To Honor, or Not? Deciphering Honor Societies

This is the time of year when you begin to receive a number of invitations to Honor Societies on campus. Below are some hints and tips to help you decipher what is best for YOU.

  1. Phi Beta Kappa is tops. This is an honor society considered to be the most prestigious in the country. If you receive an invitation to join, do it! This would occur in your junior or senior year. It is by invitation only to students fitting their criteria. Here are websites for PBK both local and national Not all campuses have a chapter of PBK.
  1. Do your research on these before joining!  Yes, many of them (okay, well most of them) are costly, so check out this site first:  This site is the Association of College Honor Societies, and they have some excellent links such as “Concerned about Honor Society Legitimacy? Click here.” and “How to Judge the Credibility of an Honor Society.”
  1. Additional tips: check out the group on the USC website, do a search, find out their officers or advisors, and email them. Many of our local USC honor societies are very involved in campus or community activities, so joining one may mean you have an outlet to enjoy. Many do service projects, have socials, or other campus projects.  Some groups that are connected to your academic major or interest can be helpful, and a few offer scholarships or fellowships, like Alpha Lambda Delta, Tau Beta Pi or Golden Key.
  1. We’re often asked about joining an honor society for national applications or resumes: unless it’s Phi Beta Kappa, it seems useless unless you plan to get involved. I would not join an honor society for the name only. For example, if you apply for a national fellowship and list a group of which you are a part, but have no involvement in, you may get asked about it in an interview. Without involvement in these groups, membership is questionable, however, Phi Beta Kappa is the exception.

 What is Phi Beta Kappa?

From the chapter website:

Phi Beta Kappa is both the oldest and the most prestigious undergraduate honor society in the country. Only 10 percent of colleges in the United States have earned the right to have chapters, and just over 1 percent of all college seniors are elected each year. To be elected, a student must have more than a high grade point average. Chapter members review the academic records of the top 10 percent of the class, to insure that most credits are earned in the liberal arts and sciences, in a broad array of subjects, and at an advanced level.

  • The first honor society formed in the United States in 1776
  • The most prestigious undergraduate honor society
  • Recognized across all academic disciplines as a mark of excellence and academic distinction
  • Symbol of Integrity and scholarly achievement in the Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Mentioned in biographical sketches of the most accomplished Americans

Students may be invited their junior or senior year. Invitations are issued in the spring of each year.


Writing personal statements

In this season of applications, both for national fellowships and graduate school, I recently came across two helpful articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  They each echo part of our advising ethos here at USC, and point to the value of what we call engaging in the process.

The first, “Leave Dr. Seuss Out of It,” reiterates the importance of speaking in your own words, of focusing on your story and avoiding writing sentences and essays that any other applicant could write.  You MUST be specific in your writing.  There is limited time and space to make your case, and while we all enjoy a good story, these essays are usually not the place for them.

The second, “Helping Students to Tell Their Stories,” echoes our suggestion of being careful to consider the fit of a particular award or graduate program.  Think about what you want to do in the short and slightly-longer term future.  How will this opportunity get you there?  And why should you be the one to whom the granting body awards this opportunity?

Our office stands ready to help you tackle these questions, and make your fellowship applications (and hopefully your future graduate school applications, where they follow) as strong as possible.  Make an appointment to talk with us today!

Letters of Recommendation

The support of faculty, supervisors, and mentors are key pieces to a successful fellowship application.  But how should you approach the request for a letter of recommendation?  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a helpful article about this, written from the perspective of faculty.  Read carefully and keep in mind as you plan out your applications.

How to Ask for a Recommendation

Our office is happy to chat with you as you consider who and how to ask for a recommendation!