Honor Societies on Campus

Learn how college honor societies reward good grades and academic excellence in college.

Soon after you enter college, you’ll start to hear plenty of Greek. Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi may sound like gibberish, but they’re names of some of the oldest college honor societies.

But what exactly is an honor society, and what distinguishes it from a fraternity or sorority?

Not only do these societies look great on resumes, many of them offer stipends, grants and fellowships to deserving members.

What Are College Honor Societies?

Though they have Greek names, honor societies are not the same as college fraternities or sororities. Many of them were founded by small groups of students and faculty to recognize and foster academic achievement. The first honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded by five students at the College of William and Mary. It quickly expanded to incorporate chapters at other colleges, and became the most widely known honor society.

There are plenty of honor societies such as Phi Beta Kappa that started small and became a national society. However, there are also local societies and even international ones. What they share in common is approval from the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), as well as a celebration of academic achievement.

Different Kinds of Honor Societies

Of course, there are more differences between honor societies than the Greek letters in their names. Some are more prestigious than others, and some recognize academic achievement in particular disciplines. Here is a list of some popular societies:

  • Phi Beta Kappa: The oldest and most widely known honor society, recognizing achievement in the liberal arts and sciences. A highly prestigious organization, Phi Beta Kappa has inducted 17 U.S. presidents and 131 Nobel laureates. It offers a variety of grants and fellowships.
  • Beta Gamma Sigma: The premier honor society for business students. Though it was founded in the US, Beta Gamma Sigma is an international society, with 26 alumni centers around the world. Like Phi Beta Kappa, membership to Beta Gamma Sigma is highly selective.
  • Tau Beta Pi: An engineering society, and the second-oldest honor society in the US. Tau Beta Pi celebrates students with strong ethics and academic ability. Since its establishment in 1885, it has grown to include 244 chapters and more than 500,000 members.
  • Phi Kappa Phi: This honor society is unique in promoting academic achievement in all disciplines. GPA alone determines its selection process, inviting the top 7.5 percent of juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students.

This is just a partial list; there are plenty more national and international honor societies as well as some that are specific to certain colleges. For example, the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which promotes diversity and academic excellence, has chapters only at Yale and Howard.

How Do You Join?

Membership for honor societies is on an invitation-only basis. If you have met the requirements for a society, the chapter at your school will contact you with membership information. Though an invitation does not necessarily ensure admittance, nearly all invited students are accepted into an honor society.

There is a small membership fee, but it’s well worth it. Not only do these societies look great on resumes, many of them offer stipends, grants and fellowships to deserving members.

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