20 Most Prestigious Honor Societies in America

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Updated: April 23, 2024, Reading time: 12 minutes

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Many American higher learning institutions provide students with opportunities beyond the college campus or program coursework. Outstanding students often have the chance to join some of the most prestigious honor societies in the country. Honor societies are unique organizations that recognize academic excellence.

Students who demonstrate achievements in their academic disciplines and show impressive leadership and character are given the invitation to join an honor society. The largest honor society opens a door of opportunities for them, often going beyond their time at the university.

It means students who are part of college honor societies will not only enjoy the benefits for the moment but also gain from it in the future.

A philosophical or honorary society is an excellent way for them to connect with students who belong to the same area of study, as some of the best honor societies are designed for specific academic disciplines.

It is not surprising to find members of honor societies succeed later on in life, with some members even becoming supreme court justices, presidents, and honor laureates.

Most Prestigious Honor Societies in America - fact
Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What Are Honor Societies?

Within the context of the US education system, specifically American higher learning institutions, honor societies are exclusive organizations whose members are selected and inducted primarily on the basis of excellent academic performance.

Even in the earliest collegiate fraternal societies, this standard can mean either belonging to the top percent of one’s class or being based on a grade point average. As an extra level of exclusivity, membership to these honor societies is typically on an invitation-only basis.

A student’s other qualities are also assessed, namely a good character, as well as strong leadership skills. Given their emphasis on these qualities, many notable members of honor societies have, over the years, gone on to make their marks in their various fields of discipline.

There are currently dozens of Honor Societies in the US, with some for the High School level. Still, by far, they are most commonly found in colleges and universities, recruiting members from both undergraduate and graduate levels.

While some honor societies pick members from all academic fields (including some of the oldest ones), many honor societies are centered on specific fields of discipline.

The first honor societies that became the pattern for others that followed were also founded in the country’s oldest colleges and universities, the first being Phi Beta Kappa at the College of William and Mary in 1776.

In its tradition of firsts, Phi Beta Kappa was also the first to adopt Greek in their name (which has become the standard for most honor societies), which departed from the standard Latin letter fraternity names at the time. The Greek Letter naming has also found its way into fraternities and sororities nationwide.

Benefits of Joining Prestigious Honor Societies

Being a part of an honor can usher in a wealth of benefits for students. However, it is essential to remember that not all students are eligible to join honor societies.

The invitation is only extended to students who meet an honor society’s academic standards. This means the advantages are exclusive to its members. Some of them include the following:

Most Prestigious Honor Societies in America - Honor Societies Accredited

Most Prestigious Honor Societies in America for College Students

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa

The Phi Beta Kappa Society is known as the country’s oldest academic honor society. The organization is symbolized by a golden key engraved on the image of the Greek letters in its name, three stars, and a pointing finger.  Phi Beta Kappa aims to advocate for education in the liberal arts and sciences.

It is also part of their mission to champion freedom of thought and academic excellence. To join Phi Beta Kappa, one must have an invitation.

The founders of Phi Beta Kappa declared that this prestigious scholastic organization was molded by congeniality and the need to promote good fellowship, with friendship as its basis. Students who are invited to join will need to pay the Phi Beta Kappa initiation fee, but this can be covered by their university in some cases.

Phi Beta Kappa society boasts 17 US presidents and more than 150 Nobel laureates among its members. Other notable members include Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois.

Phi Kappa Phi

A global network made up of the best and brightest from all academic disciplines, Phi Kappa Phi has initiated more than 1.5 million members since its founding. It has chapters on more than 325 campuses in the United States and the Philippines.

Admission to this collegiate honor society is on an invitation basis only. The organization reserves the right to recognize students for their accomplishments and character.

Phi Kappa Phi is known to be a very selective national society, offering the invitation to the top 7.5% of second-semester juniors and 10% of seniors and graduate students. This means members can enjoy a stamp of excellence by belonging to this selective multidisciplinary collegiate honor society.

Gamma Beta Phi Society

Considered a national honors and service society, Gamma Beta Phi Society makes it its mission to expand the academic and philanthropic experiences of its members so they can make a difference in the world. Students will need to receive an official invitation from a chapter at their university before they can join.

For those who do not have an established chapter at their institution but meet the academic standards set by the honor society, an opportunity to become a member-at-large is still possible.

Alpha Lambda Delta

Boasting over 95 years of guiding students to academic and career success, Alpha Lambda Delta offers plenty of benefits for its members. This includes financial assistance, discounts and perks, and a leadership certificate.

The members can also find volunteer opportunities that allow them to make a difference in the lives of others. The chapters of Alpha Lambda Delta give back to their communities through various service projects and volunteer activities.

Omicron Delta Kappa

The Omicron Delta Kappa honor society established its unique mission of recognizing and encouraging collaboration among collegiate leaders from various backgrounds and perspectives. As members, one will have a chance to sharpen their leadership skills through sharing their ideas and making a difference in their communities.

Members can enjoy plenty of benefits in this national honor society, including workshops, scholarships, career development, and lifelong connections to other members.

Sigma Phi Sigma

Having received its recognition in 1965, Sigma Phi Sigma holds the distinction of being a national funeral service fraternity. It aims to enhance the education of practitioners in the funeral service industry. To date, this honor society has 17 affiliated chapters.

Alpha Sigma Nu

Alpha Sigma Nu is known to recognize students who hold distinction in scholarship, loyalty, and service. It is the only honor society permitted to bear the name Jesuit.

Members of this honor society are encouraged to pursue intellectual development and make a difference in the world around them by serving others.

Mortar Board

Initially founded in 1918 as a women-only society but becoming co-ed in 1975, Mortar Board is an honor society that recognizes college seniors for leadership service and achievements in excellence.

In keeping with the spirit of their initial founding, Mortar Board also continues to promote the advancement of the status of women, as well as equal opportunities for all.

Sigma Xi

Sigma Xi traces its roots to Cornell University, where it was founded back in 1886 by a group of engineering students and a junior faculty member. Sigma Xi is centered on excellence in scientific research, and its roster of members is made up primarily of scientists and engineers.

Aside from its place as one of the oldest honor societies, Sigma Xi also stands out in terms of prestige. Hundreds of Nobel Laureates were also members of Sigma Xi, including notable and historically essential names such as Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Enrico Fermi, Barbara McClintock, James Watson & Francis Crick, Wolfgang Pauli, and more.

Tau Beta Pi

Tau Beta Pi

Tau Beta Pi is an honor society with members from all engineering disciplines. Founded in 1885 at Lehigh University, Tau Beta Pi is the oldest of the engineering honor societies and is also the second-oldest collegiate honor society in the United States after Phi Beta Kappa.

Among its notable members are Buzz Aldrin and Wernher Von Braun, as well as Lee Iacocca, Michael Bloomberg, and Jeff Bezos.     

Pi Kappa Lambda

Pi Kappa Lambda is an honor society dedicated to the furtherance of music and music education, particularly in higher learning institutions. Members are undergraduate and graduate students of music degrees, as well as music professors.

Founded at Northwestern University in 1918, there are currently over 200 chapters in colleges and universities across the country.

Beta Kappa Chi

Beta Kappa Chi is an honor society dedicated to the pure and applied sciences, particularly the natural sciences and mathematics. Beta Kappa Chi was founded 100 years ago, in 1923, at Lincoln University.

Its founding members were a biologist, a chemist, and a mathematician at the university, inspired by the initial idea of establishing a black student scientific fellowship association.  

Pi Sigma Alpha

Tracing its history to its founding at the University of Texas at Austin in 1920, Pi Sigma Alpha is the only honor society in the United States dedicated to the political sciences. It is aimed at recognizing and promoting high academic achievements in the field.

To this end, Pi Sigma Alpha awards several scholarships to its members for both undergraduate and graduate education, as well as various special awards. Pi Sigma Alpha currently has over 300,000 members from over 800 chapters across the country.

Tau Sigma Delta

Tau Sigma Delta, formally the Tau Sigma Delta Honor Society in Architecture and the Allied Arts, is an honor society dedicated to architecture and design disciplines. It recognizes members not only for their intellectual and academic achievement but also for their leadership, character, and initiative.

Tau Sigma Delta was founded in 1913, with the guidance of the faculty in Architecture and Landscape Design at the University of Michigan.

Kappa Delta Pi

Kappa Delta Pi

The Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education is one of the first and oldest discipline-specific honor societies in the country, having been founded 111 years ago at the University of Illinois.

Kappa Delta Pi selects members from the top 20% of those entering the education field and is dedicated to promoting fellowship among teaching professionals.  

Lambda Alpha

Lambda Alpha is the honor society dedicated to Anthropology, founded in 1969 at Wichita State University, with the name being based on the initial letters of the Greek words logos Anthropos, i.e., the study of humankind.

In its mission to support excellence in the field, Lambda Alpha awards student scholarships, research grants, as well as student paper prizes.

Phi Sigma Tau

Phi Sigma Tau is a discipline-specific honor society dedicated to philosophy. It was founded in 1930 as Alpha Kappa Alpha at Muhlenberg College, gaining its current name upon its incorporation in 1955.

Phi Sigma Tau serves as a means of awarding student excellence in philosophy, promoting research and advanced studies in the field, and promoting ties among philosophy departments across accredited institutions.

Equally importantly, it aims to promote and popularize philosophy among the general collegiate public. 

Chi Alpha Sigma

Established to recognize the achievements of college student-athletes, Chi Alpha Sigma was founded by a former DePauw University head football coach in 1996.

Student-athletes will be considered for membership if they participate in a sport at the varsity intercollegiate level and achieve junior academic standing or higher. They must also earn a cumulative grade point average of 3.4.

Alpha Chi

Established in 1922, Alpha Chi is one of the nation’s top honor societies. Every year, this honor society initiates 10,000 new members. They recognize student scholars who are exceptional in their academic achievement.

Members of this national honor society may find a rich source of scholarships and financial rewards. They can receive grants, fellowships, awards, and travel stipends to support their undergraduate and graduate scholarships.

Phi Upsilon Omicron

Phi Upsilon Omicron

Integrated into the field of family and consumer sciences, Phi Upsilon Omicron has empowered lifelong learning, leadership building, and scholastic excellence since its founding in 1909 at the University of Minnesota. Its expansive network of more than 100,000 members can enjoy the benefits of exclusive scholarships, awards, and fellowships.

 It is a certified member of the Association of College Honor Societies.

Most Prestigious Honor Societies in America - Student Membership Statistic

Key Takeaways

Honor Societies, specifically collegiate honorary societies, are exclusive and prestigious scholastic organizations that recognize students based on academic excellence, good character, or leadership qualities. Membership in these societies is invariably on an invitation-only basis.

Some of the oldest honor societies pick outstanding students from all academic fields for membership; however, there are also honor societies for each of the major academic fields.

They are exclusive and have high standards for entry, but gaining membership in college honor societies is effectively a badge of honor, opening doors to career opportunities and professional networks to graduates, plus benefits for student members such as scholarships, among other perks.

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