By Benton Killion, assistant finance director

For 100 years, the National Honor Society (NHS) has allowed students of such prestige as Michelle Obama and Taylor Swift to apply for the honorable title of membership. This organization, with approximately 1 million members around the world, boasts average chapter contributions of 1,000 hours of community service, $26,000 in charitable contributions, and 100 pints of blood donated every year. This prestigious and exclusive club requires applicants to excel in their “four pillars”, or core principles, which include scholarship (determined by GPA), leadership, character, and community service. 

At Nantucket High School, a student must first be a junior or senior and they must have a GPA of 4.1 or higher; this is the base requirements that one must have before even being considered for membership. If they wish to apply, a student must fulfill the leadership requirements by showing responsibility and a willingness to lead a group, which may be demonstrated by participating in sports, clubs, or by taking part in-class activities. The student must fulfill character requirements by consistently showing responsibility, compassion, and kindness to their peers and teachers. Finally, a student must fulfill the community service requirement by showing a diverse and extensive portfolio of contributions to the public and school communities.

With all of these requirements met, qualified students may fill out packets summarizing their achievements, pitching themselves in a short essay, and attaching a recommendation letter from two adults, one teacher, and one peer or adult from outside of the school, like a sports coach or employer. From this pool of applicants, a group of teachers known as the National Honors Society board sort through students. Based on the students’ submitted packets, a survey sent out to teachers about students—to provide a more diverse representation of the staff’s opinions—and the board’s prior knowledge of the applicants, they select the new members of National Honors Society.

Requiring students to be in their Junior or Senior year to apply for membership is a rule that is determined by the local charter rather than the national association. According to the organization, “students in grades 10-12 who meet the requirements for membership outlined by their school’s chapter are eligible to be invited for membership.” The Nantucket High School did allow sophomores to apply for the membership many years ago, however, around the year 2000, this was removed for reasons unknown to the current administration. Former Principal Dr. John Buckey confirmed that this was the case even prior to his arrival in 2008. 

If a student is selected after this process, they are invited to an induction ceremony, where each new member is introduced to the current members of the society, lights candles, and repeats an oath to honor the NHS principles, in order to be induced and join NHS as an official member. 

From the perspective of the National Honor Society’s new teacher advisor and Nantucket High School Spanish teacher Kate Hickson, this organization provides students with a great way to give back to the community and give them an idea of what it’s like to apply for college. According to Hickson, NHS looks for well-rounded and diversely talented students to set a good example for our underclassmen.

After not being admitted into the organization, one anonymous student shared that being rejected by the organization’s strict elimination process makes students “feel less qualified and a bit unwanted.” In addition, the student thought the organization “provided few benefits for the work needed” and “had some odd rituals like those at the induction ceremony where people joke about sacrificial goats, candles, robes, and oaths.” This rejection is the only downside in the eyes of the teachers and students who work with NHS, adding that being invited to the group shows that these students have already stood out.

According to new NHS member Ellie Kinsella, NHS has many benefits including putting you “in contact with a lot of other, like-minded students,” and “of course it’s a resume booster too.” 

Of the benefits of being a member of NHS however, adding one’s membership into the organization onto a college application was not mentioned by the faculty. In fact, the opposite can be found on many websites designed to assist students looking for help with college applications, some saying, “Being in the National Honor Society is not going to help you stand out in Ivy League admissions. So don’t get so excited about being in the National Honor Society. Colleges don’t care about meaningless honors. They care about passion, intellectual curiosity, perseverance, determination, hard work, and talent.” Of course, this is shocking and discouraging, however, it doesn’t seem to stop students from spending so much time working on applications.

Upon learning this, new NHS member Ellie Kinsella commented, “I definitely think it’s discouraging because there’s a lot of stuff involved in National Honor Society, so why do the work if it won’t set me apart?” On the other hand, Kinsella argues that “if you think it will benefit you, definitely apply anyway… if you get in, sometimes you feel good about it, sometimes you don’t because your friends didn’t get in, but it’s something to boost your mood and the way you see yourself and your confidence.”

When not looking solely at Ivy League-level schools, the NHS has been shown to boost applications. It is essentially a more involved honor roll, and websites such as collegevine.com and discoverycollegeconsulting.com claim that the society does improve acceptance rates for many colleges.

Based on information provided by Hickson and current members, only 57% of students invited actually applied, and of the 33 applicants, a mere 14 were admitted. This surprising statistic highlights how rigorous the applicant screening process can be. On the other hand, the new members make up approximately half of the 27 member group on Nantucket, so there are still enough applicants to sustain group numbers.

Despite its flaws, NHS continues to hold enough benefits that it draws in many students every year. In coming years, junior, senior, and hopefully sophomore students will continue to apply and be admitted into this diverse organization that promotes kindness and responsibility in students of all ages.

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