Grades and Honors

The Grading System

Letter Grades

Non-Letter Grades

The Grading System

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences uses the following system of letter and non-letter grades to evaluate undergraduate student work:

Letter Grades

A, A–   Earned by work whose excellent quality indicates a full mastery of the subject and, in the case of the grade of A, is of extraordinary distinction.

B+, B, B–  Earned by work that indicates a good comprehension of the course material, a good command of the skills needed to work with the course material, and the student’s full engagement with the course requirements and activities.

C+, C, C–  Earned by work that indicates an adequate and satisfactory comprehension of the course material and the skills needed to work with the course material and that indicates the student has met the basic requirements for completing assigned work and participating in class activities.

D+, D, D–  Earned by work that is unsatisfactory but that indicates some minimal command of the course materials and some minimal participation in class activities that is worthy of course credit toward the degree.

E  Earned by work which is unsatisfactory and unworthy of course credit towards the degree.

Non-Letter Grades

ABS  Students who miss a regularly scheduled midyear or final examination are given a failing grade of Absent (ABS), which will be changed only if the student is granted and takes a makeup examination. Unexcused absences are counted as failures (see Final Examinations).

CR/NCR  CR/NCR is used only for certain cross-registration courses. The grade of Credit represents letter grades from A to D–; the grade of No Credit represents the letter grade of E.

EXLD  A notation of Excluded (EXLD) indicates that the student was not permitted to continue in the course by vote of the Administrative Board or Honor Council, and received no credit. Exclusion from a course is equivalent in all respects to failing it and in and of itself makes the student’s record for the term unsatisfactory.

EXT  Instructors may allow students extensions of time to complete course work up to the last day of the Examination Period. After that date, only the Administrative Board may grant extensions of time for undergraduates to complete course work. Until the date of extension, the student is given a grade of Extension (EXT). EXT is only a temporary notation; a final grade must be given if the Administrative Board does not grant additional time or, if additional time is granted, upon the expiration of the extension (see Extension of Time for Written or Laboratory Work). 

PA/FL   The grade of Pass represents letter grades of A to D–; the grade of Fail represents the letter grade of E. Certain courses may, with the instructors’ permission, be taken on a Pass/Fail basis. Independent Study is always graded PA/FL.

SAT/UNS   The grade of Satisfactory includes letter grades from A to C–; the grade of Unsatisfactory represents work below C– and is considered a failing grade. No students enrolled in courses graded SAT/UNS may receive letter grades in those courses. The following junior and senior tutorials must be graded SAT/UNS:

African and African American Studies 99a and 99b
Applied Mathematics 99r
Chemistry 91r, 98r, and 99r
Comparative Literature 98a, 98b, 99a, and 99b
English 99r
Folklore and Mythology 99a and 99b
French 99a and 99b
German 99a and 99b
Government 99r
History 99a and 99b
History & Literature 99a and 99b
History of Art and Architecture 99
History of Science 99a, 99b
Italian 99a and 99b
Latin American Studies 99
Linguistics 99a and 99b
Literature 98a, 98b, 99a, and 99b
Mathematics 60r
Portuguese 99a and 99b
Psychology 985, 990a, 990b, 992a, 992b, 993a, and 993b
Religion 99a and 99b
Romance Studies 99a and 99b
Scandinavian 99a and 99b
Slavic 99a and 99b
Social Studies 99a and 99b
Sociology 99a and 99b
South Asian Studies 99
Spanish 99a and 99b
Special Concentrations 99a and 99b
Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology 99a and 99b
Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality 99a and 99b

Freshman seminars are always graded SAT/UNS. House Seminars may be graded SAT/UNS at the option of the course instructor and with the approval of the Committee on Freshman Seminars.

Approximately six business days after the end of the final examination period, students can view their final and midyear grades at my.harvard. However, students who complete online evaluations for all courses in which they were enrolled for the term will be provided early online access to their final course grades.

A student may request that the instructor review a grade that has been received and may also ask to consult with the chair of the department or committee of instruction offering the course. However, final authority for the assignment of grades rests with the instructor in charge of the course. Once a grade has been reported to the Registrar, it can be changed only upon the written request of the instructor to the Registrar, acting on behalf of the Dean of Harvard College (or the Dean of the Graduate School in the case of 200- or 300-level courses). The Registrar must be satisfied that all students in the course will have been treated equitably before authorizing any grade change.

Grades of C– or higher, as well as the grades of CR, PA, and SAT, are passing and satisfactory grades. Grades of D+ through D– are passing but unsatisfactory grades. Grades of E, ABS (Absent), NCR (No Credit), FL (Fail), UNS (Unsatisfactory), and EXLD (Excluded) are failing grades.

The grade of INCOMPLETE (INC) cannot under any circumstances be given to undergraduates.

Grade Point Averages for Undergraduates

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences averages its letter grades with a 4-point scale: A = 4.00, A– = 3.67, B+ = 3.33, B = 3.00, B– = 2.67, C+ = 2.33, C = 2.00, C– = 1.67, D+ = 1.33, D = 1.00, D– = 0.67. E, ABS, NCR, FL, UNS, EXLD = 0. The grade point average is the numerical average of all grades received in letter-graded courses taken under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for degree credit. In addition, the grade point average includes all failed courses (including failing and unsatisfactory grades in courses taken Pass/Fail and SAT/UNS), courses taken for credit in the Harvard Summer School, and cross-registration courses as appropriate. Passing grades received for courses taken through cross-registration will not be used in computing a student’s grade point average except when the courses are counted toward concentration requirements or taken in the Graduate School of Education as part of UTEP (see Cross-Registration). Grades received for course work done out of residence will not be used in computing the grade point average. Grade point averages are calculated on both a cumulative, semesterly, and annual basis. Students of the sophomore, junior, and senior classes in the top 5 percent of their respective classes will be designated John Harvard Scholars, based on the grade point average of the previous academic year (for those enrolled in both semesters the prior year). Students of the sophomore, junior and senior classes in the top 10% of their respective classes who are not designated John Harvard Scholars will be designated Harvard College Scholars.

Promotion

A student will ordinarily be promoted at the end of any term upon the basis of the number of terms completed or for which credit has been given, as follows:

For sophomore standing 2 terms completed
For junior standing 4 terms completed
For senior standing 6 terms completed

Requirements for Honors Degrees

Summa Cum Laude in a Field

Magna Cum Laude in a Field

Cum Laude in a Field

Cum Laude for the overall record

All degree candidates must satisfy the requirements of an approved field of concentration and meet all other degree requirements. There are two types of honors in the College: English honors (or departmental honors) are determined by the department, committee, school, or program that oversees the relevant concentration and are based solely on work done in the concentration; Latin honors (or College honors) are based on the entirety of the student record, and recommendations for Latin honors are made to the Governing Boards of the University by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences recommends bachelor degrees for presentation to the Governing Boards of the University as follows: regular degree; cum laude on the basis of the student’s overall record; cum laude in a field; magna cum laude in a field; magna cum laude with Highest Honors in a field; or summa cum laude in a field. Faculty and concentration standards for honors may change without notice; both sets of standards must be met.

All candidates for degrees with honors must have satisfactory letter grades (C– or higher) in a minimum of 96 letter-graded credits (prorated appropriately for students graduating with fewer than 128 credits passed at Harvard). Grade point averages are based on all completed letter-graded courses taken while at Harvard including all failed courses, courses taken for credit in Harvard Summer School, and by cross-registration only as appropriate (see Grade Point Averages).

The relevant concentration will determine the level of English honors, if any, for an undergraduate who completes the requirements for honors eligibility in that field. If departmental honors are awarded, the student may then be recommended to the College for a determination of Latin honors. Thus, the awarding of departmental honors for work in a concentration is a precondition for the recommendation by the College of Latin honors in a field. It is possible that a student who has completed the relevant requirements for honors in a concentration will have the student's record judged unworthy of honors in the field but still worthy of a degree; such a student may then be recommended by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for a regular degree, subject to the general regulations, or, if qualified, for the degree cum laude. When applicable, both English honors and Latin honors are noted on the official transcript. Only Latin honors are designated on the diploma.

 

The Faculty will award degrees with honors based on the criteria below:

Summa Cum Laude in a Field

For the degree summa cum laude the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will consider records of only those students who are designated by their concentration to receive Highest Honors in a field. The determination of Highest Honors is a serious matter requiring the collective consideration of the faculty affiliated with the concentration. In reaching this decision the faculty may choose to evaluate not only the candidate’s grades in concentration courses, but also the level and rigor of those courses, and other indicators of the candidate’s mastery of the field, such as performance on a thesis or comparable piece of independent work and/or on a written or oral general examination.

The degree summa cum laude is given to the top 5 percent of the graduating class, drawn from those designated for Highest Honors. The standards of each May will be applied at subsequent degree meetings until the following May.

Magna Cum Laude in a Field

A candidate may be recommended by the Faculty for the degree magna cum laude in a concentration or joint concentration provided the student has been designated by the concentration to receive High Honors or Highest Honors. For May degrees, the total number of degrees summa cum laude and magna cum laude combined will be no more than 20 percent of all May degree candidates. The Faculty will recommend for magna cum laude those students with the highest grade point averages who have not already been recommended for the degree summa cum laude. Candidates in this category who received Highest Honors from their concentration but were not awarded summa cum laude will be recommended for the degree magna cum laude with Highest Honors in a Field. The minimum grade point average that is awarded a degree magna cum laude each May will constitute the standard to be applied for that degree at subsequent degree meetings until the following May.

Cum Laude in a Field

A candidate may be recommended by the Faculty for the degree cum laude in a concentration or joint concentration provided the student has been designated by the concentration to receive Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors. For May degrees, the total number of degrees summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude in field sum to 50 percent of all May degree candidates. The Faculty will recommend for cum laude in field those students with the highest grade point averages who have not already been awarded the degree summa cum laude or magna cum laude. The minimum grade point average that is awarded a degree cum laude in field each May will constitute the standard to be applied for that degree at subsequent degree meetings until the following May.

Cum Laude for the overall record

A candidate not designated to receive honors in a concentration may be recommended by the Faculty for the degree cum laude on the basis of overall grade point average alone if the student's grade point average is at or above the minimum grade point average awarded the degree magna cum laude. In any May, if the number of candidates with a sufficient grade point average exceeds 10 percent of all May degree candidates, only those with the highest grade point averages totaling 10 percent of all May degree candidates will be awarded the degree cum laude on the basis of overall grade point average alone. The minimum grade point average that is awarded a degree cum laude each May will constitute the standard to be applied for that degree at subsequent degree meetings until the following May.

Prizes

The awarding of prizes at Harvard can be traced back to Edward Hopkins, a London merchant who came to America in 1637. His bequest continues to provide prizes for “Hopeful youth in the way of Learning…for the publick Service of the Country in future times.”

Today, over 200 different prizes are awarded each year in recognition of academic excellence, achievement in a particular field, or outstanding individual qualities. The Bowdoin Prizes, established by the bequest of Governor James Bowdoin, AB 1745, are among many noteworthy prizes for which students submit essays, theses, or other scholarly works.

For more information, including prize descriptions, eligibility requirements, and lists of past winners, please see the website for the Prize Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Further information is available from the Prize Office, University Hall, Ground Floor (617-495-4780 or prizes@fas.harvard.edu). Information on athletic prizes may be obtained from the Department of Athletics

Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa is an academic honors society committed to the promotion of scholarship in the liberal arts and sciences among the students of American colleges. Alpha Iota of Massachusetts at Harvard, founded in 1781, is the oldest chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in continual existence. Undergraduate members, selected from a pool of candidates with the highest cumulative numerical grade point averages in their academic divisions, are elected on the basis of their scholarly achievement and breadth of intellectual interest. Twenty-four juniors are elected each spring, forty-eight seniors are elected each fall, and in the final election, before Commencement, a sufficient number of degree candidates are elected to bring the total membership to no more than ten percent of each graduating class. Students elected to Phi Beta Kappa have typically chosen the most challenging courses available, pursued independent research as part of an honors concentration, achieved excellence in coursework across all academic divisions, and attained outstanding grades in all courses.

The undergraduate members of Alpha Iota, led by four Phi Beta Kappa Marshals, decide on the Phi Beta Kappa awards for teaching excellence given to three members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Literary Exercises during Commencement Week. The chapter also awards grants for independent research to a number of juniors each spring. For more information see the Harvard College Phi Beta Kappa website.