What are honor societies?
Honor societies are American organizations dedicated to recognizing students who have excelled in a range of circumstances and fields. Also sometimes known as “professional fraternities,” many of these honor societies are known for their Greek names.
Membership in honor societies is typically earned through invitation only. The requirements of earning an invitation or nomination include meeting certain academic conditions, accomplishing stand-out work, and participation in leadership activities.
According to the Association of College Honor Societies, the minimum criteria for getting into honor societies is as follows:
- Undergraduate (Specialized and Leadership) – Applicants must rank in the upper 35% of the class (typically converts to a 3.2 or 3.3 GPA). 3.0 is considered low in this age of grade inflation. Honor societies that do have a minimum of 3.0 criteria are usually labeled as Recognition Societies.
- Undergraduate (General) - Rank in the upper 20% of the class.
Note: these are generalized - for exact requirements, you must visit your prospective honor society’s website.
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History of Phi Theta Kappa - the official honor society for two-year colleges
Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) was founded on November 19, 1918, in Missouri. PTK was created by a group of college presidents and students of eight Missouri women's colleges. The name of this honor society is inspired by the Greek letters "Phi Theta Kappa" which stand for phronimon, thumos, and katharotes, meaning "wisdom," "aspiration," and "purity."
With more community colleges opening up, Phi Theta Kappa expanded to more states in the country. The first chapter chartered outside Missouri was the Mu Chapter at Northeast Junior College in Oklahoma.
Phi Theta Kappa was recognized as the official national honors society for junior colleges by the American Association of Junior Colleges (now the American Association of Community Colleges) on November 19, 1929. It is the only honor society to have acquired that accolade.
PTK gains international recognition, establishing its first international chapter. The Alpha Tau Delta Chapter was founded at Medicine Hat College, in Alberta, Canada.
As of 2021, Phi Theta Kappa has more than 3.5 million members spread among approximately 1,300 chapters in 10 nations. Its headquarters are located in Jackson, Mississippi.
Related: Do Community Colleges Have Majors?
Why you should join Phi Theta Kappa
As the official honor society for two-year colleges, Phi Theta Kappa has gained a lot of prestige over the years. With only a one-time membership fee, members can access PTK benefits for life. We have compiled a list of some of the best benefits you can receive as a PTK member. Click here for further details available on the PTK website.
- Phi Theta Kappa Golden Key Membership Pin
- Phi Theta Kappa Membership Certificate
- Letters of recommendation citing your membership
- Official Phi Theta Kappa seal placed on your college diploma
- Notation of membership on your college transcript
- Phi Theta Kappa graduation regalia
- Up to $90 million in scholarships for associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees
- Access to $46 million in transfer scholarships offered by nearly 800 four-year colleges and universities across the country
- Financial awards for students pursuing careers, including certain field-specific opportunities that cover the cost of certification exam expenses.
- A PTK exclusive program called PTKConnect for transfer scholarships, colleges, and career pathways
- PTK EDGE for employment training course
- Personalized letters of recommendation for job applications, available on request
- Free access to PTK’s custom, nationally recognized Leadership Development Studies curriculum
Phi Theta Kappa members enjoy discounts through partnerships with:
- Geico - member discount
- Bank of America
- National Enterprise
- Hurst Review Services
Phi Theta Kappa gives you the opportunity to have your work recognized in nationally distributed publications.
- Civic Scholar: “Phi Theta Kappa Journal of Undergraduate Research is the first journal of its kind to feature research and community engagement by community college students.”
- Change Makers: “Phi Theta Kappa Journal of Student Leadership features the work of community college students collaborating with their college administrators to implement projects that support the mission of their colleges and generate positive changes on their campuses.”
- Nota Bene is Phi Theta Kappa’s honors anthology. It publishes original writing in genres including poetry, personal essays, short stories, research papers, and plays
Examples of community colleges with honor societies other than Phi Theta Kappa
Interested in applying to an honors society besides Phi Theta Kappa? We’ve got you covered. Here is a list of some of the best community colleges that offer a variety of honors societies.
Saddleback College recognizes two "all-majors" honor societies as valid and active organizations on campus
Saddleback also has discipline-specific honor societies such as Psi Beta, a psychology honor society.
Currently, Community College of Denver offers four honors societies. The societies aim to encourage engagement while also facilitating the acquisition of vital credentials needed to transfer to a four-year college/ university.
Currently, Community College of Philadelphia offers two honors societies.
Currently, McDowell Tech Community College offers two honors societies.
Currently, Lawson State Community College offers three honors societies.
Honor societies can be a life-changing experience for those who participate in them. Here are some reasons why you should join an honor society and how it would be beneficial to your future.
Honor societies are not easy to get into! There are certain academic, extracurricular, etc. requirements a student must fulfill in order to get an invitation. And so, honor societies often carry a certain prestige that not only opens doors to opportunities but also boosts your resume.
Over the course of your college years, honor societies will help you gain access to a variety of social events, internship/job opportunities, and even international study programs.
Many honor societies offer scholarships, grants, and other monetary awards to their members. Honor societies such as Phi Theta Kappa offer nearly $1 million in competitive scholarships.
Honor societies have an extremely strong alumni system. This gives current members the opportunity to network with local, national, and, even international professionals in the field of their interest. This can in turn help earn a job through tips and connections.
Being a member of an honor society allows you to be a part of something bigger and helps you gain a sense of community. It gives you opportunities to uphold and help your community through community service and various initiatives. Honor societies also have activities and on-campus events that allow you to experience college life to the fullest!
Before making a final decision, it is vital to know both the pros and cons of honor societies. Being a member can prove to be a fruitful experience for some. However, there are certain aspects to consider in order to make a well-informed decision.
Unfortunately, not all honor societies are legitimate. Some groups that claim to be honor societies are actually money-making scams. And so, before making any decisions, you must go through a thorough vetting process.
The best way to make sure the honor society you have been invited to is not a scam is by cross-checking with the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) website. ACHS is a national organization that certifies honor societies to ensure that they're meeting standards.
One of the biggest reasons why students decline honor society invitations is due to the joining fee. All honor societies have a membership fee that varies from anywhere between $20 to $130 (the exact amount differs depending on the society).
You should calculate whether the fee is affordable for you and also if joining that particular honor society provides you with the benefits you’d expect for what you pay.
How to make sure your honor society is legit?
Now that you have a better understanding of what honor societies are, here is a step-by-step guide to making sure the honor society you’re interested in is legitimate.
- ACHS is a national organization that certifies honor societies to ensure that they're meeting standards. The ACHS has a list of all the certified honor societies available on its website. The Association of College Honor Societies also provides a list of what to look for when judging the credibility of an honor society. Click here to read more.
- If the honor society you’re interested in isn’t a part of the ACHS, you should call to find out why.
Vetting the honor society’s website
Information provided by the society’s website can help you figure out whether the society is legit or not. Here are some key things to look out for when vetting an honor society’s website.
- The website should provide a phone number that doesn’t go directly to the voicemail option when you call. There should also be a proper physical address listed on the website (not a PO Box).
- The website should also have a fully accessible list of national elected officers and headquarters staff, bylaws, eligibility criteria and benefits of membership, membership fee, and chapter charter policies and procedures.
- Honor societies have strict merit-based eligibility policies and comprehensive bylaws and policies. It is unacceptable for legitimate honor societies to have a vague or flexible membership criterion.
- Make sure the honor society is a non-profit organization. Nowadays, scammers include “.org” in their website URL to make their society seem legit. The website should have an annual financial report that will help you figure out whether your honor society is for non-profit or not. In case the information is not available on the website, you should place a request for it.
- Do not trust an honor society that provides an online application with no local, campus chapter. Certified honor societies issue invitations to all qualified applicants through their institutional chapters.
Whether you decide to join an honor society or not, it is important to know that the majority of students don’t get invited to join any college honor society. So, if you’ve managed to earn that invitation, congratulations! After going through this article I’m sure you have a better idea of what honor societies are and all the benefits that come with being a member. We wish you the best of luck with your decision!