The Harbinger Online

Colleges are starting to question the value of honor societies

Staying up until 4 a.m. so you can finish the essay you’ve already spent twenty hours on. Leaving band practice early so you can make your symphony performance. Signing up for IB, AP and College Now just to have the designations on your transcript. Students find ways to cram multitudes of activities into their schedules in order to transform into that outstanding, well-rounded person colleges seem to want. With over 700,000 members, National Honor Society (NHS) is one such program. That’s not even considering other nationally recognized honor societies, each having thousands of students claiming membership. But, according to a recent article in the New York Times, when so many students’ résumés are jam-packed with honor societies, colleges aren’t nearly as impressed.

Currently at East, there are five honor societies — NHS and National Art Honor Society, and the French, German, and Spanish National Honor Societies. All together, over 165 students are involved, with each type of honor society having its own membership requirements.

French and Spanish honor societies require that juniors have all A’s and seniors have all A’s and B’s in their language class. German Honor Society mandates that members have 3.6 GPA over three semesters of German and a 3.0 cumulative GPA. NAHS membership is determined through art scholarship, service, and character.

NHS has the most criterium for membership:  applicants must have a 3.6 weighted GPA, pass an administrative review of discipline, complete 20 hours of community service, and demonstrate leadership. These requirements are a step-up from last year, and next year the bar is expected to rise even higher. Next year’s applicants will need to have a 3.5 non-weighted GPA in order to be considered for membership. Murphy thinks the new GPA requirement will predominately affect those students who are getting mostly B’s in honors classes, who, with the previous weighted scale, would have been eligible for induction.

“We’re looking to induct the best kids that we possibly can,” NHS sponsor Rebecca Murphy said. “[The students] that are self-motivated, that can meet deadlines, that can advocate for themselves.”

According to Murphy, Principal Dr. Karl Krawitz requested that the requirements be reviewed when he first arrived at East. A panel of five anonymous teachers, a board that rotates from year to year, worked on revising the standards so they would best exemplify NHS’s four pillars — character, service, leadership, and scholarship.

In order to preserve honesty in applications this year, it was decided that students, like SHARE chairs, could no longer sign off on services hours and that the hours must be validated at the time of volunteering. Leadership, an important factor to Dr. Krawitz, entails writing an essay detailing two instances of leadership, one of which must be at East. Character used to involve students finding five people in the building to vouch for them, but this was far from an ideal solution for Murphy.

“You could cheat on a test in one class, but if you got five other teachers to [vouch for you], you could still slide through,” Murphy said. “…We feel that kids need to have good character everywhere, not just where they feel they’re going to be evaluated.”

Now, the entire faculty can provide input on an applicant’s character. However, Murphy assures that no “black-balling” will occur. If a behavioral incident is brought up by a faculty member, the panel will vote on a candidate’s induction. If the inductee feels their exclusion was unfair, they can file an appeal.

Still, Murphy feels that the size of NHS isn’t what is making colleges disregard the program—it’s the enormous variation in requirements for NHS chapters across the country. Murphy says that East has quite a bit of leeway in choosing criteria for NHS membership. East focuses primarily on the NHS pillars, wanting to include all students who demonstrate good character, leadership, and service. This isn’t so for all schools.

“I doubt there is any college on the planet that would put a kid into their college solely because they’re an NHS member, and I doubt there is anybody that would keep you out solely because you’re not an NHS member,” Murphy said.

Other honor societies at East are facing the same problems. French National Honor Society (FNHS) sponsor Laure Losey is disappointed with student commitment to their respective honor societies. Losey feels that FNHS should be another outlet for students to learn and experience French culture and enrich what they learn in class.

“I just think people come to put something on their résumé,” Losey said. “I don’t think people are very serious and part of it is because they’re involved in way too many things.”

FNHS meets about once a month in school and once a month out of school. The eight members will get together to do a French culture activity, such as boule, the French equivalent of bocce ball. Once, members acted out an entire French play, Le Borgeois Gentilhomme. French food is always involved.

But, according to Losey, getting meetings actually scheduled has been an issue. Meetings had to be moved to the mornings because many members couldn’t make the ones after school. Losey feels that, while the initial requirements are suitable, the attendance policy should be stricter.

“A lot of people skip meetings or they can’t agree what to do,” Losey said. “Even if the officers have a plan and great ideas, it doesn’t mean that people are going to follow, which to me is very sad.”

Junior Natalie Parker is a member of FNHS and is applying to be in NHS. Parker joined FNHS because she was invited and she’d heard it was fun, but is mainly involved in honor societies for college applications. Though Parker feels that getting into honor societies is fairly easy, she doesn’t think that the requirements should change.

“I think it’s good that a lot of people can get in,” Parker said. “A lot of people work hard and the people that get in work hard, so I don’t think it needs to be any more selective.”

Senior Tara Raghuveer, co-president of NHS, believes that membership requirements could be slightly stricter, but feels that the additional standards added this year are a big step in the right direction. Though Raghuveer feels that the NHS members in her grade all deserve to be there, she is doubtful that membership means much to college admissions.

“I think a lot of colleges recognize that the standards for getting into NHS differ between schools and thus don’t take it into much consideration,” Raghuveer said. “…It’s helpful to have on your applications, but it’s not necessarily a deciding factor.”

While KU Admissions Counselor Nathan Mack feels that honor societies have not lost any of their prestige, he warns that simply filling an application with honor societies is not enough.

“We want to see that a student takes their experience in the honor society and makes something of it during their high school career,” Mack said. “Admissions offices know when a student puts down a club for the sake of merely looking impressive.”

One way of making the most out of NHS is through the volunteer opportunities, which was the initial reason Raghuveer joined NHS. As co-president, she helps organize NHS service projects. Raghuveer and senior Haley Dalgleish are in charge of the NHS peer tutoring, setting up tutoring days and organizing tutors. Murphy thinks that projects like these help instill life-long traits that ultimately overcome any short-comings of NHS.

“I think that the pillars of National Honor Society and how you carry those ideals into other organization,” Murphy said. “It will give you a background that will make colleges more receptive to your admission.”

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