Phi Beta Kappa

Apparently honor societies like Phi Beta Kappa invite the top students in a college class to join – perhaps the top 10%.

My question is this: How does the Phi Beta Kappa organization learn who the top students are? Don’t students need to give permission to have their transcripts released? Or do colleges make an exception for honor societies?

I don’t believe there is anything to prohibit colleges from releasing overal GPA scores. You regularly see the “Dean’s List” or something similar in the newspapers, listing the GPA of the top students.

As I understand it (and my understanding may be incomplete, or even wrong), since each individual Phi Beta Kappa chapter has a formal affiliation with the University, the student just signs a blanket release at registration allowing their grades to be shared with the chapter.


The university already had the information - invitations were sent by the chapter President, who is on the faculty anyway. Nobody outside the university was required to approve it or anything. I don’t think there is any expectation of privacy within the university administration for these purposes (or else, indeed, how would Dean’s List and Degrees with Distinction ever be awarded?).

In the case of Phi Beta Kappa, there are additional restrictions beyond being top 10% at the school, 1% nationally or whatever - you had to have taken a broad enough range of classes, and so on. All of this was, as far as we were told, evaluated by the university before making the invitations.

DB, Phi Beta Kappa

I’ve served on the selection committee at my university. We had not only lists of students by GPA, but each student’s transcript. There are breadth requirements as well as specific types of courses you need to have taken (e.g., a foreign language), and we also examined GPA in the major, so we needed to be able to check all those things. As faculty members and as members of the selection committee, it was determined we had the right to see the transcripts. (In general, faculty members should see only those transcripts they need to, like those of the students they advise.)

There is also a morals clause, but we were not allowed to examine students’ disciplinary records. The Dean of Students would simply give us a yes or no to the question as to whether each student passed that requirement or not.

Topologist, ΦΒΚ (the selection committee consists of faculty members of the local chapter)

It’s not the top 10%. “No more than 10 percent of the candidates for degrees in liberal arts and sciences are elected.” That’s from the PBK web site. Emphasis mine.

Also from the PBK site, “To be eligible for election, students must have pursued a broad program of study in the liberal arts and sciences and met other academic criteria as required by the electing chapter.”

I point this out because I was a graduate of the College of Creative Arts of my university, and I was not eligible for Phi Beta Kappa. It kinda pissed me off at the time (only because my older sister, with whom I was extremely competitive, was elected to be in PBK at the same university).

Since I diddled around for two years before declaring a fine arts major, I had a pretty broad general education – two years of Latin, history and philosophy classes out the wazoo. OK, no more than the minimum science and math to satisfy gen ed requirements – but I can guarantee my sister took no more than I did.

Nonetheless, since my degree was not from the College of Arts and Sciences, it didn’t matter. In contrast, when I worked for a liberal arts college, every graduate was eligible for PBK – even the ones in fine arts majors. But every graduate earned a B.A.

I was invited to Phi Beta Kappa while I was in college, but at the time I’d never heard of the organization. No one ever told me what it was about, so I stuffed the fancy envelope in a drawer with all the other spam invites you get in college.

I mean, really, how was I supposed to know? Sure, I’d heard of the Dean’s List and made it every single year I was in school. I was in every single honors program that they had other than Phi Beta Kappa.

Now I regret forgetting about it! No way to retroactively get in, eh?

I’m not a Phi Beta Kappa (who needs those elitist snobs, anyway? ;)), but I am a Phi Kappa Phi, which is another honor society.

At my uni, the top 7.5% of the junior class and top 10% of the senior class were invited to join. The chapter also considered leadership and extracurricular activities, and a few other criteria which escape me at the moment.

The uni already had this information; student activities are part of their records, since all recognized clubs and organizations keep records of their officers. Finding the top students by GPA is simply pulling a report from a database.


Probably not, but why not ask 'em? E-mail them at and see what they say. They may have a record of having invited you.

That’s what I remembered. I got what I think was the equivalent from the College of Engineering.

That would probably be Tau Beta Pi.

And, as former Eta Kappa Nu (EE version) president. I can confirm the above information. I was supplied with a list in decending GPA order, and total class number (we took the top 5%) by the dean of the school of engineering.