A college transcript is one of the most vital components of any application, whether to graduate school or a company. At Cornell, student transcripts list course names, grades received and, most notably, the median grade achieved in each class.
Cornell officially began including median grades on the registrar’s website in 1998 and added them to student transcripts in 2008. However, in 2011, median grades were removed from the registrar’s website, where they were viewable to the entire Cornell student body. Ever since then, all students graduating from the University have the median grades for each of their classes listed only on their transcripts.
Rebecca Valli, director of media relations at Cornell, said median grades are not included on the registrar’s website because the University does not want students to become discouraged from taking certain classes based on average grades achieved.
“The hope is that students would not be deterred from taking courses that they wished to take simply because the medians in those courses were low,” Valli wrote in an email to The Sun.
Although the policy was designed to encourage students to take classes, Valeria Valencia ’23, president of the Cornell Student Assembly, said she believes the policy is more vexing than anything.
“In my own personal opinion, it’s more stressful to have [median grades] on transcripts,” Valencia said. “It’s not a common practice, and it is pretty odd and weird.”
The policy can be beneficial to students who score above the median grade, since it highlights how well they performed in relation to their peers, but Valencia worries that for those that score below the median grade, the policy can lower their self-esteem and negatively affect their mental health.
“If you do really well in a class and get an A because you worked really hard, then that A shows up on your transcript,” Valencia said. “But then you see that the median grade is also an A and instead of having that good feeling of having gotten an A, you are stressed and start going down that rabbit hole.”
In past years, the question of whether median grades should appear on transcripts has been brought before the Student Assembly. Although the topic was ultimately tabled, Valencia said she is interested in bringing it back to the floor to hear what current students have to say about it.
Valencia also wonders if this policy aims to combat grade inflation that many other Ivy League institutions are often accused of, such as Harvard and Yale. These schools do not put median grades on transcripts — the only other Ivy League to include them is Dartmouth.
At Cornell, the inclusion of median grades on transcripts remains a contested matter.
Jennifer Zhu ’26 said she supports the policy.
“I personally like to know where I stand in a class, so for me, it gives me a benchmark of where I am,” Zhu said.
Pursuing a pre-med track, Zhu believes that the inclusion of median grades on her transcript may provide the medical schools she applies to with a clearer picture of how she performs as a student without the concern of grade inflation.
“I think that it is beneficial because it gives other schools who might not really know the background of the university you attend and the different demographics that are there a better sense of where you stand in the class, which is very important for a lot of judging criteria for medical school,” Zhu said.
Ester Akapo ’23 said she disagrees with including median grades on transcripts. She believes that Cornell places too great an emphasis on individual grades and that it takes away from the learning experience.
“It’s more equitable to not have that indication on the transcript because you’re going to get a grade on your transcript,” said Akapo. “Whether you have an A, B, C or D, it’s going to show up regardless, so I don’t think having median grades on transcripts should even be needed at all.”
Although the policy has been in effect for over a decade, students still feel wary about the inclusion of median grades and debate its benefits and disadvantages. While many students may share Zhu’s and Akapo’s opinions about the matter, they simply have to accept the fact that, for now, the median grades for each of their classes will continue to appear on their transcripts.
Breanna Masci is a Sun Staff Writer. She can be reached at [email protected]