The Founding of New Chapters — Steps Toward a Charter

The Phi Beta Kappa Society grants charters for new chapters to Phi Beta Kappa faculty on college and university campuses after an extensive, multi-step and multi-year application and review process. Currently, 286 chapters representing small liberal arts colleges, private universities, and public universities regularly induct new students into the Society.


Application Process and Timeline

The cycle for consideration for the approval of new chapters in 2021 is now open. Faculty organizing committees must complete a Preliminary Application no later than November 1, 2018. A $2,000 application fee should accompany the submission. Interested faculty committees are encouraged to download, review, and complete the Preliminary Application package for this cycle.

Phi Beta Kappa’s Committee on Qualifications will review Preliminary Applications in late 2018 – early 2019, a rigorous evaluation meant to assess an institution's commitment and ability to uphold Phi Beta Kappa's ideals and nourish a foundational education in the liberal arts and sciences. 

At a meeting in the spring of 2019, the Committee on Qualifications will determine which institutions demonstrate such promise and will invite those institutions to submit a General Report, due no later than October 1, 2019. These schools will also prepare for a site visit in approximately the first quarter of 2020. The Society requires a $12,000 examination fee. Schools not chosen to advance to this stage will receive detailed feedback on their submission and may apply again in a future cycle.

The Committee on Qualifications will meet again in early summer of 2020 to decide whether to recommend to the Phi Beta Kappa Senate that charters be granted to any of the institutions visited. For the 2018-2021 review cycle, the Committee on Qualifications will present its recommendations to the Senate at its December 2020 meeting.

Should the Senate concur, it will make recommendations to the Council of Phi Beta Kappa. The Council of Phi Beta Kappa, the assembled representatives of the existing chapters and associations of Phi Beta Kappa, must approve the granting of new charters. If two-thirds of the combined number of chapter and chartered association delegations present and voting at the August 2021 Council agree with an affirmative recommendation from the Senate, the Society will grant a charter for a new chapter and begin planning for the chapter’s installation and first student induction.

Selection Criteria

The Committee on Qualifications considers applications from the perspective of Phi Beta Kappa’s objectives. Because the Society is, above all, interested in the development of liberally-educated students, it seeks evidence that the educational programs and academic environment of an applicant institution effectively quicken the mind and spirit. Phi Beta Kappa requires that its member institutions give primary emphasis to curricula liberal in character and purpose and that courses distinguished by these qualities constitute the principal requirements for the bachelor's degree.


In examining the qualifications of colleges and universities seeking a chapter, the Committee on Qualifications will give close attention to the procedures by which an applicant institution addresses the following:

  • Recruits and retains good students and prepares some for graduate study
  • Makes appropriate academic demands on those enrolled in its classes, including opportunities for honors studies for those who are especially capable
  • Develops and maintains a faculty whose preparation and scholarly activity give evidence that they are able to establish and assess those demands
  • Maintains sufficient financial resources to support the institution's academic programs
  • Takes due precautions to prevent issues of governance, athletics, religion or politics from subverting the integrity of the institution's dedication to liberal education.
The great differences among colleges and universities — size of faculty and student body, governmental organization, library holdings, careers of graduates — preclude the formulation by Phi Beta Kappa of uniform, abstract standards for institutional membership. The Committee on Qualifications attempts to assess each applicant college or university with regard to its distinctiveness.

Those seeking a chapter will be expected to produce both qualitative and quantitative evidence demonstrating that their institution has standards that encourage excellence, a system of governance that promotes academic freedom and vigor, a scholarly faculty, a promising student body, a library and other educational facilities serving and complementing the course offerings, and an adequate and dependable income sufficient to maintain academic excellence.

The Committee on Qualifications will also closely examine the curriculum for the baccalaureate degree to assess whether students are engaged in study that illuminates the human condition by exploring aspects of taste and feeling, of the reasoning process, of the physical and moral worlds, of individual and group responsibility, and of the meaning of life as a whole. The study of literature, languages, philosophy, religion, the fine arts, history, the social sciences, mathematics and the natural sciences is held to be central to the objectives of Phi Beta Kappa.

In 2011, Phi Beta Kappa adopted Stipulations Concerning Eligibility for Membership in Course. Applicant faculty groups should keep these stipulations in mind when completing the Preliminary Application, and, if advancing, the General Report.

Concluding Note

Throughout the process, applicants are encouraged to remain in contact with Phi Beta Kappa’s national office for guidance. Applicant committees should not approach members of the Committee on Qualifications but rather channel all inquiries and correspondence through Ann McCulloch, Director of Chapter and Association Relations, amcculloch@pbk.org, 202-745-3249. We look forward to working with you!

Love of learning is the guide of life.