Eligibility & Election

To be elected to Alpha-Iota of Massachusetts, the Harvard College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a student must possess a record outstanding scholarly achievement, showing both depth of study and breadth of intellectual interest.

Undergraduates are elected to the Harvard College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa three times a year. The elections take place in the meetings of committees who carefully consider transcripts and confidential letters of recommendation. Twenty-four juniors are elected in March or April, forty-eight seniors in November, and an additional group of seniors (typically about ninety-six) in May to bring the total number of students elected in each graduating class to no more than 10 per cent of the class. In the Junior 24 and Senior 48 elections, the election committees pay particular attention to the difficulty and intellectual coherence of the candidate's program.

Election committees are composed of Harvard faculty and senior staff who are members of Phi Beta Kappa. Current undergraduates already elected to the Chapter are also invited to attend elections for the division in which they are concentrating for the Junior 24 and the Senior 48. For each election, three committees are convened -- one each in Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Humanities. Each committee has before it a list of candidates that is twice the number to be elected. The number of names on each committee's list reflects the proportion of students in the class who are concentrating in that subject-area. For example, in the Junior 24 election, the number of candidates will always be 48, and typically they will be in the proportions: 24 in Social Sciences - 14 in Natural Sciences - 10 in Humanities. The number elected in this case would be 12 in Social Sciences, 7 in Natural Sciences, and 5 in Humanities.

To arrive at the lists of candidates, the pool of eligible students (see Eligibility below) is sorted into the three areas of concentration, and then according to grade-point average (GPA). Those who are invited to become candidates are those with the highest GPAs in each area, up to the number allocated to that area. Notice that in this system there is no fixed GPA cut-off.

Students who are identified as possible candidates for the elections of the Junior 24 and Senior 48 receive a letter from the Chapter president inviting them to put their names forward. If they wish to do so, they must submit their student record and a confidential letter of recommendation, and also sign a release form, granting permission for electors to see copies of their transcripts and the letter(s).  Students who do not grant permission for a release of their transcript or letters of recommendation cannot be considered for election. OUE manages this application process through its on-line dossier system--please heed their instructions carefully and email the OUE in case of concerns or questions (oue@fas.harvard.edu).

The May elections are conducted without the participation of student members of the Chapter, without the need for a waiver or letters of recommendation. Elections will be conducted by Chapter officers, in consultation with Directors of Undergraduate Studies in the relevant concentrations, on the basis of transcripts and departmental honors recommendations. Ordinarily students not recommended for honors in their concentrations will not be elected. Students under consideration in this election WILL NOT be informed in advance that they are being considered; they will only hear if they have been elected, shortly before graduation.

After the election meetings, students are informed of the Chapter's decision in writing, generally within three weeks after the deadline for submitting Release Forms and letters of recommendation. Those who are elected and accept membership in Alpha Iota will be inducted at a ceremony shortly after each election. New members are asked to pay a registration fee of $85, which covers the cost of the certificate of membership, Alpha Iota dues, and lifetime membership in the National Phi Beta Kappa Society.

A candidate for election to PBK must have never failed a course, and have never been found responsible by the Administrative Board of an offense of academic dishonesty. Those eligible for each election are as follows:

Junior 24. Members of the Junior Class who have completed two and a half years of undergraduate study at Harvard College. Students who are away from Harvard in the current term are eligible if they have two and a half years' work on their transcripts already. Students who have had a previous term away from Harvard and are therefore in their fifth term, are not eligible. Transfer students are likewise not eligible. Third-year students who are advanced standing and who intend to graduate in May are considered seniors and are thus not eligible.

Senior 48. Members of the Senior Class (either students in their final year or advanced standing seniors) who have completed two years of undergraduate study at Harvard College. Transfer students who came to Harvard in their second year are thus eligible, but not those who came in their third year. A senior is not eligible if s/he has been considered for this election in a previous year (as might have happened in the case of a third-year student who was counted as a Senior in virtue of advanced standing).

Final seniors. Students who will be graduating from Harvard College at the upcoming Commencement, or who have graduated in the preceding November or March. Transfer students are eligible if they have or will have completed at least two years of study at Harvard before graduation.