How to Get Into the National Honor Society: A Guide for Academic Stars

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The National Honor Society (NHS) is a nationwide organization for high-achieving students in grades 10-12 with a focus on scholarship, leadership, and service.

According to the organization’s website, “Much more than an honor roll, NHS is a distinctive multifaceted learning experience that provides a solid and meaningful foundation for life.”

If you’re interested in joining your school’s NHS chapter, or if you just want to learn more about the organization, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about NHS, plus give you our top tips on how to get in.

NHS: A Brief History

NHS was founded in 1921 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). It was the first nationwide honor society, and it quickly blossomed under the leadership of Dr. Edward Rynearson, principal of Pittsburgh’s Fifth Avenue High School.

The organization has a constitution, an emblem, and a motto: “noblesse oblige.” This is French for “nobility obliges,” meaning that an individual who claims to be noble must behave nobly, or that one should act according to the reputation or position he or she has earned. This concept is made up of the four pillars of NHS: scholarship, service, leadership, and character.

By 1930, there were over 1,000 NHS chapters across the country. Today, there are chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, many U.S. territories, and Canada. Over one million students are estimated to be NHS members.

NHS has grown outside its own organization to offer their leadership and values to other groups. Their affiliated organizations include National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, National Student Council, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Each has its own standards for membership, so applying to be a member is required when you graduate from one organization to the next.

Why Join the National Honor Society? What Are the Benefits?

Most NHS chapters require a somewhat lengthy application for membership. Maybe you’re wondering if you should bother filling out the form and joining your school’s NHS. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits offered to NHS members.

Recognition

As the name implies, it’s an honor to be admitted to the NHS. You’re recognized as one of the top students at your school, not just academically but also when it comes to leadership, service, and character. Joining NHS demonstrates that you’re committed to serving others, being a leader in your school and community, and treating your academic studies seriously.

Of course, this type of recognition can set you apart as you apply to colleges. After all, these are the exact qualities that many colleges and universities seek. This is particularly true if you become an NHS officer, one of the elected student leaders who coordinate and manage the chapter as a student organization.

Leadership-Building Opportunities

NHS doesn’t only recognize top-tier students; it’s also devoted to providing resources to encourage these students and push them toward even greater success and achievement.

For instance, the organization offers a variety of conferences and events designed to help NHS students build leadership skills. These events are completely optional and include:

  • LEAD Conferences – Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) conferences are held several times annually on weekends in a variety of cities across the country. They provide networking opportunities and aim to enhance leadership abilities.
  • National Student Leadership Week – Established in 1972, Leadership Week is designed to promote and celebrate the value of student leadership. The NHS website provides resources and suggests activities to help local chapters get involved.
  • State Summits – Available only to NHS and NJHS students, these local events allow students to participate in think-tank style sessions with state leaders. Participants discuss potential solutions to problems in their schools and communities.

Scholarships 

The NHS also awards 400 scholarships to members annually. Any high school senior who is in good standing with their school’s chapter is eligible to apply.

Applications for this scholarship open sometime in October. There are deadlines for recommendation letters and accepting the scholarship, so be sure to check the timeline for your school year. Whether you’re awarded an NHS scholarship or not, you’ll have access as a member to a scholarship search tool provided by College Board called “NHS Scholar Dollars.” This search tool allows you to filter through several different scholarships based on the four different pillars of NHS.

Success Tools

In addition to the scholarship tool already mentioned, there are several online tools that help you be successful in high school and college. Virtual webinars are offered to guide you through and become more familiar with the college admission process. There’s also a database that you can search through and add to for service ideas.

How to Apply for NHS Membership

First, you’ll need to determine if your school has an NHS chapter. If not, you may want to approach your principal about starting one.

If your school does have an active NHS chapter, ask the chapter adviser or another knowledgeable faculty member about the GPA requirement for joining. Students who meet this GPA requirement will likely receive an invitation to submit an application and be considered for membership.

Required Qualifications

Requirements for NHS membership may vary by chapter, but these requirements are always based on the four pillars of NHS.

1. Scholarship

National guidelines require NHS members to maintain a GPA of at least 85, which is a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. It’s important to note, however, that many chapters have higher minimum standards.

If you meet your school’s minimum requirement, you’ll then be invited to fill out an application detailing your accomplishments in the remaining three pillars.

2. Service

NHS defines service as “voluntary contributions made by a student to the school or community, done without compensation.”

Some local chapters will require you to have a minimum amount of service hours. These hours can include offering free tutoring, helping clean up the community or school, organizing food or clothing drives, or volunteering locally, like at a library, nursing home, or soup kitchen.

3. Leadership

According to NHS, student leaders are “resourceful, good problem solvers, and idea contributors.” Think of experiences in your school or community that have allowed you to demonstrate these skills.

Perhaps you’ve been a team captain or a club officer, or maybe you’ve organized an event or helped lead your youth group. Leadership doesn’t necessarily require a title, so even if you’ve never held an official leadership position, think of times you’ve acted to solve problems or generate ideas with or for others.

You can think outside the box a bit for this if you need to. Maybe you researched a national park to make an itinerary before your family traveled there, or you use birthday money to buy toys for dogs at the local animal shelter.

4. Character

Lastly, the National Honor Society seeks students who demonstrate good character. The organization defines this type of student as someone who is “cooperative; demonstrates high standards of honesty and reliability; shows courtesy, concern, and respect for others; and generally maintains a clean disciplinary record.”

Your school may require you to get a letter of recommendation as evidence of your character. If this is the case, choose a teacher who has known you for an extended period of time. Alternatively, select a teacher with whom you’ve built a close relationship. Provide the teacher with a list of accomplishments or qualities you’d like him or her to mention in the letter.

If your recommendation letter can be from someone outside your school, consider asking an adult outside your family that has seen your character in action. This can be a coach, youth pastor, parent of a child you’ve babysat for several times, or volunteer coordinator of an organization that you do community service for.

What If My Application Is Accepted?

If your application is accepted, congratulations! You’re now a member of the National Honor Society. You’ll attend an induction ceremony to formally accept you and the other new members into the organization.

The induction ceremony typically features a welcome speech by the adviser or chapter president, a guest speaker, and sometimes a special ceremony like candle lighting. At the end of the ceremony, you and the other new members will take the NHS pledge.

Now that you’re an official NHS member, you’ll attend chapter meetings and work on service projects. Try to take full advantage of this opportunity: run for an officer position, attend leadership conferences and events, and apply for an NHS scholarship your senior year.

What If My Application Is Rejected?

If your application is rejected, you may appeal at the local level, but the national organization does not review appeals. You may also improve your resume and reapply the following year.

In some chapters, you can request counseling to improve your application for the following year. If you haven’t heard about your acceptance, that doesn’t mean your application was rejected. Local chapters are encouraged, not required, to let members know their final application status, so check in with the NHS adviser at your school to ask if a final decision was made or when you can expect to hear one.

What If I Transfer Schools?

Transferring schools can be a tough adjustment, but it doesn’t mean your NHS membership has to be revoked. You’ll automatically be a member at your new school with a letter from your former principal or adviser.

If any of the standards for membership in your new school’s chapter differ from your previous school’s, you’ll need to meet them. A time frame is given for you to meet higher standards to continue your membership at the new school. One semester is a pretty typical time frame if needed.

If you fell short of requirements at your old school or weren’t selected for membership, you should apply for membership at your new school. Requirements may be the same or different, but it will be a new panel of individuals judging your application. If your new school doesn’t have a chapter, you can look into starting one there, so you don’t miss out on the benefits of NHS and can introduce them to your new school.

Don’t forget to add starting the new chapter to your application to demonstrate leadership!

How to Increase Your Chances of Acceptance

Based on the four pillars described above, you may already have an idea of what you’ll need to do to get into the National Honor Society.

You should:

  • Maintain a high GPA (at least a 3.0, although your school’s chapter may have higher standards).
  • Participate in voluntary service opportunities. It’s a good idea to keep a record of your volunteer hours, both for the NHS application and for future college applications.
  • Take on leadership positions. Demonstrate that you’re a problem-solver who can contribute valuable ideas to your school and community, and keep a record of your leadership accomplishments as well.
  • Treat others with respect and courtesy at all times.
  • Be reliable and honest.
  • Ask your teacher for additional help, or tutoring if offered, if you’re having difficulty in a subject. This will show your dedication to the scholarship pillar.
  • Avoid getting into trouble at school. NHS expects you to have a clean disciplinary record.
  • Build relationships with your teachers. You might need a letter of recommendation, and many NHS chapters send out a list of applicants and ask teachers to respond if any of these applicants don’t demonstrate the values and principles of the National Honor Society.

Following these guidelines will prepare you for success not only with the NHS application, but also with your college applications and life in general.

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