Honors societies unnecessary for academic distinction

By Stephanie Youssef

At the end of every semester since my freshman year at the University, I have gotten an email that says something along the lines of, “Congratulations! Based on your academic achievements and nomination, you have been accepted to (insert name of honor society here). We are a super duper society, and all you have to do is pay this ridiculous fee to join.”

With the most recent email being the sixth honor society to email me, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. This isn’t to say that I am not in any way flattered by the fact that I receive these emails. I am well aware of how hard I work to get good grades and am glad that my academic achievements reflect that effort.

At the same time, I remain skeptical of the idea that we need to become members of multiple honor societies for our academic achievements to matter.

Let me first differentiate between independent honor societies and the honors offered by the University. Programs like James Scholar, Chancellor’s Scholars and Latin honors upon graduation are all awards given directly from the University to recognize and reward top students. 

However, the honor societies to which I am referring to are independently owned organizations that have to send out emails asking students to accept membership invitations and, usually, pay membership fees to join. Despite the fact that some of these independent societies are recognized by the University, paying for these organizations is unnecessary, as they are not needed to justify good grades.

Sure, being recognized by an independent honor society is great and all, but the name of an honor society on a resume is no replacement for substantial academic and professional achievements that exist behind the society — nor does it make any of those achievements seem any greater. Bill Clinton, for example, was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.  But that’s not what he is known for, as he was also the President of the United States. Being a member of an honor society did not single-handedly put him into the oval office, nor does it make any of former President Clinton’s achievements seem any more significant. 

It was his already notable academic accomplishments that allowed him to join the society in the first place — a work ethic that stands out more than the society itself. Thus, the membership was merely a paid-for pat on the back. At the same rate, joining the same honor society does not mean I have any better chance at being president someday because its membership is merely a label. It does a poor job of reflecting on what my academic accomplishments mean and what I am truly capable of.

Some may argue that there are scholarship opportunities available with these honor societies that we can’t find anywhere else. Where this may be true, we have to be critical of just how much membership money is going toward the organization’s scholarships. For example, Alpha Lambda Delta, the independent freshman honor society that targets many University students, only used 35 percent of the funding it got from membership fees and other sources for scholarships and awards in the 2012-2013 academic year. The rest of the money went into administration, governance, publications and conventions.

Some may also argue that joining these societies is a part of resume building, and that being a member will tell future admissions counselors and employers that one is at a good academic standing. However, it is unnecessary to go through the extraneous and expensive effort of joining an honor society when this is something that grades can say for themselves. Employers and admissions counselors do, in fact, have eyes. They can see our grade point averages and extracurricular activities without the name of some organization and will ideally be able to tell what kind of students we are. 

I am also never one to do things just for the sake of resume building. I would rather my resume be a reflection of my true likes and interests so that if employers ask me about a certain activity I listed, I can answer honestly and have my passion for that activity show through.

I, for one, know that honor societies are not a motivation for me to get good grades, as doing well academically and having a good work ethic are strong merits in and of themselves.

So thank you (insert name of society here) for your offer of membership with a ridiculous fee, but I will respectfully decline.

Stephanie is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @syoussef22.