Honor Society FAQ

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Membership in an Honor Society: How to make the decision that’s best for you.

So, you’ve been invited to join an “Honor Society.” Congratulations are in order.

Or are they?

In this day of instant web sites, how do you know that the organization that has asked you to join is one that you actually want to be a part of? How do you know that it really is an “honor” to be asked to join, or if it’s an organization that consists of little more than a web site?

This is not something that is always easy to determine. In what follows, we have given you some ways to think about these invitations, and we have supplied some facts you should know about any organization that you might want to join.

Also, take advantage of the faculty and staff here at the U of M. Did you get an invitation to join an honor society that says it is for students in your major? Check with a faculty member or professional adviser to see if they know about this organization. Does the organization’s invitation just seem too vague and general – like they sent this letter to almost everyone at the U of M? Again, talk to your adviser or a faculty member – the odds are, if the organization is legitimate, they will have heard about it.

Finally, if you have any questions after looking this over, please do not hesitate to contact the University of Minnesota’s Office for Student Affairs at osaum@umn.edu or by phone at 612-624-3560

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Frequently-asked questions about invitations to join honor societies:

I got several invitations from different groups. How did they get my name and address?

I got several invitations from different groups. How did they get my name and address?

First, the University of Minnesota does not sell lists of names of students. As a public university, we abide by all laws pertaining to the privacy rights of our students. Any honor organization that is registered as a student group through the Student Activities Office (SAO) may do mailings to students. These mailings or emails first need to be approved by SAO and are treated as "blind mailings," where the organization does not see any of the names and the mailing is done via the University's Addressing and Mailing Service or University computing services. An organization that is not a registered student group may also be able to do mailings if they have a U of M faculty/staff advisor who will represent them. Additionally, since we are a public institution, any group can get public information for a $50.00 fee (this fee covers the costs to the University of providing the list). If we provide such information, we do not include private information about anyone on the list. In other words, we will do mailings for organizations, but we will not provide them any private information on the students.

Also, there are businesses that will turn a paper university directory into an electronic document and sell it to organizations for the purpose of mailing or emailing students. So even if the university imposes some restrictions on what it will provide, there are always ways to get students’ names, addresses, and e-mails!

Remember, you can suppress your information at the U. This will mean that your name will not be on the lists of these kinds of communications. To get detailed information on how to suppress your information, and what that means, go to this Web site: http://onestop.umn.edu/onestop/forms.html. Scan about halfway down the page to: Changing your Name or Address.

So, how do I know what criteria were used by the organization that is inviting me to join?

So, how do I know what criteria were used by the organization that is inviting me to join?

Generally, the letter will say what the criteria are – top 10 percent of your class, a 3.00 or higher GPA, etc. If you want more information about the organization and the criteria it uses to invite members, check out their web site.

But I thought you said that the U of M supplied no personal information?

But I thought you said that the U of M supplied no personal information?

In a case where an organization wants to do a mailing to all seniors with a 3.00 or better GPA, for instance, we will send their mailing to this group. But, again, we will not identify any individual student’s GPA. In other words, there is no way the organization will know the GPA of any specific student on the list.

There is a fee to join. How can I tell if the fee is appropriate?

There is a fee to join. How can I tell if the fee is appropriate?

There is no straightforward way to say if the fee is “worth it.” Fees to join can run from as little as $25 to as high as $80 - $100. We suggest that you weigh the benefits of joining against the cost. After all, an organization that truly is little more than a web site might entice you to join by offering a very modest fee, while an internationally recognized organization may have a higher fee.

Is it really an honor to be a member of this organization?

Is it really an honor to be a member of this organization?

This is really the hardest question of all. Here are a few things to ask yourself before joining any honor organization:

1) Is there a “prestige factor” in joining this organization?

Organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa have strict guidelines on the structure of each local chapter, and graduating seniors are invited to join only after a review of students by a committee of faculty members at each institution. While a student may or may not be an active member following graduation, it is an honor to be selected, and graduate schools and businesses know that to be selected to be a member of Phi Beta Kappa is a distinct honor. Phi Beta Kappa is just one example – there are many organizations where simply to be invited to join is a great honor.

2) Do I want to be involved in this organization in an active way?

In terms of assessing whether it's worthwhile for you to join any group, our recommendation is to ask yourself to consider why you want to join the group and whether this group will meet your reason for joining.

In many cases, it may not be beneficial to have the name of an organization on a resume unless the student can also say that he or she participated in some ACTIVE way. That participation might be serving as an officer, playing a role in planning or organizing events, or making a contribution to the development of the group through a committee. Students sometimes believe that simply having a long list of memberships on their resume will improve their chances when they apply for a job or for graduate school. Employers and graduate schools will be impressed with a good grade point average, and they will want evidence of how students contributed to the organizations to which they belonged. Unless the organization is strictly an Honor organization with little opportunity for active involvement, potential employers will want to know what students learned from their activities.

3) What value is the organization to me?

For many students, the reasons for participating in an organization are to share a particular interest, to meet like-minded students, and to advance personal or career knowledge and opportunities. Is there an opportunity to do this in this organization? Does the organization give the student the opportunity to develop new skills or hone current ones? Are there opportunities for networking that may help later in the student’s job search or even later in your professional career?

Some groups suggest that membership in an Honor society helps in getting scholarships. Does the organization offer scholarships to its members? If so, how many do they award? Do they award some to each “chapter,” or do they have 50 scholarships to award nation-wide?

Here at the U, the most important factors in receiving departmental and academic scholarships are grade point average, evidence of involvement, and the recommendation of a professor or an academic adviser. Advisers usually know about a range of scholarship opportunities; professors are likely to hear about the scholarships offered by their department. In these cases, it is probably not worth joining an organization solely to increase your chances for a departmental or collegiate scholarship.

4) The bottom line is this: What is the value to me of being a member of this organization? Whatever reason or reasons you may have for joining an organization, find out if this one provides those opportunities.

The best suggestion for determining the value of any group would be for you to get in touch with the person listed as the contact to find out what the group does and how you feel about the person or people leading the organization. If the contact person can talk about planned activities and the organization's goals, see if they fit your interests.

A final word of advice: be critical. Don’t accept all of the organization’s claims if they cannot validate them. One website to check is that of the Association of College Honors Societies. Here you will find some good tips on evaluating any organization that claims to be an “honors society.” You can also find out if a group is a registered student organization on the University of Minnesota campus by checking the Student Unions & Activities Office's list of registered student groups.

You also can do a Web-based search for a national branch of the organization through any search site to find out about the organization's mission and goals and any national activities the student can participate in.

If you do your homework and evaluate the organizations that are inviting you to join, you will find that being a member of an honor society can be a richly rewarding experience.