MIT Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa
Xi of Massachusetts


Founded in 1776

“Five students at the College of William & Mary founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1776, during the American Revolution. For over two and a quarter centuries, the Society has embraced the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression.” It continues to honor the nation’s most outstanding undergraduate students for excellence in the liberal arts and sciences.

Best of the Best 

Only about ten percent of the nation’s institutions of higher education have been selected to have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and only ten percent or fewer of the students in these schools are selected for Phi Beta Kappa membership.

Xi of Massachusetts

MIT’s own chapter, Xi of Massachusetts, annually elects approximately 90 students in their senior year of undergraduate study. Students do not apply for membership. Election is conducted by a faculty committee, which reviews the academic records of seniors to find students with superlative records and clear evidence of breadth in the liberal arts (which include the science fields).

All MIT undergraduates study the liberal arts

At MIT, 100% of undergraduates students study the humanities, arts, and social science (HASS) fields. Phi Beta Kappa members must have two years of a foreign language in college, three years in high school, a combination thereof, or be a native speaker of a language other than English. Majors in engineering must show clear evidence of depth and breadth in their selection of HASS and related courses. Generally, Phi Beta Kappa members will have more than the required eight HASS subjects that all MIT undergraduates take. 

The Phi Beta Kappa Induction Ceremony at MIT

In late May each year, our Phi Beta Kappa chapter holds an induction ceremony to honor our newest members in front of their family and friends. The President, Historian, and Guide of our chapter, all MIT Faculty members, preside over this event, which begins with a scholarly lecture by an MIT professor on a topic of broad intellectual interest. Last year’s speaker, Professor Arthur Bahr, presented "MensManus, and Medieval Literature at MIT.” Recent speakers have discussed reform of the voting system in the United States, and the size and nature of the physical universe.

After the lecture, the Historian and Guide provide a brief introduction to the rights and responsibilities of Phi Beta Kappa members. The newest inductees are then individually recognized and asked to sign the official register of the Xi of Massachusetts chapter. They are also taught the Phi Beta Kappa secret handshake, but strict Society regulations prohibit us from revealing its characteristics here!

Gallery of Speakers
Speakers at the annual MIT PBK ceremony, with links to their websites 

The Power of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at MIT
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MIT Professor of Music Emily Richmond Pollock is the current President of the MIT Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. For further information contact Kimberly Benard, Secretary of the Chapter, Room E17-269, (617) 253-4378.

Suggested Links

Phi Beta Kappa Society
The Nation's Oldest Academic Honor Society

The American Scholar
Magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society