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Phi Beta Kappa is kind of a big deal. Here’s how to get in

University of the Pacific professor talks with students as they're being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

f you want to impress your future employers or graduate programs, consider becoming a member of the once-secret society Phi Beta Kappa.    

What is Phi Beta Kappa?

Although no longer shrouded in mystery, PBK remains the United States’ oldest and most prestigious academic honor society. It champions education in the arts and sciences, fosters freedom of thought and recognizes academic excellence.   

Only 10% of U.S. colleges and universities have PBK chapters and University of the Pacific is one of them. In 2006, after completing the society’s extensive vetting process which underscored the quality of the university’s programs, Pacific was chosen to host Phi Beta Kappa’s Chi Chapter of California. “It’s really a mark of distinction for College of the Pacific, the liberal arts and sciences core of our university,” said Chris Goff, director of general education, who served as Pacific’s PBK chapter president from 2019 to 2024.  

Membership in PBK means you are part of an elite organization that includes such famous high achievers as presidents Bill Clinton and Franklin Roosevelt, advocate Helen Keller, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, entrepreneur Jeff Bezos and actor Glenn Close, to name just a few. Seventeen American presidents, 40 Supreme Court justices and over 140 Nobel laureates have been counted in the ranks of Phi Beta Kappa since its founding in 1776. 

How to get into Phi Beta Kappa 

While you don’t apply for membership, there are things you can do to become eligible for an invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa.  

Here are the Phi Beta Kappa qualifications:  

  • Junior or senior standing    
  • GPA of at least 3.7 for seniors or 3.9 for juniors  
  • Pass a college-level pre-calculus course   
  • Complete four semesters of a college-level foreign language or its equivalent  
  • Fulfill the literature course requirement  

PBK member Sarah Hess ’21 believes there’s a huge advantage in starting to think about joining the society as early as your freshman year. 

“Map out your four-year plan,” she said. “Anybody can really set their mind to it at the beginning and work toward that goal by their junior or senior year. It’s a great opportunity; a really amazing society with a lot of benefits.”  

Phi Beta Kappa advantages

Since your membership in Phi Beta Kappa is for life, its advantages will go far beyond your college years:  

  • You will have a competitive edge in the graduate school or job market, eligibility for PBK scholarships and lifelong access to a network of alumni across the country.   
    “Being part of such an amazing society will open doors for you,” said Hess. “It stands out on resumes to employers because it shows that kind of dedication to your studies and your school. It shows not only academic dedication and excellence but also an interest in a wide range of subjects, which I think is unique.” 
  • You will be able to exchange the society’s “secret” handshake with such well-known Pacifican PBK members as writer Matt de la Pena ’96, lawyer and counsel to tribal governments Little Fawn Boland ’98 or novelist Suzanne Rindell ’03.   
  • Phi Beta Kappa members—whether current students or not—can also nominate their professors for the society’s prestigious Teaching Excellence Award.  
    Five Pacific professors have received the award: Laura Gutierrez (history) in 2022, Courtney Lehmann (English) and Bill Swagerty (history) in 2021, Dari Sylvester (political science) in 2014 and Cynthia Ostberg (political science) in 2012. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Phi Beta Kappa, you can contact Chi Chapter of California President Anthony Dutoi at

4 thoughts on “Phi Beta Kappa is kind of a big deal. Here’s how to get in”

  1. Can I be an online student at Northern Arizona University studying Elementary Education and be considered for Phi Beta Kappa?

    1. You’d need to check whether Northern Arizona University has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and then see if online students with your major are eligible.

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