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  • Writer's pictureJessica Chermak, CEP, LPC

Does National Honor Society Look Good for College?

Updated: Mar 8

Congratulations, you've been accepted to the National Honor Society! But what does that actually mean for the college admission process? Unfortunately, this activity is not nearly as impactful on college admission decisions as many believe it to be. In this blog, I will dismantle the myths around the National Honor Society and college admissions, discuss ways to take advantage of the opportunity, and offer alternatives that are equally or more impressive in the college admission process.

As an active member on many forums for parents helping their students navigate the college application process, the topic of National Honor Society (NHS) comes up pretty frequently. Typically, I see parents expressing frustration about their student not being eligible or admitted to NHS, leading to concern about the impact of not participating on college admission decisions. Ironically enough, most admission officers I’ve spoken with don’t actually care much about NHS on a student's activities list/resume.

Before you jump to defend the contrary, let me dismantle why this statement is accurate.

National Honor Society is an extracurricular high school club that promotes community service, and in many cases, students must qualify to join. Typically, high schools will require a certain GPA or test score to join. In some cases, the club is only accessible to those on an AP or IB track, and some high schools have a pretty intensive application process. And yet, every year, we interact with hundreds of students who "should have" been admitted, but ultimately were barred from this exclusive little club. I'm talking about students who have been running charity organizations since middle school, who have engaged in impressive medical research, etc. They are truly phenomenal human beings, exceptional college applicants, but not NHS members.


What are the benefits of participating in NHS?

Well, first and foremost, the requirement to complete a certain number of community service hours means that students who have NHS on their resume should have spent some time volunteering. There are also a handful of scholarship opportunities associated with NHS, but with over 1,000,000 students participating and only about 600 scholarships available each year (most of which are $3,200, while two dozen student will receive $5,625 and a trip to DC for Trailblazing Leadership Week, and one lucky winner will receive $25,000 in addition to the DC trip for Trailblazing Leadership Week), the likelihood of receiving one of these non-renewable rewards is very slim.

If community service is viewed favorably in the college admissions process, why doesn’t NHS matter?

Truthfully, NHS is often redundant on a college application. A key component of NHS eligibility is a high GPA, but by the time an admissions officer is reading your application, they’ve likely already seen your transcript. For most high schools, a student’s involvement in NHS is limited to a monthly meeting during one lunch period and completion of a specific number of community service hours. And while volunteer work is often an important and meaningful activity for students, they often highlight these experiences in other pieces of the application, including the activities list (and listing NHS in the same section results in redundancy). This isn’t to say that a high GPA and community service aren’t important, just that most students excelling in either category will present this on their application outside of NHS membership.

If not NHS, what are colleges actually looking for?

When thinking about extracurriculars, colleges are looking for students who have found ways to engage meaningfully outside of the classroom. For some students, that is NHS, where there are directed community service opportunities. For others, it means finding service activities, hobbies, clubs, organizations, and experiences outside of the high school setting.

In general, colleges seek out meaningful engagement in the application review process because they can learn more about a student from voluntary experiences than requirements forced upon them. For example, most high school students are required to take History, Math, Science, English, and Foreign Language every year of high school (in addition to a required health course, PE, and other coursework that the student has no control over). That doesn’t leave too much room or flexibility with electives or other coursework that would provide more context for the student’s interests, personality, or application. Usually, a student’s opportunities for electives are limited to what the school provides and what fits with their schedule of core classes. However, outside of the classroom, students are typically able to engage in more activities that bring them joy, teach them relevant skills, and are a clear demonstration of their character and interests.

To that end, we encourage students to explore service opportunities that are more relevant to who they are and what they might be interested in doing. After all, not every student enjoys a beach clean-up. In fact, we feel so strongly about students finding service opportunities that align with their interests and personalities that we’ve developed an ever-growing list of some of the really fabulous opportunities our students have taken advantage of.


Key Takeaways

  • NHS is a fine activity, but it’s not the end all be all in admissions.

  • Colleges are looking for students who have engaged meaningfully outside of the classroom. We recommend seeking out activities that bring you joy and provide value to your life’s journey. That’s what looks good for college applications.

Good luck (but I know you won't need it),

Jessica Chermak, LPC, CEP

Independent College Counselor

Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors

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