle schoolers. Like NHS, NJHS also operates chapters around the world, and requires similar standards. The National Junior Honor Society also sets a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0 to be accepted, and asks for community engagement and strong character. NJHS holds similar volunteer events and helps its members gain leadership and service experience.
One thing to note is that NJHS membership does not transfer to NHS membership. However, it’s a worthwhile way to get involved in your community early on and prepare for what’s expected from you in the future.
Is National Honor Society Prestigious?
Pros and Cons
The National Honor Society can be a valuable program, but whether you want to join it will depend on what value you see from it. We’ve broken them down here to help in your decision making.
Some of the pros of National Honor Society are:
1. Helps with college preparation:
The four elements that the NHS application asks for—solid grades, community service, leadership experience, and character—are elements that your college application will no doubt require of you as well. You might think about this as good practice. Filling out an NHS application can be a very good indicator of how prepared you are to fill out your college application. If you find that you don’t have a lot to say about your volunteer experiences on your NHS application, now you know that this is definitely something you need to work on before college applications roll around!
2. Provides opportunities to develop your skills:
If you find that you are missing one of these elements, NHS is surely a fantastic place to develop your scholarship, your service, your leadership, or your character. Through its various events, you’ll certainly be asked to participate in more community service events, step up to lead, and develop a stronger character. Being a part of NHS also means engaging with peers and mentors that have a similar regard for scholarship, service, and leadership. This is a great opportunity to develop a relationship with different people who will no doubt help you grow.
3. Demonstes of your ability/standing as a student:
By becoming a member of NHS, colleges will be able to assume a high benchmark for your academic and service commitment, simply because of what the organization stands for and asks its members to do. This is definitely a small added bonus to your college application!
Some of the cons of National Honor Society are:
1. Only moderately prestigious:
Keep in mind that the NHS is a common honor society to join: putting NHS on your resume doesn’t “wow” anyone. It can’t compare to gaining a spot in more selective honors societies, or joining a much more competitive, much more rigorous program. Some students might decide that they’d be better off spending the time required to be a part of NHS in pursuing other, more prestigious organizations.
2. Does not speak to a passion/specific interest:
National Honor Society isn’t a specialized program; it’s a very general society that focuses on the broad areas of service and leadership. If you have a particular interest or passion, you might find that it’s more worthwhile to join a program that specializes in helping you delve deeper and develop skills in those specific fields of interest.
3. Not considered particularly rigorous:
The rules and requirements surrounding NHS are more lax than more selective programs. This means that if you really hope to learn how to become a better leader, you will have to push yourself within the program, instead of the program pushing you. It’s not a program worth committing to, if you aren’t prepared to take it seriously and make the most out of what’s given to you.
National Honor Society - Our Verdict | Try it, why not.
We love that National Honor Society is an accessible way to learn more about yourself and grow as a person, while also finding ways to engage with your community. Being a member has probably only mild impact on your college application, but taking leadership within NHS (e.g., president, vice-president) can show leadership in what may be a recognized program at your school.
Ultimately, National Honor Society is a very well-worn path - so if you become president or join the program it can be an easily understood signal for colleges. But, it’s not a particularly unique activity for the strongest students. Rather than seeking out opportunities to do so yourself, NHS will provide you with such opportunities. Even though it’s not the most prestigious program, it’s definitely worth trying out in our book!
If you are passionate about research and want to do advanced research, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Amelia is a current junior at Harvard College studying art history with a minor in economics. She’s enthusiastic about music, movies, and writing, and is excited to help Lumiere’s students as much as she can!
Image source: National Honors Society logo