Cornell has begun phasing out the Dean’s List designation effective this semester. Students who matriculated during the Summer 2023 and all future semesters will no longer be eligible for the academic distinction, awarded by each individual college and school based on their own grade point average and credit hour requirements. However, all students who matriculated prior to the Summer 2023 semester can still be awarded Dean’s List recognition.
The change comes after debate regarding the policy’s equity, as each Cornell undergraduate college had its own criteria required to earn a spot on the list. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences requires 15 credits taken for a grade to qualify for the Dean’s List, while the other six colleges only require 12 credits. Similarly, GPA requirements differ across colleges, with the College of Arts and Sciences requiring a minimum GPA of 3.6, but the School of Industrial and Labor Relations has a progressive requirement, with first-years needing only a 3.3 GPA and seniors needing a 3.6 GPA.
In 2021, the Faculty Senate created a list of policy recommendations to address these discrepancies. Among the changes include the elimination of the Dean’s List as well as a standardized method of awarding Latin honors like Summa and Magna cum laude, as each college has different requirements for this distinction.
The proposal cited the fact that only two other Ivy League schools — the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University — still use the Dean’s List as a marker of academic success. The report stated the elimination of the Dean’s List will allow students the freedom to explore classes outside of their comfort zone.
“[The Dean’s List] continuously promotes the centrality of high grades, thereby feeding grade obsession, increasing student academic stress and encouraging students to have a gradecentric approach to their education,” the recommendation stated. “Students may thus be discouraged from exploring the curriculum more broadly and taking more intellectual risks than they otherwise would if not so focused on grades.”
Kyra Levin ’27, a first-year student in the College of Human Ecology, spoke favorably of the change as it will help alleviate some of her academic stress.
“When you eliminate that additional competition between students, it will encourage group work and collaboration in classes,” Levin said. “I was always going to try my best to get the best grades possible. Personally, I wasn’t doing it for a Dean’s List title.”
Levin also commented on the policy’s drawbacks, saying it may disincentivize students from working hard without the prospect of honors.
“I think that it does potentially also lead to less academic commitment due to the fact that when people are working towards some sort of title, they tend to work harder and more efficiently,” Levin said.
Liat Cohen ’27, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that she does not expect the elimination of the list to affect her time at Cornell.
“I wasn’t ever expecting to be on the Dean’s List… [Now,] I don’t feel like I have to worry about competition and grades as much,” Cohen said. “[However,] it is harder to show that you’re in the top of your class.”
But Cohen stated that overall, the removal of the Dean’s List will help her better explore her academic interests.
Karen Shamir ’26, a sophomore in the College of Engineering who still has the potential to qualify for the Dean’s List for her remaining years at Cornell, does not see the removal of the list for new students as a major change.
“I didn’t know what the Dean’s List was [before this announcement],” Shamir said. “It honestly doesn’t really affect me.”
Shamir also believes that due to this change, competitiveness among students may be reduced. She attended a competitive high school and mentioned that ranking systems often failed.
“They often do more harm than good,” Shamir said. “It turned people against each other… and just made [for] a very toxic environment.”
James Pittman ’26, a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said he received the Dean’s List recognition once during his time at Cornell, and the recognition didn’t give him much academic validation.
“I had to Google what it meant, and it didn’t really matter much to me,” Pittman said. “It sounds like a step in the right direction. I think it’s unfair to have a Dean’s List based on letter grades when some professors have different levels of rigor in the way they grade.”
Pittman discussed how in some classes, a grade of a B+ might be signal that a student is doing quite well, but it would not qualify a student to achieve the Dean’s List distinction.
However, Pittman also talked about a possible drawback of this change.
“It might make people who do actually put in the effort and get a grade that is reflective of A-level work feel dejected as they are not getting any additional recognition,” Pittman said.
Despite these differing opinions, several students told The Sun that the Administration was not effective about notifying students of this change.
Cohen mentioned that she had only heard about it in passing and had never seen an official University communication regarding it. The only place where this information is easily accessible is on the Academic Policies page for the College of Arts and Sciences.
All first-year students, regardless of their GPA, will not see a Dean’s List notification on their transcript this semester, while all other students can expect to see the distinction under the same requirements.
Dina Shlufman ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].