Why Does Phi Beta Kappa Matter?

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and one of the most prestigious academic honor societies in the United States. Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa now has chapters at 286 colleges and universities (see the list of Phi Beta Kappa chapters). A college is awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa only after rigorous evaluation of the school’s strengths in the liberal arts and sciences. The advantages of attending a college with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and eventually earning membership are many:

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Phi Beta Kappa Colleges are Well Respected

Phi Beta Kappa Induction Ceremony at Elmira College
Phi Beta Kappa Induction Ceremony at Elmira College. Elmira College / Flickr
Only 10 percent of colleges nationwide have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and the existence of a chapter is a clear sign that the school has high quality and rigorous programs in the liberal arts and sciences.

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Membership is Highly Selective

At colleges with a chapter, roughly 10% of students join Phi Beta Kappa. An invitation is extended only if a student has a high GPA and proven depth and breadth of study in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. Typically to be admitted, a student must have a grade point average around an A- or higher, foreign language expertise beyond the introductory level, and a breadth of study that goes beyond a single major (for example, a minor, double major, or significant coursework beyond minimum requirements. Members also need to pass a character check, and students with disciplinary infractions at their college will often be denied membership. Thus, being able to list Phi Beta Kappa on a resume reflects a high level of academic achievement.

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The Star Factor

Membership in Phi Beta Kappa means you’re part of the same organization as famous high-achievers like Condoleezza Rice, Tom Brokaw, Jeff Bezos, Susan Sontag, Glenn Close, George Stephanopoulos and Bill Clinton. The Phi Beta Kappa website notes that 17 U.S. Presidents, 39 Supreme Court Justices, and over 130 Nobel Laureates have been members of Phi Beta Kappa.

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For college students and recent graduates, the networking potential of Phi Beta Kappa shouldn’t be underestimated. With over 500,000 members nationwide, Phi Beta Kappa membership connects you to successful and intelligent people throughout the country. Also, many communities have Phi Beta Kappa associations that will bring you into contact with people of varying ages and backgrounds. Since your membership in Phi Beta Kappa is for life, the advantages of membership go well beyond your college years and first job.

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PBK Supports the Liberal Arts and Sciences

Phi Beta Kappa sponsors numerous activities and awards to support the liberal arts and sciences. Membership dues and gifts to Phi Beta Kappa are used to host lectureships, scholarships and service awards that champion excellence in the humanities, social sciences and sciences. So while Phi Beta Kappa can provide many perks for you, membership is also supporting the future of the liberal art and sciences in the country.

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On a More Superficial Note...

Members of Phi Beta Kappa also receive the honor society's distinctive blue and pink cords and a PBK key pin that you can use to help deck out your college graduation regalia.