Academic Honors Societies: Too Legit to Quit Joining?
Sarvani Ramcharran, 2015
Students who achieve academic excellence year after year are no stranger to the invitations decorated with Greek letters, stoic emblems, or catchy alliterations that clog mailboxes towards the end of the year. Academic honoraries continue their prowl for above-average minds, and unsuspecting scholars may feel inclined to (sometimes literally) buy into these acknowledgements.
Understandably, many students develop an appetite for resume boosting opportunities as the fogginess of the future creeps up on them. Whether for employment or graduate school, though, the legitimacy behind these societies and the net appeal they create is debatable.
On what these honoraries add to a resume, Wendy Smiseck, director of career services, put it plainly: “Employers want to see what you can do.” Honors societies tend to commemorate one’s GPA rather than a unique skill set. Smiseck continued, “I want to know what you have experienced, what can you do, and how can you translate into the position I have.”
Employable skills are best demonstrated through internships or research experience rather than a mile long list of acknowledgements for one’s academic capabilities; after all, as Smiseck explained, employers want to see that you have experience in a field “so they don’t have to train you up.”
Though some academic honoraries do go so far as to putting their members to work. Mortar Board, advised by Angela Fairbanks, requires members to complete ten hours of service to wear the Mortar Board sash at commencement. But does anything more than a sash come with ten hours of service? Apparently so–Fairbanks stated that aside from national recognition of academic achievement, “Mortar Board offers discounts such as car insurance for their members,” as well as leadership opportunities, and scholarship and fellowship opportunities.
Carol Preston Nickoson, director of fraternity and sorority life, detailed similar benefits for the Order of Omega and Gamma Sigma Alpha, honoraries for fraternity and sorority members. Nickoson explained, “In the fraternal world, these are the two honoraries that are most recognized,” and academic success is not the only criteria for members. Adding an extra element of exclusivity, prospective members must demonstrate “extensive leadership involvement on- and off-campus and within the fraternal organization. Only 3 percent of fraternity/sorority members can join each year,” Nickoson added.
However, Smiseck still advises that students appeal to an employer’s need for certain skills. She suggests that on a resume, “talk about the service rather than the honorary,” and similarly, describe the leadership roles served rather than being acknowledged for them.
Professor of Political Science James Allan, also the interim director of the Honors program, outlined the pros of working to join the University Honors Program. While not an “honors society,” to graduate with university honors indicates a student’s scholarship not just through their GPA, but that they have “gone above and beyond what’s required for general graduation.” Given the increased work load of honors students (two honors seminars and a senior thesis), Allan states that an honors diploma “shows you’re a committed scholar, taking more challenging courses. It says something about your level of responsibility and academic commitment… It’s more than just being a smart student.”
There’s also the added bonus of familiarity; as for an honors program or honors college, “People are more aware of it—most colleges and universities have it,” Allan said. Graduating with honors is not a foreign achievement, and many institutions of higher education will be aware of the weight they carry. Not to mention, membership is free. Allan advises that students “do [their] homework before sending the check,” addressing the fees that many honors societies ask for to secure membership.
The “collect them all!” attitude towards joining academic honoraries seems a sure fire way to increase an application’s appeal; however, as Allan recommends, researching the societies for their values and notability before tacking them on to the “Honors and Awards” section is worth a student’s time. Not all of them may be worth an honorable mention.