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.
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