Choosing a College:
Why Phi Beta Kappa Matters

"Fewer than ten percent of America’s colleges and universities have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Those that do have earned the right by demonstrating that the liberal arts and sciences ─ the traditional core of higher learning ─ are at the center of their educational program, and by showing that excellence in these enduring studies is achieved, maintained, and celebrated. Phi Beta Kappa joins with its host institutions in affirming the value of liberal arts education as the best preparation for professional success, responsible citizenship, and personal fulfillment." Read more

- John Churchill, Phi Beta Kappa Secretary

Phi Beta Kappa

 Delta Chapter of Iowa

"In the election of members the Chapter shall favor those students whose choice of courses, especially electives, demonstrates a broad exposure to the liberal arts--the fine arts, the humanities, languages, the natural sciences and mathematics, and the social sciences--as well as substantive work in areas outside the major(s)." -- Bylaws of the Delta of Iowa, Article 6A, Section 11

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization, was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was the first society to have a Greek letter name, and in its initial period at William and Mary it introduced the essential characteristics of such societies: an oath of secrecy (discarded in 1831), a badge, mottoes in Latin and Greek, a code of laws, and an elaborate form of initiation.  For more than two hundred years, election to Phi Beta Kappa has been a recognition of outstanding academic achievement in the liberal arts and sciences. The goal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society is to encourage humane learning - an object which transcends the mere gaining of knowledge to encompass breadth of interest, depth of understanding, intellectual honesty, and respect for the diversity of informed opinion.

Notable Phi Beta Kappa members include Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens; recent presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton; authors James Michener and John Updike; and polio vaccine inventor Dr. Jonas Salk. Notable members elected by Cornell's Delta of Iowa include Leslie Shaw, Governor of Iowa and Secretary of the Treasury under President Theodore Roosevelt; Lee DuBridge, President of the California Institute of Technology; Don Fehrenbacher, Lincoln scholar and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History; economist Campbell McConnell; and astronaut David Hilmers.

Phi Beta Kappa chapters are granted to the Phi Beta Kappa members of the faculty and administration of the sheltering institution. These members, often called active or resident members of the chapter, are responsible for conducting chapter business. Although there are more than two thousand four-year colleges and universities in the United States, only 262 have had been granted the privilege of sheltering a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.  The Delta Chapter of  Iowa at Cornell College was chartered September 12, 1922, and elected its first members from the Class of 1923. In addition to recognizing outstanding graduates of Cornell College, the Delta Chapter of Iowa sponsors lectures by distinguished Visiting Scholars.

Election to membership in Phi Beta Kappa is an honor conferred upon fewer than ten percent of each graduating class. Students do not apply for membership but are elected by the Phi Beta Kappa chapter as a whole, after a careful review of the academic records of each eligible candidate and a canvas of the faculty at large. Members are generally elected in the senior year, but the chapter may choose to elect deserving juniors as well.  Election is based upon good character and a distinguished record of performance in courses that demonstrate a broad exposure to the liberal arts, i.e., the fine arts, humanities, languages, natural sciences and mathematics, and social sciences, as well as substantive work in areas outside the major.