Academic programs should reconsider how they present themselves

December 11, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov and Sandhya Sundaram

After receiving hundreds of spam emails and letters from various programs and  colleges over the years, students may feel more excited or inclined to respond to ones with subject lines saying “(insert name), NSHSS honors your Academic Achievements” or “you have been selected to participate in a highly prestigious conference.”

Though some may be tempted to seek academic recognition, these organizations use compelling (and extremely vague) language to coerce families into paying large sums of money for program that are likely worthless in terms of achievement and college readiness.

These organizations often do not know much about the student’s achievements or personality, yet still use tailored language to try to make him/her feel special.

While both of us did check the box on the PSAT to opt into College Board’s Student Search Service, we did not expect to receive so much spam from various colleges and programs we are not interested in.

For instance, Anna was “chosen” for an award from a “prestigious” honor society, the National Society of High School Honors (NSHSS). Receiving the letter and seeing the print addressing her by name, she was flooded with excitement; however, her happiness turned to skepticism when she flipped through the stack of information the organization had sent her and saw the sum of money that it demanded in order to bestow her with this recognition.

NSHSS claims that its 1,500,000 members receive access to at least $2 million in yearly scholarships, exclusive academic competitions and a lifetime of benefits for a one-time enrollment fee of $75. While the organization may be legitimate, it is simply not worth the money or time to apply. The honor does not provide an advantage when applying to college or for future jobs, unlike the similarly named National Honor Society.

It seems as if the organization was simply created for profit rather than to recognize student creativity or academic achievement.

Furthermore, according to a staff editorial by Binghamton University’s school newspaper, Pipe Dream, such organizations often exaggerate their worth with misleading information, sometimes even paying people to write false testimonials verifying their credibility.

While the NSHSS is completely legal, colleges are much more impressed with actual honors that students have earned with hard work and dedication rather than by paying a one-time enrollment fee. Besides, many of the “exclusive” scholarships the society offers can be found with a Google search.

Similarly, Sandhya received a letter last summer saying, “We are proud to select you for recognition as a Delegate representing Saratoga High School and the State of California at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders … a highly selective national program honoring academically superior high school students.”

Initially delighted, Sandhya became increasingly skeptical after reading the ambiguous criteria that the organization had “chosen” her for: her “leadership potential” and her “desire to contribute to the profession of medicine.”

Additionally, the very first thing that appeared on the website when Sandhya logged in with her invitation number was “Step 1: payment selection,” requesting a payment of a whopping $1,585.

Unfortunately, such scams are common and vulnerable students and parents fall prey to them. Instead, we should research legitimate opportunities available based on our own personal interests, and participate in competitions and programs that suit our interests and truly enrich our educational experience.

And the genuine programs that want to draw in interested high school students should reconsider how they present themselves. They should be specific in how they choose students beyond vague statements such as “outstanding academic achievements,” and should provide thorough information about the program and testimonials. Above all, actual honors are likely to come without a fee that anyone can “earn” regardless of merit.

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