The grade cutoff needed to graduate with Yale’s highest level of academic distinction rose slightly for the fourth straight year.
Since 1988, Yale has awarded three levels of Latin honors to the top 30 percent of each graduating class: summa cum laude for the top 5 percent, magna cum laude for the next 10 percent and cum laude for the remaining 15 percent. Last spring, the grade-point average cutoffs for the three levels of distinction were 3.96, 3.88 and 3.80, respectively, while the cutoffs for the class of 2012 were 3.95, 3.89 and 3.80, respectively. GPA cutoffs for the Latin honors have increased by at least three-hundredths of a point since 2010.
Of 15 seniors interviewed, only two were aware of the University policies regarding Latin honors. None said the honors or changes in cutoffs were particularly significant.
“We’re trying to develop ourselves,” Josef Goodman ’14 said. “No one really talks about this. So few people talk about grades. I don’t know anybody’s GPA. It’s not an emphasis.”
Compared to its Ivy League peers in Cambridge, Mass., and Princeton, N.J., Yale has the highest standard for Latin honors. Harvard awards the distinctions to approximately half of its graduating class, while Princeton reserves Latin honors for the top 40 percent of its graduates.
Several students criticized the Latin honor system’s sole reliance on GPA as a measure of academic success. Margaret Zhang ’14 said she placed more importance on departmental distinctions and fellowships than on Latin honors awards.
“The last time I heard about summa cum laude was in ‘Legally Blonde,’” Zhang said.
Ayezan Malik ’14 said he was more concerned with job opportunities than GPA distinctions. Others echoed Malik’s statements, adding that a lack of awareness of the Latin honors system and a feeling of indifference pervade the senior class. Several seniors said they had never had a conversation about Latin honors before in their Yale careers.
Liang Yu ’14 and Zhang added that some seniors place greater value in the Phi Beta Kappa distinction. Because Phi Beta Kappa is first announced during junior year, students are generally more interested in using it on their resumes, said Yu, who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. Latin honors are not given until the end of senior year, and Yu said that few people care about the distinctions as a result.
Overall, seniors said they are more concerned with other aspects of their college experiences than their grades and potential qualifications for Latin honors.
“When I look back on my Yale career, and look back at the top 10 memories, my GPA will not make that list,” Goodman said. “The only ‘A’ that matters is between the ‘Y’ and the ‘L.’”
Each spring, seniors find out whether or not they will graduate with Latin honors just days before Commencement exercises begin in May. In 2006, GPAs of 3.72, 3.82 and 3.91 were needed to graduate with cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude honors, respectively.