College Honor Society Scams Prey on Students and Parents

Posted By Terri Williams on March 23, 2017 at 1:12 pm
College Honor Society Scams Prey on Students and Parents

Membership in a college honor society can prove beneficial to students while they’re in college, and it can also open doors and provide a competitive advantage in the workforce. However, students – and parents – need to know the difference between legitimate honor societies and honor society scams designed to drain wallets without providing value.

Benefits of joining a college honor society

Lisa Wootton Booth, executive director of the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), tells GoodCall® that membership in certified honor societies offer a plethora of advantages, including the following opportunities:

  • To network with high achieving professionals in their field.
  • To hold leadership positions locally, regionally, and nationally.
  • To win valuable scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
  • To publish their research/work as an undergraduate or graduate student.
  • To attend seminars, workshops, and conferences.
  • To participate in campus and community programming that extends and enhances their academic experience.

And this was just a partial list. Eileen Merberg, executive director of Alpha Lambda Delta (ALD), tells GoodCall® that joining an honor society in college also provides other opportunities.  “Networking with faculty and socializing with peers – in addition to recognition for one’s academic accomplishment, and an opportunity to stand out and be recognized, are some of the advantages.”

GoodCall® also wanted to hear the perspective of a member of a college honor society. “My time with Alpha Lambda Delta has taught me that the hard work and collaboration of young people can bring about meaningful social change,” according to William Covington, a student at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs. “ALD has fostered my love for service and has taught me to be a more compassionate, socially-conscious individual; without ALD, I would not be the person I am today.”

ALD is for first-year students and awards more than $207,000 yearly to its members. “It offers a chance to engage as a student very early in one’s college career, to pave the way for future achievements, and to make a difference in the lives of others,” Merberg says.

The benefits for those in college honor societies don’t end after the members graduate from college. According to Booth, “Membership in a certified, credible honor society provides prospective employers with instant verification of exemplary performance and achievement, distinguishing members from competing job applicants at a glance.”

The federal government is one place where workers can gain a competitive edge. “The U.S. Government’s Office of Personnel Management offers incoming federal employees a two level pay grade increase for ‘Superior Academic Achievement,’ which can be obtained through membership in ACHS-certified honor societies,” Booth says.

But membership privileges aren’t limited to government jobs. Christina Carosella, CEO of Beta Gamma Sigma (BGS) and ACHS vice president, explains, “Since Beta Gamma Sigma is an international business honor society, we have many companies around the world that specifically recruit our members because they know BGS members are high achievers and strong leaders.”

How to spot honor society scams

In the right organization, membership offers various perks and advantages. However, college honor society scams offer nothing. Student pay enough in tuition and fees, and they can’t afford to lose money to scammers. But how can they identify honor society scams? “If a student receives an invitation from an ‘honor society,’ but he or she has less than a 3.2 GPA, it is not a legitimate offer,” Booth warns. She also lists some other red flags:

  • The organization’s contact address is limited to a P.O. box.
  • CEO/leadership contact information, bylaws, or other key items are missing from the website.
  • The organization is not a nonprofit 501(c)(3).
  • Members have no say in how the organization is run.
  • An online membership application is available (membership should be by invitation ONLY, based upon strict qualifying criteria).
  • No founding date is listed, or the organization was founded very recently.
  • No chapter of the honor society is officially recognized on your campus.

Booth believes that it’s important for student and their parents – and also campus faculty – to be leery of any type of honor society that provides membership without requiring high academic achievement. “These organizations exist merely to make a profit, rather than to create opportunities for the students they purport to serve,” Booth says. “Some have found ways around privacy laws and invite students via email from a national (non-campus) office, without input from a campus academic adviser to verify that the student would qualify as a high achiever.”

Don’t assume that every organization allowed on campus is legitimate. “Some of these societies have gained a foothold at some institutions and may even have a faculty adviser, but they do not meet the minimum standards to qualify for certification,” Booth explains. “The only way to be certain is to do your research – only accept invitations from organizations that meet the criteria for ACHS certification.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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