"Honor Societies", illustration from the 1909 Tyee (yearbook of the University of Washington)

In the United States, an honor society is an organization that recognizes individuals who rank above a set standard in various domains such as academics, leadership, and other personal achievements, not all of which are based on ranking systems. These societies acknowledge excellence among peers in diverse fields and circumstances. The Order of the Arrow, for example, is the National Honor Society of the Boy Scouts of America. While the term commonly refers to scholastic honor societies, which primarily acknowledge students who excel academically or as leaders among their peers, it also applies to other types of societies.

History

The origins of honor societies in the United States can be traced back to the establishment of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, which began as a debating society and did not initially impose grade point average (GPA) restrictions for membership.[1] [2]

Many honor societies invite students to become members based on the scholastic rank (the top x% of a class) and/or grade point averages, either overall or for classes taken within the discipline for which the honor society provides recognition. In cases where academic achievement would not be an appropriate criterion for membership, other standards are usually required for membership (such as completion of a particular ceremony or training program). Scholastic honor societies commonly add a criterion relating to the student's character. Most honor societies are invitation-only, and membership in an honor society might be considered exclusive, i.e., a member of such an organization cannot join other honor societies representing the same field.

Many honor societies are referred to by their membership or by non-members as fraternities and sororities. Honor societies exist at the high school, collegiate/university, postgraduate, and professional levels, although university honor societies are by far the most prevalent. In the United States, the oldest academic society, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded as a social and literary fraternity in 1776. Other honor societies were established a century later, including Tau Beta Pi for engineering (1885), Sigma Xi for scientific research (1886), and Phi Kappa Phi for all disciplines (1897). Mortar Board was established in 1918 and was the first national honor society for women who were college seniors.

During the era of honor society expansion in the early 20th century, these organizations were generally supportive of cultural changes that challenged racism, classism, and sexism. Like other aspects of academia, honor society integration and diversity grew with the expansion of an increasingly multicultural and co-educational student body. There were some holdouts, but academia in general, and its honor societies as a reflection, were on the vanguard of change. Several Jewish-only organizations merged into (or absorbed) formerly Christian-exclusive societies. Title IX forced most single-sex societies to admit women, though many had already opted to embrace this change.[a] Racial barriers, where they existed, were challenged and retired, with any holdouts subject to significant criticism.[3][4][5] The presence of these holdovers and the demise of those that exhibited overt racism offer an opportunity for a critical reassessment of the criteria and culture within honor societies.[6]

While changes sparked from within these societies were prevalent between the massive influx of students after World War II and before and after the adoption of Title IX, additionally, the demand for recognition of racially diverse scholars spurred the 2005 founding of the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society by Yale University and Howard University. Rather than adopting the traditional tapping to identify top students from a given academic class based on merit, a distinct aspect of this society's nomination process is its focus on self-nominations.[b] A Ph.D. or Ph.D. track is required, among other qualifications.[7][8][9][10] Modern honor societies are increasingly focused on creating supportive environments that promote the academic and personal development of all scholars, especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups.[11][12] This evolution reflects a broader movement within academic institutions towards a more equitable and comprehensive recognition of student excellence.[13][14][15]

Regalia

Academic robes and regalia identifying by color the degree, school, and other distinctions, are controlled under rules of a voluntary Intercollegiate Code. In addition, various colored devices such as stoles, scarves, cords, tassels, and medallions are used to indicate membership in a student's honor society. Of these, cords and mortarboard tassels are most often used to indicate membership. Most institutions allow honor cords, tassels, and/or medallions for honor society members. Stoles are less common, but they are available for a few honor societies. Virtually all, if not all honor societies have chosen such colors and may sell these items of accessory regalia as a service or fundraiser.

Umbrella organizations

The Honor Society Caucus and Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) are two voluntary associations for national collegiate and post-graduate honor societies.[16] ACHS formed in 1925 to establish and maintain desirable standards for honor societies.[16] Later, four prestigious founding members of ACHS established the Honor Society Caucus, expressing that the ACHS had diluted and lost sight of the mission of its founding members.[17][18] While ACHS membership is a certification that the member societies meet these standards, not all legitimate honor societies apply for membership in ACHS.[19][16]

Collegiate honor societies

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (February 2016)

Notable national and international honor societies based in or at schools include the following:

General and leadership societies

General collegiate societies are open to all academic disciplines, although they may have other affinity requirements. Leadership societies recognize leadership, with a multi-disciplinary scholarship component.

Society Symbols Emphasis Colors References
Alpha Chi ΑΧ General   Emerald Green and   Sapphire blue
Alpha Kappa Mu ΑΚΜ General   Royal blue and   White
Alpha Lambda Delta ΑΛΔ General, Freshman   Maroon and   Gold
Alpha Sigma Lambda ΑΣΛ Genral, Non-traditional students   Burgundy and   Gold
Alpha Sigma Nu ΑΣΝ General, scholarship and service at

Jesuit institutions of higher education

  Maroon   Gold
Bouchet Graduate Honor Society General, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral
Chi Alpha Sigma ΧΑΣ General, student athletes   Gold and   Black
Delta Alpha Pi ΔΑΠ General, students with disabilities   Royal blue and   Gold
Delta Epsilon Sigma ΔΕΣ General at traditionally Catholic colleges   Black and   Gold
Delta Epsilon Tau ΔΕΤ General, Distance Education Accrediting Commission institutions [20][21][22]
Epsilon Tau Pi ΕΤΠ General, Eagle Scouts   White,   Red,   Blue, and   Black
Golden Key International Honour Society General   Navy Blue,   Gold, and   White
Ku Klux Klan (defunct) Interfraternity leadership, Juniors   Black
Lambda Sigma ΛΣ Scholarship, leadership, and service   Blue and   Gold
Mortar Board General, Seniors   Gold and   Silver
National Residence Hall Honorary Residence hall leadership and service   Blue and   White
National Society of Collegiate Scholars Leadership, scholarship, and service   Purple and   Gold
Omicron Delta Kappa ΟΔΚ Leadership and scholarship, upperclassmen and graduate students   Sky blue,   White, and   Black
Order of Omega General, fraternities and sororities   Ivory and   Gold
Phi Beta Kappa ΦΒΚ Arts and sciences, undergraduate   Pink and   Sky blue
Phi Eta Sigma ΦΗΣ General, freshman   Gold and   Black
Phi Kappa Phi ΦΚΦ General   Blue and   Gold
Phi Sigma Pi ΦΣΠ General   Purple and   Gold
Phi Tau Phi ΦΤΦ General
SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society General, veterans and active military [23][24][25][26]
Scabbard and Blade General, ROTC. JROTC. and midshipmen   Red,   White, and   Blue
Sigma Alpha Lambda ΣΑΛ Leadership and scholarship   Navy,   Black, and

  Gold

Tau Sigma ΤΣ General, transfer students   Burgundy and   Gold
Tu–Mas (defunct) Interfraternity leadership, Juniors   Black

Humanities

These societies are open to Humanities disciplines and may be department-specific.

Society Symbols Academic emphasis Colors References
Alpha Iota Sigma ΑΙΣ Interdisciplinary studies [27]
Alpha Mu Gamma ΑΜΓ Foreign languages   Gold
Alpha Psi Omega ΑΨΩ Theatre   Moonlight Blue and   Bastard Amber [c]
Alpha Upsilon Alpha ΑΥΑ Reading and language arts   Gold and   Silver
Chi Tau Epsilon ΧΤΕ Dance [28][29][30][31]
Delta Epsilon Chi ΔΕΧ Divinity
Delta Phi Alpha ΔΦΑ German   Black,   Red, and   Gold
Delta Phi Delta ΔΦΔ Art   Red and   Bright blue
Eta Sigma Phi ΗΣΦ Classics   Purple and   Gold
Kappa Kappa Psi ΚΚΨ Music - band   Blue   White
Kappa Pi ΚΠ Art   Purple and   Gold
Kappa Tau Alpha ΚΤΑ Journalism and mass communication   Light blue and   Gold
Lambda Iota Tau ΛΙΤ Literature   Purple and   Gold
Lambda Pi Eta ΛΠΗ Communication   Crimson and   Silver
Mu Beta Psi ΜΒΨ Music   Red and   White
Omega Xi Alpha ΩΞΑ Journalism
Phi Sigma Iota ΦΣΙ Modern foreign languages and literature,

Upperclassmen and Graduate Students

  Purple and   White
Phi Sigma Tau ΦΣΤ Philosophy   White and   Purple
Pi Delta Phi ΠΔΦ French   Blue,   White, and   Red
Pi Kappa Lambda ΠΚΛ Music   Gold and   White
Pi Nu Epsilon ΠΝΕ Music
Sigma Delta Pi ΣΔΠ Spanish and Portuguese   Red and   Gold
Sigma Tau Delta ΣΤΔ English   Cardinal and   Black
Society for Collegiate Journalists SCJ Journalism
Tau Beta Sigma ΤΒΣ Music - band   White and   Blue
Theta Alpha Kappa ΘΑΚ Religious studies, theology, and philosophy   Red and   Gold
Theta Alpha Phi ΘΑΦ Theatre   Purple and   White
Theta Chi Beta ΘΧΒ Religious studies

Social sciences

These societies are open to social science disciplines and may be department-specific.

Society Symbols Academic emphasis Colors References
Alpha Iota Delta ΑΙΔ Decision sciences   Green and   Gold
Alpha Kappa Delta ΑΚΔ Sociology   Teal and   White
Alpha Mu Alpha ΑΜΑ Marketing   Red [32]
Alpha Phi Sigma ΑΦΣ Criminal justice and law   Blue and   Gold
Beta Alpha Psi ΒΑΨ Accounting and finance   Crimson and   Black
Beta Gamma Sigma ΒΓΣ Business programs accredited by AACSB   Royal blue and   Gold
Chi Sigma Iota ΧΣΙ Counseling   White and   Blue
Delta Mu Delta ΔΜΔ Business programs accredited by ACBSP   Purple,   Gold, and   White
Eta Sigma Delta ΗΣΔ Hospitality management   Blue and   White
Eta Sigma Gamma ΗΣΓ Health education   Dark green and   Gold
Gamma Theta Upsilon ΓΘΥ Geography   Brown,   Light blue, and   Gold
Kappa Delta Pi ΚΔΠ Education   Purple and   Gold
Kappa Omicron Nu ΚΟΝ Human sciences   Maroon and   Gold
Lambda Alpha ΛΑ Anthropology   Red,   White, and   Black
Lambda Epsilon Chi ΛΕΧ Paralegal   Royal Purple
Mu Kappa Tau ΜΚΤ Marketing   Navy blue
Nu Lambda Mu ΝΛΜ Nonprofit management [33][34]
Omega Rho ΩΡ Operations research and management science   Blue and   Red
Omicron Delta Epsilon ΟΔΕ Economics
The Order of Barristers Law school
Order of the Coif Law school graduates   Maroon and   Black
Order of the Sword & Shield ΟΣΣ Homeland security, emergency management,

and protective studies

  Blue and   Gold
Phi Alpha ΦΑ Social work   Royal blue and   Light gold
Phi Alpha Theta ΦΑΘ History   Madonna Red and   Madonna Blue
Phi Beta Delta ΦΒΔ International education   Gold and   Red
Phi Delta Phi ΦΔΦ Law   Garnet and   Pearl Blue
Phi Upsilon Omicron ΦΥΟ Family and consumer science   White,   Yellow, and   Violet
Pi Alpha Alpha ΠΑΑ Public administration   Light Blue and   Gold
Pi Gamma Mu ΠΓΜ Social sciences   Royal blue and   White
Pi Lambda Theta ΠΛΘ Education   Gold
Pi Omega Pi ΠΩΠ Business education   Blue,   Silver and   Gold
Pi Sigma Alpha ΠΣΑ Political science   Red and   Black
Psi Chi ΨΧ Psychology   Platinum and   Dark Blue
Sigma Beta Delta ΣΒΔ Business, management, and business administration   Hunter green and   Gold
Sigma Iota Rho ΣΙΡ International relations   Black,   Blue, and   Red
Sigma Nu Tau ΣΝΤ Entrepreneurship [35][36]
Tau Upsilon Alpha ΤΥΑ Human services [37][38][39]
Upsilon Phi Delta ΥΦΔ Health administration   Crimson red and   Blue

STEM

These societies are open to students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines and may be department-specific. This section also includes all healthcare-related fields, including veterinary science.

Society Symbols Academic emphasis Colors References
Alpha Epsilon ΑΕ Agricultural food, and biological engineering Black   and   Gold
Alpha Epsilon Delta ΑΕΔ Pre-medical   Red and   Violet
Alpha Eta ΑΗ Allied health professions [40]
Alpha Eta Mu Beta ΑΗΜΒ Biomedical engineering   Red and   Gold
Alpha Mu ΑM Agricultural systems management [41][42]
Alpha Nu Sigma ΑΝΣ Nuclear engineering
Alpha Omega Alpha ΑΩΑ Medical students and physicians   Green,   Gold, and   White
Alpha Pi Mu ΑΠΜ Industrial engineering   Purple and   Light Yellow
Alpha Sigma Mu ΑΣΜ Metallurgy and materials engineering   Silver and   Gold
Beta Beta Beta ΒΒΒ Biology   Blood red and   Leaf green
Beta Kappa Chi ΒΚΧ Natural Scinece and Mathematics   Golden Yellow and   Royal Blue
Beta Phi Mu ΒΦΜ Library and information science   Purple and   White
Beta Sigma Kappa ΒΣΚ Optometry [43][44][45][46]
Chi Beta Phi ΧΒΦ Science and Mathematics   Colonial blue and   Crimson
Chi Epsilon ΧΕ Civil engineering   Purple and   White
Chi Epsilon Pi ΧΕΠ Meteorology   Royal blue and   Silver
Delta Tau Alpha ΔΤΑ Agriculture   Green and   Harvest gold [47]
Delta Omega ΔΩ Public health   Black and   Gold;  

Stole color is   Peach

Epsilon Pi Tau ΕΠΤ Technology   Blue,   White, and   Gold
Eta Kappa Nu ΗΚΝ Electrical engineering and computer engineering   Navy blue and   Scarlet
Gamma Nu Eta ΓNH Information technology [48][49]
Gamma Sigma Delta ΓΣΔ Agriculture   Sand and   Forest Green [50]
Gamma Sigma Epsilon ΓΣΕ Chemistry   Royal blue and   White
Iota Tau Alpha ΙΤΑ Athletic training [51][52]
Iota Sigma Pi ΙΣΠ Chemistry and related fields, women   White,   Gold, and   Cedar green
Lambda Beta ΛΒ Respiratory Care   Blue and   Green
Nu Rho Psi ΝΡΨ Neuroscience   Gold and   Black
Omega Chi Epsilon ΩΧΕ Chemical engineering   Black,   White, and   Maroon
Omicron Kappa Upsilon ΟΚΥ Dentistry   Navy blue,   Gold, and   Lilac
Phi Alpha Epsilon ΦΑΕ Architectural engineering   Purple and   White
Phi Lambda Upsilon ΦΛΥ Chemistry   Pink Litmus and   Blue Litmus
Phi Sigma ΦΣ Biological sciences   Medium Green,   White,

and   Old gold

Phi Tau Sigma ΦΤΣ Food Science and Technology   Gold and   Maroon
Phi Zeta ΦΖ Veterinary medicine   Blue and   Yellow
Pi Alpha Xi ΠΑΞ Horticulture   Nile green and   Cerulean blue
Pi Delta ΠΔ Podiatry [53]
Pi Epsilon ΠΕ Environmental science   Blue and   Green
Pi Epsilon Tau ΠΕΤ Petroleum engineering and related fields   Gold and   Black [54][55][56]
Pi Tau Sigma ΠΤΣ Mechanical engineering   Murrey and   Azure
Rho Beta Epsilon ΡΒΕ Robotics   Crimson,   Gold, and   Black [57]
Rho Chi ΡΧ Pharmacy   Purple and   White
Sigma Gamma Epsilon ΣΓΕ Geology and earth science   Gold,   Blue, and   Silver
Sigma Gamma Tau ΣΓΤ Aerospace engineering   Red and   White
Sigma Lambda Alpha ΣΛΑ Landscape architecture   Gold and   Green
Sigma Lambda Chi ΣΛΧ Construction management technology   Green and   Gold
Sigma Phi Alpha ΣΦΑ Dental hygiene, women   Deep purple   Bright gold
Sigma Phi Omega ΣΦΩ Gerontology   Blue and   Gold [58]
Sigma Pi Sigma ΣΠΣ Physics and Astronomy   Forest Green and   Ivory
Sigma Sigma Phi ΣΣΦ Osteopathic medicine and medicine   Crimson and   Royal blue
Sigma Theta Tau ΣΘΤ Nursing   Orchid and   Fuchsia
Sigma Xi ΣΞ Research in Science and Engineering   Blue and   Gold
Sigma Zeta ΣΖ Natural sciences, Mathematics, and Computer science   Blue and   White
Tau Alpha Pi ΤΑΠ Engineering technology   Green and   Gold
Tau Beta Pi ΤΒΠ Engineering   Seal Brown and   White
Tau Sigma Delta ΤΣΔ Architecture   White and   Gold
Upsilon Pi Epsilon ΥΠΕ Computer science and computer engineering   Green and   Gold
Xi Sigma Pi ΞΣΠ Forestry   Green and   Gray

Local collegiate honor societies

Some universities have their own independent, open honor societies, which are not affiliated with any national or international organization. Such organizations typically recognize students who have succeeded academically irrespective of their field of study.

Society Emphasis Institution Colors References
Activities Honorary Society Leadership University of Illinois at Chicago [59]
Aquinas Honor Society General, Seniors University of St. Thomas
Bucket & Dipper Scholaship, service, and leadership; Juniors Ohio State University [60][61][62][63][64]
Cap and Skull Service and scholarship, Seniors Rutgers University
Cannon and Castle Military Yale University
Chimes Junior Class Honorary Scholarship, service, and

leadership; Juniors

Ohio State University [60][65][66]
Dean William Tate Society Scholarship and activities;

Freshmen

University of Georgia [67][68]
Florida Blue Key Leadership University of Florida
Friar Society Seniors University of Texas at Austin [69]
Iron Arrow Honor Society Leadership and scholarship University of Miami [70]
Matteo Ricci Society General, fellowship candidates Fordham University [71]
Mirrors Sophomore Honorary Scholarship, leadership,

and service; Juniors

Ohio State University [60][72]
Mountain Seniors West Virginia University [73][74][75][76]
Owl and Key Seniors University of Utah
Phalanx Scholarship and activities Clarkson University [77]
Phalanx Honor Society Leadership and service, seniors Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [78]
Plumb Bob Leadership University of Minnesota [79][80]
QEBH Seniors University of Missouri
Quill and Dagger Leadership and service Cornell University
Raven Society General University of Virginia
Romophos (inactive) Leadership, service, and scholarship; Sophomores Ohio State University [60][81][82]
Society of Innocents Seniors University of Nebraska–Lincoln [83]
Skull and Bones Seniors Pennsylvania State University [84]
Skull and Dagger Seniors University of Southern California [85]
Sphinx (Inactive) Senior men West Virginia University [86][87]
SPHINX Scholarship, leadership, citizenship,

and service; Seniors

Ohio State University [60][88]
Sphinx Head Seniors Cornell University
Texnikoi Engineering Ohio State University   Black and   Yellow
Tiger Brotherhood Service Clemson University [89][90]
White Key Society Leadership and service,

freshmen and sophomores

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [78][91]

Community college, two-year college, and vocational school honor societies

Society Symbols Emphasis Colors References
Alpha Beta Kappa ΑΒΚ Private Certificate, Vocational and Trade Schools   Red and   Blue
Alpha Beta Gamma ΑΒΓ Business at two-year colleges   Black and   Red
Alpha Gamma Sigma ΑΓΣ California community colleges
Delta Psi Omega ΔΨΩ Theatre at two-year colleges   Moonlight Blue and   Bastard Amber [c]
Epsilon Phi Delta ΕΦΔ German at two-year colleges
Kappa Beta Delta ΚΒΔ Business at community colleges
La Sociedad Honoraria de la Lengua Española Spanish at two-year colleges   Red and   Gold
Mu Alpha Theta ΜΑΘ Mathematics at two-year colleges   Turquoise blue and   Gold
National Technical Honor Society Workforce vocational education institutions   Purple,   Silver, and   White
Phi Rho Pi ΦΡΠ Forensics at two-year colleges
Phi Theta Kappa ΦΘΚ General, community and junior colleges   Blue and   Gold
Psi Beta ΨΒ Psychology at two-year colleges   Royal blue and   Gold
Sigma Kappa Delta ΣΚΔ English at community and junior colleges   Green and   Gold

Secondary school honor societies

Commonly referred to as high school societies. This list also includes middle school societies.

Society Symbols Emphasis Colors References
California Scholarship Federation General
Computer Science Honor Society Computer science
Cum Laude Society General
Delta Epsilon Phi ΔΕΦ German
International Thespian Society Theatre   Sapphire and   Gold
Mu Alpha Theta ΜΑΘ Mathematics   Turquoise blue and   Gold
National Art Honor Society Visual arts
National Business Honor Society Business, juniors and seniors [92][93][94][95]
National Beta Club General   Black and   Gold
National Chinese Honor Society Chinese [96][97]
National English Honor Society English   Cardinal and   Black
National Honor Society General   Blue and   Gold
National Honor Society for Dance Arts Dance
National Junior Classical League Latin and Greek
National Junior Honor Society General   Blue and   White
National Society of High School Scholars General [98][99]
National Speech and Debate Association Public speaking   Red and   Silver
National Technical Honor Society Vocational education   Purple,   Silver, and   White
Quill and Scroll Journalism
Rho Kappa ΡΚ Social studies
Science National Honor Society Science
Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica Spanish and Portuguese
Société Honoraire de Français French   Blue,   White, and   Red
Technology Student Association STEM   Red   blue   White
Tri-M MMM Music   Pink

Community-based honor societies

Society Symbols Emphasis Colors References
Firecrafter Boy Scouts Crossroads of America Council
Order of the Arrow Boy Scouts of America
Tribe of Mic-O-Say Boy Scouts Heart of America Council and Pony Express Council
Tribe of Tahquitz Local Boy Scout honor society

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Some professional fraternities continue to maintain single-sex housing, whereas honor societies, in almost all cases non-residential, more readily accepted a co-ed model.
  2. ^ This follows the model of "recognition societies", which Baird's Manual tracked as a separate category of fraternal society but is now grouped within the larger set of honor societies.
  3. ^ a b In theater lighting, a "bastard" color is a lighting gel that has been mixed with a small amount of a complimentary color, creating a more natural result. See Bastard color.

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