A Flawed Sense of Honor

One of most elite national organizations for high-achieving students has created a toxic standard.


photo by Lucie Flagg

The NHS application process is tedious and misrepresents the structure of goodwill.

Lucie Flagg, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Scholarship, service, leadership, and character—these are the four pillars of National Honor Society (NHS), according to the organization’s website. And it sounds great in theory, right? It’s a group of elite high school students who dedicate their time to helping their community.

But after years of intense academic competitiveness and the desire to be accepted into top colleges, I can’t imagine I’m alone in concluding that NHS’s actual priorities are askew.

Here at North Allegheny, any junior with a GPA over 3.95 is invited to apply to NHS for their senior year. For many, this is a long-awaited application invitation that defines their hard work throughout high school. Last year, almost 70% of the NA graduating class had GPAs over 3.8, meaning a majority of the class was invited to apply. 

For those who are lucky enough to be accepted—and that’s pretty much anyone who correctly fills out the application and hasn’t incurred the hatred of their teachers—induction is a highly sought-after event. It’s an honor and privilege in the moment, but what follows is a toxic misrepresentation of kindness—and honor.

In the real world, you don’t get medals for doing community service. You serve out of the goodness of your heart and with genuine goodwill. I, at least, have never met an NHS student who participates mainly out of kindness—the more common reasons are college résumés and graduation cords. And I don’t blame them for it.

Students with high GPAs are told that joining NHS is essential to getting into a good college. These students get to volunteer with a prize in return. Since when did service become a component of academic drive?

Since when did service become a component of academic drive? ”

There’s no doubt that NA’s NHS chapter has done good in our community. They’ve organized blood drives, supported the Vincentian Home, and done so much more, but when a member’s willingness to participate in those activities is driven by the need to dress up a college application, the motive is flawed. 

For students who need to accrue NHS hours, “service” is defined rather loosely, so long as a teacher signs off on it. Something as simple as helping to build school play sets can get students several hours—something that I’ve done eight times throughout high school with no reward. 

It’s not that I necessarily care about getting a prize—I wouldn’t have done it so many times if I did. It’s just frustrating to know that so many students are not inclined to do a thankless deed.

As if the principles aren’t flawed enough to begin with, NHS members also have to pay a fee. Sure, some of the money goes toward charitable causes, but much of it funds the salaries of those who are employed by the national organization. 

I’ll be honest—I qualified for NHS last year, and I spent days considering applying. But the more I analyzed the morals of the organization, I quickly realized it wasn’t something I was willing to give my money to. I can’t justify supporting a group that reinforces academic eliteness while incentivizing members to have a selfish outlook on service.

To the junior class, I ask that you consider your own morals. If you’re going into this organization with a genuine desire to help, I applaud you. But if any part of you is joining because you feel socially pressured, save yourself time and money, and strive to do good without praise.