In the United States of America, an honor society is a rank organization that appreciates excellence among peers. Various societies recognize numerous fields and circumstances. For example, the Order of the Arrow is the honor society of the Boy Scouts of America. Mainly, the term refers to scholastic honor societies, which recognize students who are excellent academically or as leaders among their colleagues, usually within a specific academic discipline.
Many honor societies offer students to become members based on the grade point averages (GPA) and/or the scholastic rank (the top x% of a class) of those students, or for classes within the discipline that the honor society supplies recognition. If academic success would not be an adequate standard for membership, other criteria are often required for membership (such as completion of a training program or particular ceremony). Besides, a scholastic honor society also adds a criterion relating to the characteristic of the student. Some honor societies are invitation while others permit unsolicited applications. Last but not least, membership in an honor society may be considered exclusive. More specifically, a member of such a society cannot join other honor institutions representing the same field.
Classified by the color of the school, degree, and other distinction, academic robes and regalia are operated under rules of a voluntary Intercollegiate Code. Furthermore, countless colorful devices such as cords, tassels, stoles, scarves, and medallions are used to point out honor society members. Among these, cords and tassels are mostly used. Most organizations accept honor cords, tassels, and/or medallions for membership in an honor society. Stoles are less common but still available for some honor societies. Honor societies may sell these items of accessory regalia as a fundraiser or service.
Many fraternities and sororities are regarded as honor societies by their membership or by non-members, and vice versa, even though this is not always the case. Though university honor societies are the most prevalent, honor societies are available at high schools, colleges/universities, and postgraduate levels. The oldest academic society in the United States, Phi Beta Kappa, was established as a social and literary fraternity at the College of William and Mary in 1776. It was later organized as an honor society in 1898, following the foundation of Tau Beta Pi for Engineering (1885), Sigma Xi for Scientific Research (1886), and Phi Kappa Phi for all disciplines (1897).