Phi Beta Kappa

Delta of Oregon, Chartered in 1997

Phi Beta Kappa, which was founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776, is the oldest and most prestigious of the national collegiate honor societies. The first chapter was founded to promote the ideals of freedom of inquiry within a broad liberal education, and these concerns have remained a hallmark of the organization ever since (see below for more details). After decades of hard work, Willamette University was recognized by the National Council of Phi Beta Kappa and granted a chapter charter in 1997; only the top 10% of four-year colleges nationwide have been granted Phi Beta Kappa chapters.

Student Selection Criteria: Students are nominated for membership in the society primarily on the basis of their scholarly achievement, good character, and broad cultural/academic interests. Our chapter nominates the top 2% of each junior class, and the top 10% of each senior class (including those nominated as juniors). At least three fourths of a candidate’s courses must be liberal arts courses (as opposed to applied or professional courses). Seniors must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.50, and juniors 3.75, in order to be considered for membership. Aside from GPA, weight is given to breadth of academic program (number and variety of courses taken outside the major), faculty recommendations, service to the department or university, good character, and academic awards and achievements. For further details on our selection process, see Selection Criteria.

Background on the National Society: The Greek letters Phi Beta Kappa stand for the motto of the society, which translates as “love of learning is the guide of life”. The membership emblem of the society is the gold key, whose three stars symbolize the distinguishing principles of the founders of the original Society: friendship, morality, and literature (learning). Among the first 50 members of the society were men who became leaders in the American Revolution, delegates to the Continental Congress, Congressional Representatives and Senators, and Supreme Court Justices. Six undergraduate members became U.S. Presidents (including Theodore Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton). Other notable Phi Beta Kappa members are: Jane Addams, Alexander Graham Bell, W.E.B. DuBois, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Helen Keller, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Webster, and Eli Whitney. Some living members include: six Supreme Court justices, three dozen U.S. Senators and Representatives, author Michael Crichton, composer Stephen Sondheim, and film director Francis Ford Coppola. For further details on the national Phi Beta Kappa Society, you may explore their web site at