What does The Phi Beta Kappa Society do?
For 245 years, the Phi Beta Kappa Society has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. The Society’s distinctive emblem, a golden key, is widely recognized as a symbol of academic achievement. Through the time-honored process of granting charters to the institutions that shelter Phi Beta Kappa chapters, the Society reaffirms that mission. The chapters and their community counterparts, the associations, work with the national office to sustain a variety of programs that honor and champion liberal arts scholarship. These activities, whether local or national, provide support in the form of scholarships, lectureships, book and essay awards, summer institutes for teachers, and funds for visiting scholars. The Key Reporter is the Society’s quarterly newsletter. The Society’s respected journal, The American Scholar, has been published quarterly, for general circulation, since 1932. Widely recognized as an important forum in American intellectual life, the journal offers articles and essays on a range of literary, artistic, and scientific subjects. Credited by many for the current revival of the essay, The American Scholar has garnered an exceptional number of awards in that genre. An offschoot is the podcast, SmartyPants, which hosts interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs.
Who are some famous members of Phi Beta Kappa?
Famous Phi Beta Kappa members include but are not limited to:
- 17 U.S. Presidents including Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., and Theodore Roosevelt
- 42 current and former U.S. Supreme Court Justices including Jon Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, and poet
- Alexander Graham Bell, inventor, engineer and innovator
- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, author, journalist & comic book writer
- Francis Ford Coppola, film director
- Rivers Cuomo, American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer
- W.E.B. Debois, civil rights activist and author
- Rita Dove, former U.S. poet laureate
- Amanda Gormon, poet
- Mazie Hirono, U.S. Senator
- Helen Keller, author, political activist, and lecturer
- Peyton Manning, NFL Quarterback
- Wes Moore, author
- Ellen Ochoa, engineer and Astronaut
- Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine
- Kerry Washington, actor and activist
How do I apply for Phi Beta Kappa?
Candidates are nominated for election to by their chapters and cannot apply for membership. Students interested in Phi Beta Kappa are encouraged to contact a chapter officer early in their academic careers for guidance on requirements and curriculum. Generally, election to membership occurs at the completion of undergraduate study. Learn about eligibility for election
Do I need recommendations for election?
No, election is basely solely on academic achievement and progress toward the undergraduate degree.
How many members are there?
Nationally, there are more than 600,000 that come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 19 current faculty and staff are members, 7 faculty emerti, and each year, approximately 20-25 (primarily senior) students are elected. Over 550 St. Mary’s College alumni are Phi Beta Kappa members.
How do I know if I’m elected?
You will receive a letter from the president of the chapter within a week of your election in February.
We know students often receive invitations to join numerous honor societies. USA Today quoted PBK Secretary/CEO Fred Lawrence in an article that discusses how students can distinguish among honor societies. As an article in U.S. News & World Report explains, Phi Beta Kappa Membership is known in the United States as an exclusive mark of academic distinction, and is widely recognized as a mark of excellence by graduate schools and future employers. Joining Phi Beta Kappa adds your name to an extended list of notable members and gives you access to a wide network.
It is an honor extended only to the best students. It is a crowning jewel on your undergraduate résumé.