The grade point averages required to receive Latin honors at graduation this past May remained virtually constant compared to last year’s cutoffs.
Although members of the class of 2008 needed to have a GPA of 3.76 or higher to earn cum laude honors — a marginal increase from last year’s 3.75 cutoff — the cutoffs for magna cum laude and summa cum laude honors held steady at 3.85 and 3.93, respectively. The GPA cutoffs for honors have increased significantly in the last two years. Members of the class of 2006 had to have a GPA of at least 3.72 to earn cum laude honors, 3.82 for magna cum laude and 3.91 for summa cum laude.
Cum laude honors are given to 15 percent of graduating students, while the magna cum laude distinction is awarded to 10 percent of the class and summa cum laude to the top 5 percent of the class. Yale’s academic regulations have capped the percentage of students receiving honors at 30 percent since 1988, when the number of students graduating with honors surged.
Students, though, did not seem particularly concerned about whether the numbers rise or not.
Maureen Lloyd ’08 said students in last year’s senior class were aware of the competition for Latin honors, but few of her peers were overly concerned about graduating with honors. Personally, she said, she “never worried about it too much.”
“I’m not sure that your success at Yale depends on your academic honors,” Lloyd said.
“Towards the end of the year, I don’t know anyone who was stressing about cum laude honors,” she said, although she added that when the GPA cutoff numbers appeared in the News last year, “a little ripple of tension went around. I could see people doing the mental math.”
Lloyd said seniors she knew were more concerned about being elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society, than about earning degree honors.
Another graduate, Mark Appel ’08, said he had a few friends who were upset that they did not receive honors because their GPAs bordered on the cutoffs, but that their disappointment lasted for only a short time.
“The people that were upset about it — I think they could care less now,” Appel said. “It’s not a direct bearing on what you do after graduation.”
Appel, who now works at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., suggested that competition in the job market is much more rigorous — and more serious.
“[Compared to] the difference between magna and summa, the difference between having a job and not having a job is a lot bigger,” he said.
Current undergraduates interviewed said even though high GPAs are necessary for those hoping to enter graduate or professional schools, GPAs and academic honors are, at best, a flawed measure of success at Yale.
“I don’t really care — worrying about your GPA is so high school,” Elissa Berwick ’09 said. She mentioned that because of grade inflation and the availability of easy classes, honors are less meaningful than they seem.
“It’s so easy to take gut classes, but that’s no fun,” she said, adding that she does not know anyone who openly discussed grades.
David Porter ’10 agreed, saying, “I don’t think grades reflect that much about a person’s achievements at Yale, because it depends so much on the classes you take and the things you do.” As for his plans to enter graduate school, Porter said that although he tries to do well in every class, he is more concerned about writing a high-quality senior thesis.