Students victimized by honor society scam letters
January 28, 2013
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
After conquering final exams last fall, you return to campus a triumphant academic victor of excellence. Suddenly, both your mailbox and email inbox are bursting with invitations from various honors societies. While gold calligraphy and greek letters ooze legitimacy, remain cautious. The influx of academic recognition is certainly flattering, but students should conduct some research before they open up their wallets.
All honors societies are definitely not created equal. Verification remains the critical first step for students considering such organizations. English senior Allison Pierce is both president of Mortar Board Honor Society and Treasurer of the San Diego State Honors Council.
Pierce explains how the SDSU Honors Council includes five interdisciplinary honor societies, along with two affiliated honors organizations (see graphic).
“Those are the seven groups that are endorsed and housed within the Division of Undergraduate Studies and are considered to be the only legitimate honor societies on campus,” Pierce said.
Some students, such as accounting junior Robert Preston, remain justifiably pessimistic about signing up for these clubs.
Preston says he questions the organizations’ merit because of “the fees and a lack of a requirement for attendance.”
Savvy students often assume any group asking for money upfront is a scam. However, the multidisciplinary societies that many consider reputable do require a one-time entrance fee of about $40. Students are still considered lifetime members of the societies even if they never attend meetings or functions.
Preston said this approach is highly superficial.
“I’ve received a letter from one society for the last few years, but I’m wondering how exclusive it is, and how credible,” Preston said. “It just seems like paying for a title or something to put on your resume.”
While that extra line on the resume can be aesthetically pleasing, membership alone is rarely enough to dazzle employers. Communication junior Stephanie Myers is a member of three different honors societies and says involvement will set her apart from her peers. She adds that the honors society for communication majors, Lambda Pi Eta, is unique because she can learn from guest speakers and interact with like-minded students who share similar professional goals.
“It is imperative to separate yourself from other job applicants,” Myers said. “One of those methods is to join honors societies and invest your time in them by taking a leadership position or showing involvement.”
Former Mortar Board advisor Jane Smith adds good academic standing is not enough.
“These days, it is almost as important, if not more important, that you have the leadership and service because businesses and universities for graduate school are looking for students who are well-rounded,” Smith said.
SDSU acknowledges those students who have balanced academics, leadership and community involvement. For example, graduating students who are active members of the five interdisciplinary honor societies receive the highly prestigious Henry L. Janssen Honors Council award, along with special recognition from the university.
Where does that leave the honors societies that are not part of the special seven? There is middle ground; lacking recognition from SDSU does not immediately constitute fraud. Some societies are not a ploy to take your money—they just have lower GPA requirements. One example is Sigma Alpha Lambda, which functions on campus but isn’t officially recognized by the university.
Myers, who joined Sigma Alpha Lambda during her sophomore year, said it’s subjective whether or not someone considers Sigma Alpha Lambda an honors society.
“If the student likes the organization and its core values, then, yes, join it,” Pierce said. “But be knowledgeable that the organization is not part of the SDSU Honors Council and therefore, may not hold the same reputation or legitimacy that the Honors Council societies do.”
Unfortunately, at the opposite end of the spectrum, plenty of scammers are out there waiting to take advantage of students.
“The telltale sign is generally when an email is asking a student ‘to partake in the inception of a brand new honor society on campus,’” Pierson said. “These emails are, in my experience, 100 percent fake. I have received so many of these emails and not one of them has ever come to fruition on the SDSU campus.”
Furthermore, make sure an organization has an active chapter on campus. Call the officers, ask academic advisers and never give out personal information without caution. While all the societies clamor for a smart cookie like you, be sure you’re smart enough to do the appropriate research first.