Ask a Professor: Should You Join a College Honor Society?
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- College honor societies recognize academic excellence and offer several benefits.
- Members qualify for scholarships, awards, and leadership opportunities.
- Most honor societies charge a membership fee, and scam honor societies exist.
- Joining an honor society can be a great option for some students.
Phi Beta Kappa. Phi Kappa Phi. Gamma Beta Phi.
No, it's not Greek Row — these are all the names of academic honor societies. But what is a college honor society exactly? And should you join one?
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As a professor, I served as the faculty advisor for the campus chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society. That experience showed me the many benefits of joining an honor society. But there are also reasons to turn down honor society membership invitations.
What Is a College Honor Society?
Unlike a sorority or fraternity, honor societies recognize students with exceptional academic records. College students will typically encounter two types of honor societies:
- General societies open to all students
- Societies for certain academic disciplines
Many humanities and social science majors have national honor societies, for example.
Reputable honor societies set admission criteria. For instance, students may need to rank in the top 20% of their class or have a minimum GPA.
In addition to the national honor society standards, local chapters might add their own requirements. A psychology honor society may only admit students who complete at least 15 credits in psychology with a 3.5 GPA in their psych classes.
Honor societies offer several benefits, including members-only scholarships, chances to gain leadership and academic experience, and mentorship and networking opportunities. For some students, the pros of joining an honor society outweigh the cons.
3 Pros of Joining an Honor Society
Why do students join honor societies? And should you consider joining if you meet the membership requirements? Here are some pros to joining an honor society.
You Qualify for Scholarships
Many honor societies award scholarships exclusively to members. Members may also qualify for awards, travel grants, and other financial support.
Here are some honor society scholarships you could qualify for by joining:
- Phi Theta Kappa: Members qualify for transfer student, career tech, nursing, veteran, and undergraduate scholarships worth up to $7,500.
- Honor Society: Honor Society offers dozens of scholarships ranging from $1,000-$5,000. Scholarships recognize leadership skills, academic achievements, and community service.
- Alpha Kappa Delta: The sociology honor society offers awards and travel grants for members, including a paper prize and a minority fellowship program.
- Pi Lambda Theta: The education honor society offers scholarships of up to $2,000 for members.
Since only members qualify for these opportunities, the odds of winning a scholarship can be higher than those for open scholarships.
Honor Societies Offer Leadership Opportunities
Looking for leadership experience? Don't overlook honor societies. Each chapter elects officers to run meetings and events. In smaller, major-specific honor societies, it may be even easier for members to earn an officer title by volunteering.
Depending on the honor society, chapters may be required to elect certain officers, including a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Chapters can also create their own positions, like social media manager or director of outreach.
These leadership positions will build your resume while demonstrating your scholarly commitment.
Many Host Academic Conferences and Award Prizes
If you're thinking about graduate school, an academic honor society is a great way to gain academic experience.
Many honor societies hold regional or national conferences, and they may offer travel grants to cover expenses. Many also award paper prizes and hold other academic competitions.
Participating in these events can give your grad applications a boost while also strengthening your academic skills.
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3 Cons of Joining an Honor Society
If you receive an invitation letter from an honor society or meet the academic requirements, should you join? Sometimes it makes more sense to turn down the offer. Here are some cons to honor society membership.
Honor Societies Typically Charge a Fee
Joining an honor society will cost you.
Most national honor societies charge at least $50 as a membership fee, with many exceeding $100. And check whether that's a lifetime membership fee or an annual fee. Honor Society, for example, charges a minimum of $65 per six months.
Are the benefits of an honor society worth the membership fee? For some students, the cost outweighs any benefit. Before joining, investigate exactly what you'll get in exchange for the fee.
Your Chapter Might Not Do Much
At the campus level, your honor society chapter will shape your experience. Some chapters are very active: They hold regular meetings, plan events, and host fundraisers. But other chapters barely exist.
If you're interested in an honor society for a line on your resume or scholarship opportunities, an active chapter might not matter to you. But if you want leadership, volunteering, and academic experience, make sure your campus chapter is active before joining.
Some Honor Societies Are Scams
It's easy enough to invent a fake honor society, send out membership invitations, and collect membership dues. So how can you avoid falling for scam honor societies?
First, check for a chapter office or faculty coordinator at your school. Honor societies with no on-campus presence often fall into the scam category. Then, visit the Association of College Honor Societies. If the organization isn't a member, it might be a scam.
Should You Join a College Honor Society?
Serving as a faculty advisor to a college honor society revealed to me many of the benefits for students. Members of our honor society won prizes, presented at conferences, and received grants thanks to the society.
On the other hand, Phi Beta Kappa invited me to join as an undergrad — and I did not take advantage of many membership opportunities like scholarships, lectures, and networking events.
In short, you don't need to join an honor society to get the most out of college. But if you want to connect with students in your major, apply for scholarships, or simply bulk up your resume, an honor society can be a great option.
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