Latin honors cutoffs stay steady

Seniors who graduated this past May required nearly the same grade point averages as those of past years in order to obtain Latin honors.

The cutoffs for summa cum laude and magna cum laude honors remained steady from last year, with a GPA of 3.93 and 3.85 required to receive each honor, respectively. Only the GPA threshold for cum laude honors saw any change, with a slight drop from 3.77 for the class of 2009 to 3.76 for the class of 2010.

University regulations since 1988 have capped the number of students receiving Latin honors at 30 percent; the top 5 percent graduate with summa cum laude honors, the next 10 percent magna cum laude honors and the following 15 percent cum laude honors. Cutoffs for each of the Latin honors are calculated the Friday before Commencement, University Registrar Jill Carlton said.

Yale awards fewer Latin honors than its peer institutions. At Harvard for instance, university regulations allow up to 50 percent of students to graduate with honors, while at Princeton, 42.6 percent of students in the class of 2010 graduated with honors.

None of the 14 seniors interviewed said these figures would change how they would spend their final year at Yale.

Gabriel Ellsworth ’11 said the majority of students in his class would not know these numbers. Seniors have too many other things going on to be worried about Latin honors, he said.

Another senior, Brent Muller ’11, also said that few seniors are concerned about reaching the cutoffs as they finish college. The ones who are conscious of the numbers, he said, are the ones on the borderline.

“The attitude is more like: if you so happen to get the scores, you’ll be happy, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” Muller said.

Other seniors suggested that Yale’s non-competitive culture and its general academic prestige might reduce students’ concern over Latin honors.

Several 2010 graduates interviewed expressed sentiments similar to those held by current seniors.

Steven Kesten ’10 said none of his classmates thought about Latin honors during the year.

“In fact, the first time anyone found out about them was in our residential colleges at Commencement,” Kesten said.

Sameer Gupta ’10, who was president of the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in his senior year, said he thinks that Yale students are not competitive about Latin honors.

But some current seniors said they think the way Latin honors are calculated — based purely on GPA — is unfair to students in some majors, particularly those in the sciences, where grading curves are steeper.

Gupta, though, said there are multiple methods of recognizing academic achievement at graduation, including Phi Beta Kappa and distinction in the major.

“All of these use different, imperfect metrics to recognize students,” Gupta said. “However, I think the idea is that students disadvantaged by one honor’s criterion will not be by the other honors’ criteria.”

Current seniors will have to wait until Commencement weekend to find out if they have received Latin honors.


  • YaleMom

    Who needs Latin? It’s a dead language, people!

  • FailBoat

    > Gupta, though, said there are multiple methods of recognizing academic achievement at graduation, including Phi Beta Kappa and distinction in the major.

    The difference, of course, is that Latin honors and PBK are university-wide (and heavily dominated by those who major in more generously-graded majors), whereas distinction in the major (which is all that the average science major can hope for), is on a per-department basis.

  • penny_lane

    I don’t know…no one ever talked about it, but I know I wondered a lot. I was right on the cusp (sooo close!) but didn’t make it. I bet other people who have a shot but aren’t really sure wonder too.

  • yale05wfp

    *to YaleMom* I earned cum laude honors, while raising two children, in fact homeschooling them, and finishing my own undergrad in 3 yrs. It was a lot of discipline , with a goal. I have since mentioned this honor on every job application, and I believe it does tell a future employer a great deal about the applicants work ethic, value for education and character. Its a very good thing, and serves a student well upon exiting college. It was also helpful in entering grad school , I believe.