The cutoff grade point averages for academic honors at graduation this May rose slightly from last year, generating some buzz about the increasing competitiveness of academics at the University.
The cutoff for cum laude, the lowest level of Latin honors, awarded to 15 percent of the class, increased from 3.72 to 3.75 last year. To earn summa cum laude honors, which go to the top 5 percent of the class, members of the Class of 2007 had to have a GPA of at least 3.93, up from 3.91 the year before. The cutoff for magna cum laude, which is awarded to the next 10 percent of the class, was 3.85, up from 3.82 last year.
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Students and administrators said that some individual students with high GPAs were disappointed and surprised that they did not receive honors at graduation, but most students were not upset by the change. The proportion of graduating students receiving honors stayed the same, since it is fixed by the academic regulations.
Stephen Kappa ’07 said that students in his class were aware of the competitiveness of the General Honors awards this year, but the subject did not influence the tone of graduation at all. Most students do not have the time to reflect about their academic performance during graduation anyway, Kappa said.
“People accomplished great things and got honored, and that was great and everybody celebrated that,” Kappa said. “I didn’t get the sense that people were upset or disgruntled.”
Adam Clark-Joseph ’07 said his peers always had the impression that their class was more academically oriented than those in previous years, so while people commented on the GPA cutoffs — particularly on the limit for cum laude honors — most were not surprised. Some even reacted positively to the high cutoffs, Clark-Joseph said, because they were proud of their class’s strong performance.
Current seniors said that students whose grades are on the border for honors may become more concerned about the rising GPA cutoffs, but for the most part, they do not think the issue will cause anxiety among their classmates. Michael Lindsay ’08 said he did not come to Yale worried about his college GPA, so whether or not he receives honors will not affect him as he approaches graduation.
Ryan Fennerty ’08 said students tend to keep their concerns about grades to themselves, so last year’s honors cutoffs may not become a topic of conversation even as they provoke private anxieties among seniors.
“If you’re borderline, I think [you’re] probably the most concerned,” he said.
Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker said he hopes graduates do not become obsessed about whether or not they receive honors during Commencement.
“It is the nature of any award that is tied to a ranking that each year some students will just make, while other students will just miss, a cutoff,” Schenker said in an e-mail. “It’s my hope that students in either situation use the occasion of Commencement to look beyond the limits of such matters to celebrate the broader achievement of having earned their bachelor’s degree from Yale College.”