Discretion for Departments

A July 3 Wall Street Journal article called cum laude designations “close to the norm at many top schools,” reporting rising rates of Latin honors awarded at graduation. At Princeton, 47.2 percent of the Class of 2018 graduated with honors; during the past two decades the percentage of students receiving honors has ranged from 41.5 percent to 48.3 percent. 

Princeton gives departmental faculty broad discretion in awarding honors. Each department is free to award as many (or as few) honors as it deems appropriate based on performance in departmental courses, the senior thesis, and comprehensive exams. The English department sets cutoffs so that only a third of its concentrators receive Latin distinction. The Department of Philosophy, which bases the majority of its calculation on independent work, awards honors to about half of its seniors each year.

Yale caps honors at 30 percent of the graduating class, with further caps on different levels of honors. Harvard, which revised its system in 2002 after 91 percent of the previous graduating class received honors, relies on departmental recommendations and college-wide GPA cutoffs. It limits honors recipients to no more than 60 percent of graduating seniors.