Established in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society. Despite enduring for over two centuries, not many students know what PBK is, what it stands for, and why being invited to join PBK is such a distinguished honor. Here’s everything that potential UCI inductees should know about PBK for the 2022-23 academic year.

PBK Mission and Goals

PBK was founded nearly 250 years ago at the College of William & Mary in the midst of the American Revolution. Originally formed as a secret debate society, PBK has since evolved to uphold the mission of celebrating and advocating for excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. It accomplishes this by honoring exceptional students from the nation’s top schools, promoting the importance of a liberal arts and sciences education, and recognizing the achievements of writers and scholars who embody curiosity and creativity. PBK also strives to connect and engage its members via networking events, exclusive opportunities, and publications.

While PBK is a national honor society, not every college or university campus boasts a PBK chapter. PBK charters are only granted to leading institutions that meet PBK’s rigorous selection standards. Applying for a PBK charter is a multi-year process during which the national PBK Society assesses each campus’s ability to provide a liberal and purposeful education to its students. The PBK Committee on Qualifications considers criteria such as student recruitment and retention, academic rigor, financial ability to support and maintain academic programs, support for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and much more.


UCI’s PBK charter, Mu of California, was granted in 1974. Each year, only the top 5% of UCI’s graduating seniors and the top 1% of third-year juniors are invited to join PBK, making it more selective than Latin Honors. “One of the reasons why PBK membership is considered such an honor is because students cannot simply apply and get in—they must be invited to join by a faculty member,” explains UCI PBK Director Rose Jones, PhD. “While there is a large pool of students that meet the requirements to join PBK every year, only a select group is chosen by faculty to receive a PBK nomination.”

The annual selection process begins when UCI faculty in each school receive a list of students eligible for PBK membership. Only students who meet rigorous academic standards and who demonstrate broad cultural interests, scholarly achievement, and good character are deemed eligible for PBK. Faculty then extend PBK invitations to the specific students they consider deserving of such an honor. Once a student receives a PBK nomination, they must accept their invitation and register online. UCI covers the one-time, lifetime membership fee for all new UCI inductees to eliminate any financial barriers to accepting the invitation. Following registration, new inductees are recognized at the annual PBK Induction Ceremony, UCI’s only campuswide academic honors event. 

While there are several benefits of becoming a PBK member, the most significant is the prestige of being associated with the PBK name. Because PBK is known across the country as an exclusive mark of academic distinction and is widely recognized as a mark of excellence by graduate schools and future employers, students who list PBK membership on their resumes and CVs automatically have a leg up on their competition. For many, PBK affiliation is considered the crowning achievement of their undergraduate careers. According to Jones, the UCI students invited to join PBK are not only some of the best on campus—they are some of the best in the nation:

“The UCI juniors and seniors who are invited to join PBK are some of the most impressive individuals you’ll ever encounter. The things they’ve accomplished during their undergraduate years and their ambitions for change are not only inspiring and uplifting, but they also instill hope in a brighter future. They are the pride of our institution.”

For more information on PBK’s long and storied history, visit the PBK Society website. To learn more about UCI’s PBK chapter and keep up with the latest news and updates, visit their website here. For additional questions, visit the UCI PBK office in the Student Excellence Center or send an email to