1. Honor roll and/or high honor roll. Of course, your student should be trying to earn the highest possible GPA, since grades are the most important factor in admissions decisions. This behavior will automatically earn honor or high honor roll designation for multiple marking periods.
2. National Honor Society. NHS is an organization consisting of individual high school chapters throughout the United States and Canada. Selection is based on four criteria: scholarship, leadership, service, character. Every high school chapter sets its own specific standards, but it typically requires a benchmark level GPA, documented community service hours, demonstration of leadership roles, and teacher recommendations. Typically students are inducted in spring of the junior year; I recommend that sophomores find out who the high school chapter’s faculty adviser is and ask for an application to learn what is required and when. Most colleges expect that strong students in a high school that has an NHS chapter will be members, so it is advisable to suggest advanced planning for NHS. (Incidentally, National Honor Society is not to be confused with National Society of High School Scholars.)
3. The “Other” National Honor Societies. The Cum Laude Society honors scholastic achievement at the high school level similar to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, which honors achievements at the university level. Each local high school chapter may elect up to 20% of the members of the senior class, half at the end of junior year or at any time during senior year and the remainder at the end of senior year. Unfortunately, some members will not be elected in time to register the honor on college applications. Subject-specific honor societies include: Spanish (Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica), French (Société Honoraire de Français), German(Delta Phi Alpha), Math (Mu Alpha Theta), Science, Art, Music (Tri-M), Speech & Debate, Journalism(Quill & Scroll), and Theater (International Thespian Society). Urge your student to find out if there are chapters in your high school, and what is required to be accepted.
4. Subject-specific exams. In areas of academic strength, encourage your student to participate in subject-specific exams or competitions; your student can contact his or her subject teacher to find out how to participate, or check out the official web site of the sponsoring organization. Such exams include (to name a few): National Latin Exam, National French Contest (Le Grand Concours), National Spanish Exam, American Mathematics Competitions, and Science Olympiad.
5. National Merit Scholarship. In October of junior year, your student will take the PSAT-NMSQT in school. He or she will have taken the PSAT once before, as a sophomore, and may or may not have prepared for the 10th grade exam sitting. This test date counts, not with the colleges, but for the National Merit Scholarship Program, a competition for recognition and university scholarships administered by the non-profit National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). Of the 1.5 million NMSP entrants, about 50,000 qualify for recognition. More than two-thirds of qualifiers receive Letters of Commendation (through the high school in September of senior year); a third of the 50,000 become Semifinalists, 94% of whom go on to become Finalists. Over half the Finalists are selected for merit scholarships. I recommend that juniors prepare for the PSAT with a tutor or, at minimum, with a test prep book, so as to perform at least well enough to earn a Letter of Commendation, and maybe even higher.
6. AP Scholar Awards. The College Board recognizes strong performers on its AP (Advanced Placement) exams. Each winner receives a certificate, acknowledged on AP score reports sent to colleges after the award has been conferred. Awards are added to students’ online score reports in late August; test-takers are notified by email if they have earned an award, with certificates sent by mail in September. The College Board AP web page lists the criteria for AP Scholar award levels.