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Phi Beta Kappa FAQs

How do I earn membership in Phi Beta Kappa?

One must be elected from one of the more than 280 chapters on American campuses. Most chapters, such as that at Ohio University, elect only undergraduates. The OHIO chapter screens the DARS reports of potential candidates during spring semester of each year. See requirements.

What are the benefits of joining Phi Beta Kappa?

Although Phi Beta Kappa is the most well known of all honors organizations, membership is not just a matter of self esteem, an item for a resume, or a mention in job interviews. It implies a lifelong commitment to using one's learning for the benefit of others. It also represents membership in a community of scholars, "a fellowship of learners rather than of the learned."

How do participate in Phi Beta Kappa?

By election to membership, one is invited to participate in the life of the chapter, including lectures by PBK visiting scholars, attendance at annual meetings, and the welcome of new initiates at the annual spring initiation. After graduation, one can participate in two ways: membership in a college chapter for those who remain in academia and membership in an association in major cities. There are currently 61 associations in cities such as Cleveland, New York, and Chicago. Locate chapters and associations.

What does the national Phi Beta Kappa Society do?

The national organization sponsors the Visiting Scholar program to bring prominent scholars to college campuses; maintains a complementary list of speakers for the Fellows Lectureship program; publishes The American Scholar, a highly regarded journal in the liberal arts, as well as The Key Reporter, a newsletter for all members; awards research scholarships at the Ph.D. level in Classics and French; works on joint projects with the High School National Honor Society; participates in honoring Presidential Scholars; honors scholarship through a series of awards, including the Award for Distinguished Service in the Humanities, the Sidney Hook Memorial Award, and Phi Beta Kappa book awards; and generally works for greater recognition of the importance of the liberal arts and sciences in today's society. The national chapter is also an affiliate of the American Council of Learned Societies, the only college honors organization to be affiliated. Visit the Phi Beta Kappa website for a more complete list of national activities.

What does the Lambda of Ohio Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa do?

The OHIO campus organization recognizes academic excellence and encourages the intellectual life of the campus by hosting a fall reception honoring sophomores in HTC and the College of Arts & Sciences who achieved academic success during their freshman year, sponsoring the visit of a nationally recognized scholar to campus to give a public lecture and to meet with various classes, electing juniors and seniors to membership, and awarding the Thomas M. Wolfe Phi Beta Kappa awards to the third and fourth-year initiates with the highest GPA.

What is the significance of the letters, Phi Beta Kappa?

The Greek initials stand for Philosophia Biou Kubernetes, the motto of the Society, "Love of learning is the guide of life."

What is the PBK "Key"?

The "key" is a gold medallion wore by members of the Society as an emblem of the Society.

The key is engraved on the obverse with the image of a pointing finger, three stars, and the Greek letters from which the society takes its name. The stars are said today to represent the ambition of young scholars and the three distinguishing principles of the Society: friendship, morality, and learning. On the reverse are found the initials "SP" in script, which stand for the Latin words Societas Philosophiae, or "Philosophical Society". The name of the member and the school and date of initiation is engraved on the key. 

Keys may be purchased from the Society's jeweler, Hand and Hammer. Only members of Phi Beta Kappa are permitted to wear the emblem. (Purchase of the key is optional for members, but many desire a visible symbol of their membership.)