Frequently Asked Questions | St. Lawrence University Phi Beta Kappa

Frequently Asked Questions

What does The Phi Beta Kappa Society do?
Who are some famous members of Phi Beta Kappa?
How do I become a member of Phi Beta Kappa?
How do I apply for Phi Beta Kappa?
Do I need recommendations for Phi Beta Kappa?
How many members are there?
How do I know if I’m elected?
What does Phi Beta Kappa stand for?
What about the S P on the back of the key?
What do the other symbols on the key mean?
How do I buy a key, certificate, or pin?
Are there any guidelines about wearing the key?
Whom do I contact if I have other questions?

1. What does The Phi Beta Kappa Society do?

For more than 225 years, the Phi Beta Kappa Society has pursued its mission of fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. The Society's distinctive emblem, a golden key, is widely recognized as a symbol of academic achievement. Through the time-honored process of granting charters to the institutions that shelter Phi Beta Kappa chapters, the Society reaffirms that mission.

The chapters and their community counterparts, the associations, work with the national office to sustain a variety of programs that honor and champion liberal arts scholarship. These activities, whether local or national, provide support in the form of scholarships, lectureships, book and essay awards, summer institutes for teachers, and funds for visiting scholars. The Key Reporter is the Society's quarterly newsletter.

The Society's respected journal, The American Scholar, has been published quarterly, for general circulation, since 1932. Widely recognized as an important forum in American intellectual life, the journal offers articles and essays on a range of literary, artistic, and scientific subjects. Credited by many for the current revival of the essay, The American Scholar has garnered an exceptional number of awards in that genre.

2. Who are some famous members of Phi Beta Kappa?

Famous Phi Beta Kappa members include but are not limited to:
Six of the current Supreme Court justices
Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr.
Benazir Bhutto
Elizabeth Dole
John Updike
Francis Ford Coppola
Stephen Sondheim
Jonas Salk
Rita Dove

3. How do I become a member of Phi Beta Kappa?

Election to Phi Beta Kappa is based on grade point average and completion of appropriate credits toward a St. Lawrence University degree. To be considered, students must earn a 3.5 or better cumulative grade point average by the close of their junior year, and have completed six semesters at St. Lawrence. Transfer students must have completed four semesters before they are eligible for consideration.

Students have three occasions to be considered for election to Phi Beta Kappa: at the close of the spring semester of the junior year, considering six semesters of grades; at the close of the fall semester, considering seven semesters of grades; and at the close of the spring semester of the senior year, considering eight semesters of grades.

Over three elections (August, March and May), the faculty and staff who comprise the permanent chapter membership elect no more than 10% of the members of the senior class. Thus, it is possible that a student with a 3.5 GPA and adequate progress toward his or her degree may not be elected to membership.

4. How do I apply for Phi Beta Kappa?

Candidates are nominated for election to by their chapters and cannot apply for membership. Students interested in Phi Beta Kappa are encouraged to contact a chapter officer early in their academic careers for guidance on requirements and curriculum. Generally, election to membership occurs at the completion of undergraduate study.

5. Do I need recommendations for election?
No, election is basely solely on academic achievement and progress toward the undergraduate degree.

6. How many members are there?
Nationally, there are more than 600,000. At St. Lawrence, 28 faculty and staff are members, and each year, approximately 40-45 senior students are elected. Some 1,900 St. Lawrence alumni are Phi Beta Kappa members, including seven trustees.

7. How do I know if I’m elected?
You will receive a letter from the secretary/treasurer of the chapter within a week of your election in August or March. If you are elected in May, you will be sent an e-mail or receive a telephone call on the Thursday afternoon or Friday before graduation.

8. What does Phi Beta Kappa stand for?
Phi Beta Kappa are the initials of the Greek motto Philosophia Biou Kubernetes, "Love of wisdom, the guide of life.”

9. What about the S P on the back of the key?
The letters S P are the initials of the Latin words Societas Philosophiae, "Philosophical Society."

10. What do the other symbols on the key mean?
A pointing finger and three stars symbolize the ambition of the young scholars and the three distinguishing principles of the Society: friendship, morality, and literature (learning).

11 How do I buy a key, certificate, or pin?
Phi Beta Kappa keys and other items are sold through Hand & Hammer Silversmiths. Please contact them to place an order by phone or on-line.

12. Are there any guidelines about wearing the key?
Because the Phi Beta Kappa key is a symbol of academic achievement, it should be worn only by the recipient. Any unauthorized manufacture, sale, or use of the key or any imitation of it should be reported to the Society's national office.

13. I have not found the answer to my question. Whom should I contact?
Contact Lisa Cania at lcania@stlawu.edu