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Phi Beta Kappa
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Merits of Membership
  • The First Honor Society Formed in the United States in 1776
  • The Most Prestigious Undergraduate Honor Society
  • Recognized Across All Academic Disciplines as a Mark of Excellence and Academic Distinction
  • Symbol of Integrity and Scholarly Achievement in the Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Mentioned in Biographical Sketches of the Most Accomplished Americans

Phi Beta Kappa is both the oldest and the most prestigious undergraduate honor society in the country. Only 10 percent of colleges in the United States have earned the right to have chapters, and just over 1 percent of all college seniors are elected each year. To be elected, a student must have more than a high grade point average. Chapter members review the academic records of the top 10 percent of the class, to insure that most credits are earned in the liberal arts and sciences, in a broad array of subjects, and at an advanced level.

Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, in 1776, as a society to preserve academic freedom and liberal arts education. The Greek initials stand for the motto Philosophia Biou Kybernetes: "Love of wisdom (is) the (helmsman) guide of life." It has spawned dozens of imitators that cater to students in specific departments or to any high achiever on campus. However, membership in Phi Beta Kappa is universally recognized across all academic disciplines as a mark of excellence and academic distinction.

The Phi Beta Kappa key and those who wear it, whether they be presidents, supreme court justices, diplomats, scientists, or educators, proclaim a centuries-old commitment to the Society's time-honored principles of friendship, morality, and learning. It is an enduring symbol of integrity and scholarly achievement in the liberal arts and sciences that will last long after memories of college life and other academic honors have faded.

Unlike other honor societies affiliated with undergraduate schools, Phi Beta Kappa is usually the first honor society mentioned in the biographical sketches of the most accomplished Americans after their graduation from college. As an example, when Governor Hodges gave the USC Commencement address in May, 1999, his Phi Beta Kappa membership was the only undergraduate honor mentioned by President Palms in his introduction.

There are a number of meaningful and worthwhile honor societies on campus that students will receive invitations to join during their college careers. Each one deserves serious consideration. However, an invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa is an honor on a completely different tier. Acceptance of membership in Phi Beta Kappa ensures lifelong recognition of integrity, scholarly achievement, and excellence. No other undergraduate academic honor can confer such distinction.

Several Well-Known National and Local Members of Phi Beta Kappa
Authors Inventors U.S. Presidents South Carolinians Public Servants
  • Samuel Clemens
  • Michael Crichton
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Henry W. Longfellow
  • James Mitchener
  • John Updike
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Cyrus McCormick
  • Samuel Morse
  • Eli Whitney
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Chester A. Arthur
  • George H. W. Bush
  • William J. Clinton
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • William Howard Taft
  • Caroline McKissick Dial
  • Butler Derrick
  • Donald J. Greiner
  • James H. Hodges
  • William C. Hubbard
  • Bob Inglis
  • Rudy Mancke
  • John M. Palms
  • John Spratt
  • Jean H. Toal
  • John C. Calhoun
  • Elizabeth Dole
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Nelson Rockefeller
  • Pat Schroeder


Selection Criteria Phi Beta Kappa is a national honor society recognizing outstanding academic achievement in the liberal arts and sciences. Each year the University of South Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa initiates new undergraduate members into the society.

Each year, all juniors and seniors who have successfully completed at least 75 academic hours are automatically considered for membership. There is no application process. At the start of each spring semester, the campus Chapter's Executive Council assesses student qualifications as provided in grade reports from USC's Office of the Registrar.

Each transcript must also meet the following standards:

Hours Complete in Course GPR
USC and Total
Liberal Hours Maximum Number of Allowable Incompletes
not Made Up
75-89 3.90 55 0
90+ 3.85 75 1
  • A minimum of 45 credit hours must have been earned in class on the Columbia campus. No student who has received a grade of F at any college or university may be considered for membership. At the end of the review process, the Chapter sends letters to qualified students offering admission to the society. The Chapter uses the local address on file with the registrar's office for this mailing. Students who respond to the invitation, complete a data sheet, and participate in an initiation ceremony become members of Phi Beta Kappa.
  • Approximately 75 percent of a student's academic work must be considered "liberal", i.e., emphasizing conceptual rather than applied material. Most courses in the traditional humanities, social science, science, or mathematics curricula are considered liberal. Applied or professional curricula are understood to include courses intended primarily to develop skills or vocational techniques, but they may have some "liberal" courses also. A list of the courses that meet this requirement for Phi Beta Kappa is compiled and maintained by the Chapter for use in the selection process.

Of course, a student should plan his or her college career with primary attention to the requirements of his or her major, not the requirements of a particular honor society.


Graduation Information USC students who are members of PBK and would like to have their membership noted during graduation ceremonies may wear the PBK key on the University's honor stole or they may purchase a pink and blue honor cord, shown below, from the PBK President.

PBK bink and blue honor code


Questions? Please contact us with any questions or comments about the Phi Beta Kappa at USC:

Patsy Yarborough
Office of the Provost
Email: yarborop@mailbox.sc.edu

Ed Black
Chair, Phi Beta Kappa Executive Council
Email: blacke@mailbox.sc.edu