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'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

New graduation honors policy to take effect this year

Beginning with the Class of 2024, distinctions like ‘cum laude’ will be determined by class rank, not GPA
Daniel Parolini
Many seniors have expressed displeasure regarding the new honors policy created to align with peer institutions among other reasons.

Wake Forest’s new policy for determining Latin honors at graduation — which was originally passed in 2019 by a vote of the College faculty — takes effect this spring for the Class of 2024.  

Latin honors, in academia, generally refers to designations bestowed upon graduating students based on their academic performance. In ascending order of prestige, the most common distinctions — and the ones Wake Forest uses — are cum laude (with honor), magna cum laude (with great honor) and summa cum laude (with highest honor). According to the job-hunting website Indeed, Latin honors can be a resumé booster, showing high motivation and academic achievement, though employers are now relying less and less on GPA, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers

According to the Office of the University Registrar, under the old policies, a graduating student with at least a 3.8 GPA would have received summa cum laude honors, a student with at least a 3.6 would have received magna cum laude honors and a student with at least a 3.4 would have received cum laude honors. Now, summa cum laude recipients must be in the top 5% of their graduating class, magna cum laude in the top 15% and cum laude in the top 30%. 

Though the policy has been on the books for four years, many seniors were surprised to learn of the new system, and many have expressed their displeasure. 

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Senior politics major Katie Zeng said that because of the new policies, she feels more pressure to get perfect grades in her final semester and is starting to make comparisons between herself and her peers more often. 

“[The old system] gave me a way to say, ‘Okay, this is what I can aim for,’ and I knew exactly what I was capable of doing,” Zeng said. “And now, because it’s based on the entire class, I’m not sure how well I’m doing, so I am constantly comparing myself to my peers rather than like, knowing exactly how I compare with myself.”

Provost Dr. Michele Gilespie, who was dean of the college when the change was voted on, told the Old Gold & Black by email that the new policy brings Wake Forest into closer alignment with some of its peer institutions. 

The purpose of the change was to update our methods and align them with our peers, including universities like Georgetown, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Duke, Davidson, William and Mary and Rice,” Gillespie said in her email. Peer institutions are used by universities, including Wake Forest, for benchmarking and comparison purposes.

The Old Gold & Black found that of these peer schools, only William and Mary does not currently use a percentile cutoff for determining Latin honors. Two of these schools take a different approach than Wake Forest. The University of Notre Dame determines GPA cutoffs that correspond to percentage ranks, which are then announced at the beginning of the academic year. Vanderbilt evaluates seniors based on where their GPA would rank among the previous graduating class or classes. According to Gillespie, Wake Forest will make calculations regarding class rank GPA cutoffs between the end of the spring semester and May commencement, which will apply to summer and fall graduates for that year, as well. 

Senior sociology major Nishka Hajela also said that she thinks the new standards will promote competition among students, rather than collaboration. On top of that, she believes the new standards give an unfair advantage to students in majors where A grades are easier to come by.

“I think it undermines the diversity of a liberal arts education because majors and difficulty levels vary a great deal,” Hajela told the Old Gold & Black. “As a sociology major, I do believe it is easier to get As than as a chemistry major, for example.”

Gillespie, in response to these concerns, said that most students who major in subjects they care about will have higher GPAs than those who do not, regardless of the major a student chooses.

Senior anthropology and history major Ella Virkler expressed frustration with what she called a lack of transparency regarding class rank. Class rank is not available on the Wake Information Network like student GPAs are. Instead, students must submit a form requesting their class rank to the University Registrar.

“It’s not clear where you are in the class ranking,” Virkler said. “So it’s just super annoying to not know, and then especially applying to Master’s [programs] and graduate school at the same time, it’d be great if I could write anticipated graduating magna or summa cum laude, but I can’t plan because I don’t know where I’m gonna be.”


Correction January 26: A previous version of this story’s third paragraph in both the print and online editions contained incorrect information on the percentage of graduating class and corresponding Latin honors. The article has been updated to reflect the accurate information.  

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About the Contributor
Aine Pierre
Aine Pierre, Online Managing Editor
Aine is a senior from Cherry Hill, N.J. She is a history major with minors in journalism and sociology. When not in the OGB office, you can find her watching "Avatar: the Last Airbender" with her friends, obsessively refreshing her Twitter (sorry, X) feed or freaking out about the dog that she just saw. She also serves as Chief Editor of Three to Four Ounces Literary Magazine.

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    A. MommaJan 27, 2024 at 5:42 pm

    There is no questions the hard sciences and some other more difficult majors will be adversely impacted by this absurd, unnecessary policy change. Students’ futures will be harmed by this. It isn’t just egos. Shame on you, Wake! You already have grade deflation and it is clear this new Admin possesses a warped sense of what its “peer schools” are. Many of us appreciate that the academic world is somewhat coopted by nonsense and that “prestige” is meaningless, but while playing in the higher academe game, why would you handicap your own students?! It is clear that the USNWR and other rankings certainly DO NOT consider the schools named, ie Vandy, Rice, etc to be Wake’s peers. As it stands now, sports seem to get the bulk of alum. donations anyway. The most well known and famous Wake alum are mainly athletes too. Merit money is virtually non-existent for high academic performers at Wake. Even when there is some paltry amount to be had, these already busy and hard working students are made to pay and jump through absurdly time consuming hoops and apply for it. The departments never simple recognize their top performers and award them accordingly. This latest move is not going to help the top student you already give so little to as they move on for graduate and professional degrees. Keep hurting your best students, Wake. Eventually they won’t have any money to donate to you, assuming any of them would even want to give you another cent anyway. For some, it is too late to transfer but I certainly would be pushing for that, or not applying at all, if this “bait and switch” has been implemented years earlier.