Nov 082010
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Students with high GPAs are often treated to invitations from academic honors societies promising social and academic benefits, usually in exchange for fees up to $100.

But what most don’t know that when they receive these invitations the group contacting them could carry no credentials, effectively scamming students.

“I got a letter in the mail saying that my GPA got me into this honor society, but I’ve never heard of them,” said Chris Watson, a freshman biomedical sciences major. “It asked me for money for acceptance.”

Illegitimate organizations are everywhere, said Dorothy Mitstifer, executive director for the Association of College Honor Societies, or ACHS, a group that sets the standard for U.S. academic organizations.

“There’s lots of groups that call themselves honor societies that have very low standards,” she said. “Quite a few of those that are not our members have pretty low standards.”

A distinguishing factor between good and bad organizations is the services they offer to members. Ones that are considered legitimate have local chapters that wield power in determining the constitution of the group, as well as its priorities.

Such is the case with the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, NSCS, an honors group with a chapter at CSU that emphasizes community service.

Another way to determine if a group is legitimate or not is to examine the benefits the groups claim to offer. Plenty of the honor societies have “fellowships and grants and scholarships for their members,” said Mitstifer.

NSCS has “a national office that organizes things like scholarships and other leadership training at national conferences,” said Deborah Garrity, the faculty chair for NSCS. “It’s very much a legitimate organization. There’s a lot more to it than just a line on a resume.”

In order to be considered for membership into NSCS, one has to be part of the top 20 percent in their graduating high school class. The group is a part of the ACHS.

Mitstifer also said the membership fees paid into honor societies deliver concrete results upon graduating from higher learning institutions. One of the benefits of ACHS member societies (like NSCS), she said, is higher pay at a government institution.

“After WWII, the federal government was having a hard time getting high quality people to apply for jobs,” she said. “So they made an agreement with us that any member who is a member of our honor societies can start two pay-grades higher if they meet all other requirements for the job.”

Watson said he believes he needs to do a little more investigation before he sends a check to organizations asking money for membership.

“Why risk losing money if I can just Google them and find out if they’re legit?”

Staff writer Andrew Carrera can be reached at

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