Five students at the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, founded The Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1776, during the American Revolution.
For more than two and a quarter centuries, the Society has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. Phi Beta Kappa (ΦΒΚ) stands for Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης in Greek and Philosophia Biou Cybernētēs in Latin, which means "Love of learning is the guide of life," the motto of the Society. As they say at the PBK national headquarters, though laptops have replaced quill pens, these ideas, symbolized on Phi Beta Kappa's distinctive gold key, still lay the foundations of personal freedom, scientific inquiry, liberty of conscience, and creative endeavor.
Today, the Phi Beta Kappa Society celebrates and advocates excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Phi Beta Kappa chapters invite for induction the most outstanding arts and sciences students at 286 leading U.S. colleges and universities. The Society sponsors activities to advance the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences in higher education and in society at large. A network of associations provides Phi Beta Kappa members opportunities to stay connected and involved in their own communities.
Each year, about one college senior in a hundred, nationwide, is invited to join The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Only about 10 percent of the nation's institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. And only about 10 percent of the arts and sciences graduates of these distinguished institutions are invited to join The Phi Beta Kappa Society which makes the invitation process one of the most selective in the nation. The ideal Phi Beta Kappa member has demonstrated intellectual integrity, inclusivity and tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests.
Since the Society's founding in 1776, 17 U.S. Presidents, 40 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and more than 130 Nobel Laureates have been inducted as members, along with countless authors, diplomats, athletes, researchers, actors, and business leaders. Famous or not, all of our members have one thing in common—their rigorous pursuit of excellence in the arts and sciences.
At the time of induction into The Phi Beta Kappa Society, one joins the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society for life. Phi Beta Kappa membership shows commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, and to freedom of inquiry and expression—and it provides a competitive edge in the marketplace. Potential employers regularly contact The Phi Beta Kappa Society's national office to confirm the membership of job seekers who have listed Phi Beta Kappa among their credentials.
After graduation, members may join a Phi Beta Kappa alumni association in their community. Associations bring together members of all ages, fostering friendship and lifelong learning through social, cultural, and educational programs, and service projects. Many associations raise money for scholarships to perpetuate the legacy of The Phi Beta Kappa Society. Members also have exclusive networking opportunities and have access to a lifetime subscription to The Key Reporter and many other member benefits.