On the international website for the Golden Key International Honour Society, a statement reads: ?Join Golden Key and find your home away from home. Gain access to hundreds of scholarships, jobs, internships, and personal development and service opportunities, and make connections that will last a lifetime!?
You might be familiar with the group, trademarked by their innocuous looking envelopes that arrive in the mailbox after a semester ends and results are tallied.
Golden Key International is the ?world?s largest collegiate honour society? who offer memberships to an ?elite? group of tertiary educated students in countries like Australia, South Africa and the USA. Elite status is determined by a student?s GPA? if they fall in the top 15% of the cohort, an offer to join Golden Key is sent out to an address, provided by the student?s university.
Founded in 1977 at Georgia State University by Jim Lewis, the society started out as an American only organisation but expanded to Australia in 1993 when places like the University of Sydney, Queensland and RMIT joined. Globally, Golden Key touts there are over 400 active chapters as of 2016.
Membership aims to reward students for their academic excellence by offering rewards and benefits. Part of Golden Key?s success is due to immense monetary support from high-profile corporate sponsors such as Bank of America, GEICO Insurance and Lenovo. Members are offered incentives for their participation from these companies which include being sent ?exclusive? promotional and advertorial materials.
To join Golden Key isn?t free. In Australia, a ?one-time induction fee? of $100 is required before membership is awarded. $100 is a fair amount for your average uni student living away from home? perhaps unfunded by family, juggling study, work and a social life. Paying rent or a board fee. The problem is, Golden Key isn?t particularly transparent about where this sum is going and who it benefits? or indeed why such a large, non-refundable donation is necessary for an organisation that records profits in the millions.
Golden Key is no stranger to controversy. A number of student media publications including Honi Soit, the University of Sydney?s newspaper, have conducted investigations into questionable business operations and practices. These include deals between certain universities such as the Australian National University and Golden Key chapters to sell student details and data, allegedly without consent, to the society?s corporate sponsors.
University forums, Reddit, Tumblr and social media are also abundant of criticism from past and former students who either considered or became members of the society. Common themes include signing up was a waste of money and the annoyance of being hassled by Golden Key and related sponsors.
Here?s a sample of comments surfacing the web:
?I?ve been a member for 20 years. I?ve never gone to a single event or been involved with anything they?ve done. To this day I still don?t know what they do. I unsubscribed from the newsletter years ago?- Olivia Duval, Facebook.
I?m a member, I think you get it for life? Never received any benefit. I think I listed it on my CV for a couple of years out of Uni but other than that? not worth it, although I think they did send me a little pin that made me feel all special and elitist.? Reddit user, 2015
And in response to that one:
You got a pin?? Damn. All I got was spam.
Don?t join. It?s a scam. I joined, and aside from the one time fee, they never did anything but STILL send emails and letters about lowering my non-existent Geico insurance because I?m a member?my university have employees that act as Golden Key Advisors ?on campus?, but I could never find their office.? Reddit user, 2015
Don?t join, don?t put it on your CV. I must admit that I giggle when I see it on someone?s resume.? Sasha Jensen, Essential Baby Forum, 2013
I?m a member. Wishes I spent my $90 or so on a new dress. Useless. Beyond Useless. It?s an exit nudge thing to have on your resume. Keep your money? Essential Baby forum user, 2013
The claim unpacked:
- Scholarships: Thousands of dollars worth of bursaries are on offer to students who both qualify and apply. Many ask for US applicants only so exclude Australian members
- Jobs and internships: Golden Key surmises there are plenty of networking opportunities for students but the only evidence of this is an offer to join a ?Virtual Grad School Fair? online. This was held on March 22nd 2017 with no information about when the next opportunity will be provided. The website also encourages students to ?keep their membership profiles up-to-date? and join external groups like The Intern Group for ?exclusive? offers
- Personal development and service opportunities: Golden Key is big on helping others in the community. In 2014, the society launched ?SPARK a Change?? an initiative aiming to improve education and literacy levels of ?at-risk children? around the world. There is some evidence to support this with RMIT?s chapter visiting kids in housing commission flats across Melbourne to read and assist with homework. Other chapters have raised money through bake sales to donate to the cause and at Golden Key?s heartland of Georgia, USA, a ?Golden Key Kiddos Camp? was held in early 2016 for disadvantaged children.
So, if you do decide to join a Golden Key chapter in Australia, will you really gain access to hundreds of scholarships, jobs, internships, and personal development and service opportunities?
The reality is Golden Key is no different from any other society, group or collective on campus. Aside from their self-determined ?elite? status, the organisation offers similar opportunities for student networking and participation in charitable activities. Students should be aware they can probably obtain the same benefits without paying $100 to a global society propped up by millions of dollars in donations from corporate sponsors.
Ultimately, your experience with Golden Key? should you choose to become a member? is determined by the chapter you?ve been invited to join. It does appear that students in America where Golden Key?s support is most significant experience more opportunity than those in Australia. Some chapters are more active and committed to upholding the society?s marketing strategies and mottos more than others and without direct experience with the organisation, it is difficult to determine whether or not membership to Golden Key really does pay off in the future ? so we?re deeming this claim
NOT ALWAYS THE CASE