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Phi Beta Kappa FAQs

Phi Beta Kappa is an honor society which was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.  Its original goal was the pursuit of “friendship, morality, and literature”  and it was the earliest campus group to adopt Greek letters (standing for the Greek words philosophies bios kubernetes - “love of wisdom, the guide of life.”) The society exists now to promote high standards of scholarship and to celebrate the liberal arts.

The honor of Phi Beta Kappa induction is awarded to students who have, in the assessment of the Columbia University faculty members of Phi Beta Kappa, demonstrated both intellectual ambition and academic achievement.

No more than 10% of the graduating class may be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, 2% in the fall and 8% in the spring. All Columbia College students work extremely hard throughout their four years and some students may be disappointed to learn that they have not been elected for induction and not being the recipient of College Honors in no way undermines the intellectual commitment and curiosity that a student has demonstrated while in the College.
 
That said, some students can be particularly disappointed to learn that they were not awarded Phi Beta Kappa. Here is a selection of questions typically asked each year:

What is the GPA cut-off for Phi Beta Kappa?

There is no specific GPA cut-off for Phi Beta Kappa. Each year 15% of the graduating class, those with the highest GPAs, are identified as eligible. The faculty selection committee then reviews these students’ transcripts and faculty recommendations to determine which 10% will actually receive Phi Beta Kappa. As elucidated below, this determination will take into account a number of factors, only one of which is GPA.

What was the specific reason I didn’t get PBK, as I meet all of the criteria in the Bulletin?

Many students meet all of the criteria identified in the College Bulletin, however because only 10% of all graduating seniors can receive Phi Beta Kappa it is always the case that not all students who meet the criteria will receive the honor. The faculty selection committee takes great care to fully assess the transcripts and faculty recommendations of all eligible students but, with a specific limit on the number of students who can be inducted, some students will not be as competitive as others.

Do my senior grades matter?

Yes, your senior grades matter greatly. The faculty selection committee reviews transcripts and grades earned prior to the senior spring semester. While the Committee therefore does not see your senior spring grades, faculty recommenders will include information regarding your current performance in your spring classes. Moreover, the committee will examine the selection of courses in which you are enrolled during your senior spring.

Which professors recommended me?

Faculty members in the department in which you are majoring are asked to provide an assessment of your academic performance. Each department will organize this differently, but all relevant faculty members are consulted.

My GPA was affected because I took advanced classes, is that taken into account?

Yes. The faculty committee reviews all transcripts and takes particular note of those academic records which suggest that the students were intellectually adventurous. Adventurousness might mean students who took a range of electives outside of their major and/or students who have taken more advanced classes in their field.

I transferred from another school, are those grades taken into account?

Because ensuring equity in the process is vital, the faculty committee reviews all transfer grades and may recalibrate students’ cumulative GPAs.

I studied abroad while a Columbia College student, are those grades taken into account?

Again, because equity is important, the faculty committee also reviews study abroad transcripts and may recalibrate students’ cumulative GPAs.

I have a disciplinary record, is that taken into account?

Yes. The faculty committee takes very seriously students’ conduct, for it reflects on the integrity of the entire class and school. Students who have disciplinary record, whether or not it is of an academic nature, can expect to be excluded from Phi Beta Kappa.

Do extracurricular activities affect the decision?

Because Phi Beta Kappa is an academic award, selection does not take into account the many campus life undertakings in which students engage in.

Do I have to do a thesis to get honors?

Students are not required to do a thesis in order to be awarded Phi Beta Kappa. However, it is the case that most recipients of PBK have conducted a senior thesis, a senior project, or independent research. This is because such work enables a student to demonstrate the intellectual curiosity and rigor of academic undertaking that PBK seeks to reward.

Can I appeal?

There is no appeal of the decisions made by the Phi Beta Kappa faculty selection committee. Should you believe there to have been a procedural error you may contact Hazel May, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.