Ask Bwog: First of the Semester Edition

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Because we know you haven’t heard enough about Phi Beta Kappa lately, Bwog investigates how one becomes a member of the illustrious society in the first place.

The bad news? There doesn’t seem to be any magic formula for becoming a member of the elite squad known as Phi Beta Kappa. According to the PBK Society’s incredibly thorough website, “The ideal Phi Beta Kappan has demonstrated intellectual integrity, tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests.” More specifically, to be eligible for PBK, “students must have pursued a broad program of study in the liberal arts and sciences and met other academic criteria as required by the electing chapter.”

What does that mean at Columbia?

The Course Bulletin tells us that the distinction goes to the top 10 percent of the senior class, with 2 percent elected in November and the other 8 notified in the spring. This webpage for directors of undergraduate studies makes the distinction between those two groups a little clearer: the first is elected “on the basis of academic achievement (high GPA) and support through faculty recommendations,” while the second is elected “on the basis of academic achievement, as determined by GPA and the rigor of a student’s academic program, as well as on evidence of intellectual promise, character, and achievements outside the classroom.”

The criteria for Phi Beta Kappa election at Barnard are even more vague. All the online course catalog tells us is that “Barnard students of exceptionally high standing are eligible.”

Evidently, there’s no such thing as a cutoff GPA for Phi Beta Kappa membership. Since some classes have higher grades on average than others, the PBK standards must change every year. Because faculty recommendations play such a big role in the process, Bwog’s advice to you is to start buttering up the heads of Columbia and Barnard’s PBK chapters as soon as possible: Michael Pippenger and James Hope Runsdorf.

Got a burning question only Bwog can answer? Email us at bwgossip@columbia.edu.


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  1. hmm  

    or just enjoy your education and make friends with professors who will stimulate you?

    oh wait- this is Columbia.

  2. Ho ho ho  

    you said stimulate! hehehe

  3. the barn  

    so who's pbk from barnard?

  4. from what i gather

    PBK in the spring requires a 4.0+ gpa and amazing faculty recs

  5. asking bwog  

    bwog i don't know if you've done this already (so sorry for possible deja-vu), but in light of tuesday and etc., could you set up a post where people can RESPECTFULLY discuss their views on presidential candidates at this time? be LEGIT. it extends far beyond a who's who to what we are choosing and what are our choices. what do we care about any longer? and if commenters freak it up even a bit then shame on them cause these are our lives! (complete with all opinions coming through) thanks

  6. well well

    I don't know how it is at other Universities, but the degree of incessant ranking, competition, and obsession over grades here is absolutely sickening. Due to a combination of circumstances, learning seems to be the most subsidiary concern for so many of us. It's sad.

  7. FYI  

    the de facto rule right now is this: to be eligible for consideration for early PBK, you have to have above a 4.0 gpa at the conclusion of junior year. this narrows it down to about 35 students. a committee then meets to discuss and select 20.

  8. Hey bwog,

    Is there a list anywhere of who got PBK last year? I'd be interested.

  9. never  

    i wish i was good enough....but i am not not even close....

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