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Phi Beta Kappa Society

Phi Beta Kappa Society

Department Overview

Chartered in 1896, the Swarthmore College Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Epsilon of Pennsylvania, was the fifth chapter to be founded in Pennsylvania. Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest academic honor society in the United States.

Students are selected into Phi Beta Kappa because of their distinguished academic record across the Swarthmore liberal arts curriculum. Only work completed at Swarthmore College is considered. The committee also consults with faculty and deans as we make our final selections. Selection takes place in May of the senior year.

Selection Criteria for Swarthmore Phi Beta Kappa

Starting with the class of 2025, Swarthmore's chapter will only consider information that appears on a student's transcript through the fall semester of their senior year. Courses taken in the student's senior spring semester will not count toward Phi Beta Kappa election. A student wishing to be considered for Phi Beta Kappa must ensure that they meet the eligibility requirements by the end of the fall semester of their senior year.  Students will be notified of their election to Phi Beta Kappa early-to-mid-semester of their senior spring and inductions will take place later in that spring prior to graduation.


Swarthmore College PBK is allowed to induct up to 15% of the graduation class, which is usually between 50-60 students. The primary basis of selection is academic excellence, normally represented by PBK GPA, along with good moral character and the following criteria:

  1.  Earn at least one full credit towards Swarthmore graduation in math/stat/logic (including AP);
  2.  Earning a letter grade in at least one Swarthmore College course in each division. Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences (shadow grades do not count).

These criteria are largely drawn from national Phi Beta Kappa stipulations for membership eligibility.

The executive committee also sends the proposed inductee list to the Deans to see whether the Student Affairs Division has any objection to students on grounds of moral character.

PBK GPA is similar to the Swarthmore GPA with a few modifications to the College GPA. The Swarthmore GPA counts A and A+ as 4, A- as 3.67, B+ as 3.33, and so forth. Courses taken at other institutions, including Bryn Mawr and Haverford are not counted, neither are courses recorded as CR or as W. In these respects, the PBK GPA and the College GPA are alike. The two measures differ in the following three ways.

a)  The Swarthmore GPA counts neither courses receiving CR nor courses receiving NC whereas PBK counts courses receiving NC (except in the first semester of the first year at Swarthmore), with the NC converted numerically to 0. An NC course receives as much credit in our calculation (e.g. 1 or 1.5) as it would receive with the Swarthmore GPA had it been a passing grade.

b)  When a course is taken twice, the Swarthmore GPA counts only the second grade. PBK counts both grades.

c) The Swarthmore GPA does not count the first course of a two-course sequence, such as in the foreign languages, if the student fails to take the second course. PBK counts that grade (typically worth 1.5 credits) in our calculations.

COVID-19: Class of 2021 Selection Criteria Changes  (April 6, 2021)

In response to COVID-19, the College moved to CR/NC policy for the Spring 2020 term and the National PBK Chapter has allowed local chapters flexibility to modify selection criteria. Swarthmore's PBK Executive committee decided to make the following changes to the selection criteria, applicable to the Class of 2021 only.

 1. Spring 2020 grades will not be included as part of the computation of PBK GPA (see our regular selection criteria).

 2.  Spring 2020 grades of CR can be used to satisfy the chapter requirements that students earn at least one full credit towards Swarthmore graduation in math/stat/logic (including AP) and that students earn a letter grade in at least one Swarthmore College course in each division: Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences.

Please note all of our other requirements outlined in this website stand, and these are the only changes.  This policy change applies only to the Class of 2021, and any future policy adjustment will be announced.   

For more info Phi Beta Kappa National.