Do people care about Phi Beta Kappa?
January 30, 2018 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I was invited to PBK last summer, but it’s expensive to join. Is it worth it?

What do people (grad schools, employers, etc) think about Phi Beta Kappa? It’s currently $130 to join. Is it worth the membership fee?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Education (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, unless you're interested for social purposes. (/former member now do a lot of hiring. Meaningless to me)
posted by stewiethegreat at 8:46 PM on January 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a friend who is an associate Professor and stays involved reviewing new applications and participating in events with Phi Beta Kappa. As stewiethegreat notes, it seems to be primarily useful as a social tool to find likeminded (or at least like background) individuals. It's hard to quantify the value of collegiate networking, but unlikely to specifically be seen as a plus. And, you'd also find that many folks don't realize it isn't a traditional greek life fraternity/sorority as well.
posted by meinvt at 8:57 PM on January 30, 2018

I remember signing up way back when as an undergrad; I sent in my money, there was some sort of induction dinner (which I didn't attend because I'd come down with the flu), and then I don't believe I ever heard from them again. I certainly never put it on any resume or grad application - ultimately it felt kind of like those invites to be in those "Whos Who" books if you got a certain GPA or whatever in high school.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:58 PM on January 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Shoot, forgot to add: based on my experiences as a "member" (fee payer), I would actually give a bit of side-eye to someone who put it on their resume now. It might even fall into the same category in my mind as putting "Mensa Member" on your resume - at best I would read it as kind of self-unaware. Maybe others feel differently, though!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:02 PM on January 30, 2018 [12 favorites]

I did join. I had a fairly big deal scholarship in undergrad which bounces on and off my resume (after all no one really cares how awesome I was at 18, except maybe they do), and I usually put Phi Beta Kappa on there when the scholarship makes the cut, depending on how I've laid things out. However, I'd give it roughly zero weight if I saw it on someone else's resume. Either they just graduated and likely put their GPA on their resume, or I don't care a whole lot about their undergrad GPA. There's probably some minor snob points to be had from people of a certain social milieu.

My local chapter has a book club. I've never been. There is something to be said, I suppose, for belonging to an organization that sends you emails inviting you to things when you move.

Don't do it. Every day a new horror story about Greek life comes out and between death by hazing and the rapes- I think a lot of businesses soon are going to look very askance at anyone putting a fraternity or sorority on their resumes.

There's your answer when it comes to name recognition, I guess.
posted by hoyland at 9:03 PM on January 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

I joined very reluctantly and with much grousing after a professor persuaded me to. It never did anything for me. The way I saw it, I shouldn't have to pay to receive an honor. As someone said above, it's basically the same model as those Who's Who scams, just more respectable.
posted by Syllepsis at 9:16 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I give it a little weight on a recent grad’s resume. Most PBK members I’ve met have been conscientious people. I’ve also seen people confused by it though not to the level demonstrated here.
posted by michaelh at 9:27 PM on January 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

didn't realize it was looked down on anywhere. if there's any chance that you'll work anywhere in higher ed (not just a professor) it would likely be seen as an asset there. it has for me at both the large state school and the small liberal arts school i've worked at.
posted by noloveforned at 9:31 PM on January 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I joined because it cost almost nothing (seeing it's a lifetime membership) and I thought the induction ceremony looked like more fun than my program's graduation, which I skipped. I didn't expect to end up using the group but I was able to make a connection I needed at work through the LinkedIn group. I didn't much care if I got anything out of it because I already had a job I liked, but I did add it to my resume.
posted by beyond_pink at 9:31 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't regret throwing away an invitation, but I also don't think anything of it on a resume, because people may as well be proud of what they like. It just wasn't something I worried about.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:35 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think I just put "invited to Phi Beta Kappa" on my resume back in the day when there was room for such a thing. I didn't have the $90 or whatever for it back then. After all, any merit is in being invited, not in writing a check.
posted by praemunire at 9:43 PM on January 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Echoing that it may have a small amount of value if you plan to apply to graduate or professional school right away or to work in or around higher education.

The professor who led the chapter at my college at the time was someone I had worked with closely in another campus organization and I really admired her (still do), which was enough to induce me to join at the time. Ten years out, I don't normally include it on my resume anymore. I think that the national organization occasionally sends mail to my mother's house, which was my home address at the time, but I honestly can't remember the last time that I thought about Phi Beta Kappa before reading this question.
posted by Anita Bath at 10:59 PM on January 30, 2018

My employer in big tech asked for my SAT scores and college GPA when I applied, having done 2.5 years in industry after getting a bachelors, but at no point did my recruiter proactively ask for membership in PBK. I did not get invited to PBK, and at no point have I felt dinged for it. I don't think it's even really come up in alumni meetup conversations!
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:08 PM on January 30, 2018

I kept the invite letter but no interest in joining. And I work at a big university in Australia and a few colleagues I asked about it said 'huh?' which didn't indicate great name recognition here!
posted by kitten magic at 12:20 AM on January 31, 2018

In the US, it seems odd to come across a college-educated person who doesn't have at least some familiarity with the concept of Greek-lettered honour societies, if not PBK specifically. But such people exist, so it's worth reading the room if you're going to bring up your membership to people who don't work in higher ed or are alumni of schools with PBK chapters.
posted by blerghamot at 2:53 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

My impression is it used to be a bigger deal than it is now. My father, a lawyer, offered to pay for my initiation because he said it would really come in handy at work at some point. It did, but only because I ended up doing some teaching at a college that cared about it. The events were good for meeting people outside my department. I felt strange about doing it though, because my gpa was artificially high from transferring schools and having some early, crummy grades not count.

Ages ago, a member of my family wore a pbk key to traffic court and had his offense thrown out by the judge, who remarked he was also a member. So, I guess you could try that sometime.
posted by BibiRose at 3:11 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I graduated many decades ago and joined because I had the money and didn't know whether it was really a thing still or not. I suspect this dynamic is the sole reason for their continued existence. Every year I get a piece of mail from them and I wonder if the postal worker was impressed by it. That's been its only role in my life.
posted by HotToddy at 6:51 AM on January 31, 2018

PBK has events? Huh. I joined on graduation and literally have never thought about it again in 25 years. Possibly it was on my resume as a young man, and I might have put it on my grad school applications, but in neither case would it have made a bit of difference. I guess it's slightly better than saying "Mensa". (Don't say "Mensa".)

The one place I could see it being useful is as a shorthand for "academically distinguished". Hopefully that's more visible by your GPA, or graduation honors, or the work you've done as an undergrad. But if you're concerned someone will think you're a generic college grad and not a distinguished one, maybe the credential is worth the $130. Ask a rich relative to give you the membership as a graduation present; it's probably more useful than a Cross pen.
posted by Nelson at 6:52 AM on January 31, 2018

If you will be competing into graduate school or an academic workplace, do it. If you are planning on working in a highly selective field, it might be worth it. There is nothing wrong with putting Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society on your resume if you don't want it to be confused with fraternities/sororities. I think the reality is that it may not matter to some/many people. On the other hand, if the hiring manager you're applying for a job with cares, it's nice to have, like many certifications which are essentially not meaningful in and of themselves (rather the experience that goes with them is). I work for a large nonprofit and it's viewed by many as shorthand for smart, capable, dependable and given two similar candidates, it would give you at least the edge of getting a phone screen. Good article here; "Phi Beta Kappa is both the oldest and the most exclusive honor society in the country. Only 10 percent of colleges have chapters, and just over 1 percent of college seniors are elected each year."
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:11 AM on January 31, 2018

On my CV for academic jobs, under "Education," it says something like, X College, BA, Honors, Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude and has for decades. No one ever mentioned it to me one way or another. I remember getting the invitation but don't remember paying them any money. I don't think I'd pay if I had it to do over again but who knows.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:18 AM on January 31, 2018

With regards to academic stuff: one thing I forgot to mention is that I’m in my 30s, I dropped out of high school, and I failed out of two other colleges. Employers don’t need to know that, but grad schools will see my transcripts. Does PBK membership say “look, I got my life together!” in a way that wont already be evident from my major coursework and my honors research project? I got a very prestigious research scholarship, but I don’t think anyone outside of my school would be familiar with it.

Thanks for the responses - it kind of seems like it wouldn’t necessarily hurt to be a member, except that $130 is a lot of money. I’m leaning towards not getting it unless it could make a big difference with academic stuff.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2018

It signifies that you had a high class rank and that matters to plenty of people. Whether it's worth $130 depends upon whether you have another, free, indicator of class rank for your resume such as a high GPA in a non-grade-inflating science or engineering major, or being magna or summa cum laude. (Being simply "cum laude" / "with honors" is badly inflated at a lot of schools and doesn't say much about class rank.)
posted by MattD at 11:28 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Contrary to other answers that suggest it will help you out in academia, I am a professor* and had forgotten that it existed until you asked this question. That said, definitely put the research scholarship on your CV if you're applying to graduate school. Even if members of the admissions committee aren't familiar with the specific scholarship, it will signify to them.

*at a college that has a chapter, as it turns out!
posted by dizziest at 11:35 AM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

OK, so it sounds like PBK could be nice to have, but isn't necessary, especially since I'm expecting to graduate with highest honors. I will definitely put the research scholarship on my CV.

Plus, I am sort of annoyed at the idea of having to pay for honors. There is a small part of me that still wants to be part of a fraternal organization dating back to 1776, but with no undeniable advantages to membership, there's much a bigger part of me that would rather have $130 in the bank (to quote Mr. Burns "one dollar for eternal happiness? No, I'd be happier with the dollar.").

Thanks for the input. I really appreciate it.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:05 PM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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