Membership FAQ

What makes Phi Beta Kappa different from other honor societies?

PBK is the oldest, most prestigious academic honor society in the nation and is the unofficial grandparent of all the other "Greek letter" honor societies, including social fraternities and sororities.  Founded in 1776 as a secret political debating society, today PBK recognizes undergraduate academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Out of more than 4,000 American colleges and universities, only 283 have passed the rigorous scrutiny required to be allowed to charter a Chapter on their campuses.

The only PBK Chapter in the state of Hawaii belongs to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and its charter dates back over 60 years. For more information on PBK, please visit the national organization's web site at or have a look at the PBK Facebook page or contact a UHM Chapter officer (see Contact Us button at left).

Why should I be interested?

Again, PBK is the oldest and most prestigious academic honorary society in the nation. Membership will be a lifetime honor. PBK stands you in good stead on your résumé and graduate or professional school applications because it immediately tells your reader that your undergraduate study has been carefully vetted and has met the highest academic standards. Graduate and professional schools may grant application "points" for PBK; JABSOM here at U.H. does, for instance. As the University of Illinois Chapter puts it on its web site, knowledgeable "employers treat membership in PBK as the equivalent of a strong letter of recommendation from a trusted colleague."

On the continent, there are 61 regional PBK Associations of PBK members who have officially organized to foster friendship and learning in their communities, and they provide a means for members to continue their active affiliation with the Society after graduation. Association members network, sponsor social and intellectual events, and assist Chapters.

If you become a member, you will receive The Key Reporter free of charge for the remainder of your life; this is a quarterly newsletter devoted to intellectual issues, Society news, and book reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The national Society also offers graduate scholarships in different fields and sponsors visits by distinguished scholars in various fields to PBK Chapters nationwide; these scholars work specifically with undergraduates and deliver at least one public lecture during the campus visit.

How do I become a member of PBK?

You do not apply or submit letters of recommendation. The local Chapter finds you, based on a thorough and strictly confidential review of your academic record. This review is done annually in February and looks back to the previous Summer and Fall graduates as well as forward to the Spring graduates. If you qualify, you will receive a letter of invitation from the Alpha of Hawaii Chapter, as well as a follow-up phone call. If you ignore PBK's invitation, you may not come back at a later time and request membership.

What are the requirements for invitation to membership?

For students in their junior years, a 3.97 GPA (cumulative - that is, including transfer credits), at least 60 credits completed at Manoa and some evidence of  diversity of inquiry at the upper-division level.

For graduated students or students about to graduate, a 3.70 GPA (cumulative;  that is, including transfer credits), at least 60 credits completed or in progress at Manoa, clear evidence of intellectual diversity at the upper-division level, such as a double major, an academic minor or certificate, an Honors or Interdisciplinary Studies program, Study Abroad, language study beyond the 200 level, etc. There are other more technical criteria as well.

I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa at my two-year school.  Does that make me a member of Phi Beta Kappa?

No. PTK and PBK are entirely independent and have no historical or current relationship. PTK applies only to two-year institutions, PBK to four-year bachelor's and graduate degree-granting colleges and universities. Membership in PTK has no bearing on the PBK invitation process, although a student's academic record at all transfer institutions is considered.  

How many people are invited to PBK membership each year at Manoa?

Out of perhaps 2300 UHM graduates per academic year in the Colleges of Arts and Science; the School of Hawaiian Knowledge; the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology; and the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, the Chapter invites between 80 and 100 students.

What obligations will I have to PBK in the future?

Once you have been officially initiated into the Society, you have no further obligation for the rest of your life.  This is an academic honorary society, not a social organization - there are no car washes, community service activities, or bake sales. There are, however, a number of PBK Associations on the mainland, usually in urban centers near major colleges or universities. These are groups of PBK people who sponsor scholarships, lectures, readings, and social events. Again, participation is entirely voluntary.

The Society respects its members' right to privacy and neither the national office nor the local Hawaii Chapter releases member information, including e-mail addresses, to third parties.

How much will it cost?

Once an invitee has paid the initial membership/banquet reservation fee, s/he need pay no further money for the rest of her/his life. This one-time fee also includes a handsome engraved membership certificate. If this fee is truly difficult for an invitee, the Chapter will make every effort to assist.

PBK is an IRS 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; it does not "make money" off its members and the Hawaii Chapter does not keep any of the membership/banquet fee (we actually silently underwrite some of the expense for the members). Members will be asked to voluntarily contribute modest annual dues to the local Chapter and the national, but these are strictly voluntary.

What PBK accessories are available?

With membership one receives an engraved certificate, suitable for framing and display. The most visible and well known PBK "accessory" is its gold key, which may be seen in outline on the banner at the top of this page and in detail in our Photo Gallery and at the Keys & More link. The key comes in various sizes and styles and can be purchased at the time of enrollment or at  any time afterward.

There is also a PBK graduation cord and a PBK stole, which may be worn whenever the member dons academic regalia. The Society's colors, dating back to the eighteenth century, are light pink and light blue, so the cord is also a distinctive pink and blue; the stole is blue with gold embroidered lettering. There are many other items available--certificate frames, stationery, pens, and so on. These can all be seen at the Keys & More/Hand & Hammer link above.

Please understand that a new member is not required to purchase any of these accessories and that the Chapter does not profit from the sale of any PBK item.

Who runs the Chapter?

The Alpha of Hawaii Phi Beta Kappa Chapter, like all Chapters, is run entirely by faculty and community volunteers. It is independent of the University and receives no direct financial support from the national organization or the University. It survives solely on members' annual dues.

updated: September 2014