It’s no secret that businesses exploit college students. From loan sharks to credit card companies, predatory businesses from every industry seek to capitalize on our ignorance. Scam artists have found a new way to target impressionable college students: offering membership to “exclusive” honor societies and internship programs — at a price.
Don’t buy in.
These groups prey upon the need for recognition. Many parents teach children to strive for academic honor and prestige from an early age. In middle school, parents bought bumper stickers bragging that we made the honor roll. In high school, overachievers joined National Honor Society to get a special graduation cord. So when the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) sends a letter congratulating a student on their eligibility for membership, the first instinct is to send in due money without a second thought.
NSCS requires a $95 joining fee. It’s a scam. Promotional materials advertise membership benefits like increased access to scholarships and educational programs. While the NSCS website does link to internships like the Washington Media Scholars program, anyone can apply to these opportunities without joining NSCS. It also links to online degree programs that cost $50,000 per year. NSCS members pay nearly $100 to follow links that anyone with an internet connection can find with a few mouse clicks.
Yet, NSCS lists nearly 1,000,000 members worldwide. The promise of prestige is that compelling. Perhaps its membership is so large because any college student with a GPA above 3.4 is eligible. That’s lower than the requirement for the Harpur College dean’s list, a free distinction.
Unfortunately for students, NSCS and other organizations like it aren’t breaking the law. They’re legal tax-exempt, non-profit entities. The only way to stop these organizations is to do research before buying in. These groups know that suspicious students look them up regularly. Even on sites like College Confidential, organizations infiltrate forums with false information and paid-for testimonials. It’s important to look beyond the first page of search results and look on multiple sites for consensus on an honor society’s credibility.
Not all honor societies scam students. Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and arguably most prestigious honor society, offers membership to students in the top 10 percent of their university’s class. The organization carries a $75 fee and listing membership on a resume indicates a respected level of academic success.
Another way students are swindled is by paying for internships. Internships, so the theory goes, are the foot in the door, and an unpaid one can pay dividends over a career. This can sometimes be true, but internships where you have to pay for anything other than your own expenses are absurd. You shouldn’t ever want to work for an organization that makes you pay for the labor you provide, and no actual employer should respect them.
But even membership in respected organizations like Phi Beta Kappa is overrated. Instead of padding resumes with “Honors,” students should focus energy on opportunities to gain skills employers value. And never at any point should a student pay an exorbitant amount of money for access to such opportunities. It’s bad enough that most internships are unpaid. It’s silly to pay to get other people’s coffee simply to add another line to a resume. You can’t buy experience and you can’t buy skills. If it seems too good to be true, it is, and if it feels like you are simply buying yourself a title, you are.