National Honor Society (NHS) Essay Examples & Expert Advice
July 8, 2023
Every year, high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors write National Honor Society essays in the hopes of becoming a member. It’s certainly an admirable recognition. Joining the ranks means partaking in an interscholastic tradition alongside future movers and shakers. Past National Honor Society (NHS) members have consisted of Olympians, astronauts, senators, neurosurgeons, Nobel prize winners, Navy admirals, and more. Some of the more celebrity-famous NHS-ers include journalist Katie Couric, writer, and comedian Tina Fey, and poet Robert Warren Penn. Former first lady Michelle Obama, of course. Even Taylor Swift joined the NHS in high school. You can bet her songwriting skills came in handy for the National Honor Society essay. Intimidated? Don’t be. View our NHS essay example below as well as our more general advice for the National Honor Society essay.
Before composing your own NHS essay, you may want to ask yourself, “Why should I join NHS?” Your answer to this question will help determine if, and how, you should craft a relevant NHS essay.
The NHS in Brief
It all began with a high school principal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who founded the National Honor Society in 1921. Today, this hundred-and-two-year-old society boasts local chapters in all 50 U.S. states and territories. It also has chapters in American and international schools abroad. Membership, open to select high school students, can open doors to interesting service and leadership opportunities. In fact, service and leadership form the cornerstone of NHS.
The one million plus students who participate in the NHS yearly have service and leadership in common. That’s because the NHS requires demonstrated community service, and demonstrated leadership. It also requires a GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (though this number varies depending on the chapter) and demonstrated good character. You’ll want to check your local chapter’s specific guidelines when beginning the NHS application.
Other reasons to join the NHS include gaining access to the NHS network, an array of college planning tools, and the chance to apply for hefty scholarships. These perks naturally make for a competitive acceptance rate. So, the best way to make your application stand out involves crafting a stunning NHS essay. Here’s how.
Quick Tips for Drafting the National Honor Society Essay
1) Structure your NHS essay around the NHS Pillars: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. A high GPA acts as an indicator of your “scholarship”, or dedication to academia. This pillar must appear in your essay as well, in the form of impeccable writing skills. Demonstrate your service and leadership through the content of your essay. In other words, service and leadership form the action, or plot, of your essay. Finally, infuse your character throughout your essay, by showing how your behavior indicates your values and integrity.
2) Write from your heart, and make your NHS essay personal. The most memorable essays rely on a sincere writing voice and contain personal details. But note that by “personal,” I don’t mean you must share your deepest secrets. Rather, ground an event in your own experience by incorporating your emotions, thoughts, and sensations. This will make your essay unique to you.
3) Weave together a story; don’t make a list. As you tell your story, pull from your strongest experiences. Perhaps you have a handful of leadership and service roles. Pick only a few that say something about your interests and personality, and develop your story by threading these ideas together. While a list might look impressive, a story will come across as better crafted and more captivating. If, however, none of your service activities seem significant enough to single out and describe on their own, weave these activities together through a theme. For example, the theme could be how you overcame shyness to lead.
Quick Tips for Drafting the National Honor Society Essay, Continued
4) Mind your audience. In this case, your audience is your school’s faculty member who’s taken on the role of chapter adviser. You may want to meet with them ahead of time to let them know you’re applying. This initiative on your part will look impressive. Moreover, you can ask in person what they look for in an NHS essay. Certainly, they’ll want to know how you stand out from the other applicants. So, you’ll also want to keep your competition in mind. As with college application essays, the tone of your NHS essay should be polite, formal, and charismatic.
5) Brainstorm, draft, edit, and repeat. A National Honor Society essay isn’t written overnight. Once you have your initial ideas down on paper, return to the page for a round of editing. Ask yourself where you can expand and where you sound redundant. Look for common threads and themes to enhance. Create transition sentences between paragraphs. Revise your conclusion. Next, show your essay to someone you trust. Their feedback will indicate where your essay excels and where you need to improve.
NHS Essay Example
My grandmother, or Ma-Maw, was the kind of generous busybody who made six different pies for her granddaughters’ birthdays. She invited everyone on the block, so nothing went to waste. Once, when we both went to shovel up the last slice of pie, she laughed, and said, “noblesse oblige.” She often spoke French, a Louisiana French foreign yet familiar to me. I didn’t think to ask what she’d meant. Did she think I was noble? Was that why I got to scarf down the last of the cherry pie?
Ma-Maw died the summer before I entered high school. I missed her terribly, long after my parents sold her house. Receiving her redirected mail felt like a blow. So many newsletters from Friends of the New Orleans Public Library! Since I loved books as much as Ma-Maw, I opened these up. Inside, I read about a partnership program, Start the Adventure in Reading (STAIR). They needed in-person volunteers to tutor second- and third-graders in reading.
Before I knew it, I was cracking open vocabulary books twice a week with a kid named Harper. When I wasn’t tutoring, I was lesson planning, going over Harper’s writing journal, and scouring shelves for more early reader books. This got me thinking about literacy in New Orleans. 39% of high school students my age have the reading level of a 5th grader—or worse. Harper lived in a part of town that didn’t even have bookstores. Would she keep up her reading once the tutoring was over, despite the odds? I also thought about representation and accessibility. If Harper had more books about people like her, and if those books were all over the place, and easy to take home, would things change?
NHS Essay Example, Continued
Due to this newfound interest in advocating for literacy, I decided to build a Free Little Library (FLL). To do so, I needed help. That spring, I founded a school club, Reading the World, and convinced 8 members to join. Together, we dismantled one of Ma-Maw’s kitchen cabinets and incorporated other used materials to build an upcycled stand that could fit 20 books.
Next, we got in touch with the program Read for Color, which helps make BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other diverse and marginalized voices heard. I believe their initiative parallels our own, which is to provide a diversity of voices through language itself. Our FLL features books in Cajun French and Creole and works in translation. With permission, we installed the FLL outside Ma-Maw’s old home. For its inauguration, our club invited the local organizations Youth Empowerment Project, One Book One New Orleans, and Read in Color. We plan to collaborate with these groups next year.
Now a sophomore, I’ve continued literacy advocacy by volunteering at Alliance Française events. This has given me new ideas about how to run Reading the World. I’ve added monthly book club events. Furthermore, every club member tutors a STAIR student. Finally, we’ll visit local senior homes at Thanksgiving and Christmas and read to the residents.
Ma-Maw would be happy to hear I won the L’Union Française’s Prix d’Excellence this year. She’d be even more thrilled to see how I’ve shared her love of reading with my community. Now I understand noblesse oblige: if you believe you are someone of noble character, then you must act accordingly. This NHS motto was easy for Ma-Maw to follow. She gave everything and led by example. I plan to follow in her footsteps. It would be an immense honor to do so through the National Honor Society.
NHS Essay Example, Dissected
This National Honor Society essay succeeds for many reasons. First, the student structures her essay around the theme of language and literacy. (Perhaps she also captains her softball team and volunteers for the Red Cross. But the student has correctly judged that these elements would distract from her story.) Rather than list her achievements and service, the student builds every element into a journey. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It shows how the student evolved to be someone who wants to make a difference. The ending completes the story by circling back to the beginning, through the idea of “noblesse oblige.” The student also manages to state clearly her thesis: she deserves acceptance into the National Honor Society.
This student’s story also centers around an emotional current, that of the student’s grandmother. The reader wants to invest in the story more because of this emotional aspect. Literacy is clearly not a random activity, but a meaningful one for the student. Including a role model allows the student to avoid bragging by transferring her praise to her grandmother.
Finally, the tone of the essay is formal (“It would be an immense honor”). Meanwhile, the unique voice of the student comes through (“We both went to shovel up the last slice of pie”). She accurately cites the names of the organizations she’s involved with and uses specificity (such as her grandmother’s kitchen cabinets) to draw the reader in.
Finished Your National Honor Society Essay?
Hopefully, you found our NHS essay example to be helpful. Now, feel free to check out our list of academic contests for more ways to boost your academic profile.