The primary units of Phi Beta Kappa are the chapters. New members are elected and initiated every year by the chapters and are members for life. Currently, chapters exist at 280 institutions of higher learning throughout the United States. The number of chapters has grown continuously since the beginning of the Society in 1776, with the most recent chapters being granted at the 42nd Council in 2009.
Phi Beta Kappa chapters are granted to the Phi Beta Kappa members among the faculty and administration of the sheltering institution. These members, often called active or resident members of the chapter, are responsible for conducting chapter business. Each chapter elects its own officers, while the chapter secretary carries the chief responsibility for maintaining records and communicating with the national office of Phi Beta Kappa.
In the process of electing and initiating new members, the chapters hold ceremonies each year, usually in the spring. These occasions are conducted according to long-standing tradition and often feature speakers and special award presentations. Over 15,000 new members, usually students in their senior year of undergraduate work, are elected each year.
The chapters also sponsor a range of other activities to honor scholarship and promote education in the liberal arts and science on campus and in the community. Among these various programs are public lectures, teaching awards, fellowships and scholarships, writing prizes, mentor programs and teacher workshops.
Phi Beta Kappa sets high standards not only for the selection of students elected to membership but also for the institutions which may shelter a chapter. Applications for new chapters are accepted on a triennial basis following a lengthy process of documentation by the Phi Beta Kappa members among an institution's faculty and administrative staff. Additional information about applying for a chapter may be reviewed under the section for Starting a Chapter or obtained from the Director of Chapter Relations.