Though they consider collegiate honors distinctions, some graduate schools and employers agree graduating with “honors” is not the most important factor when selecting students and new hires.
Laura Morsch, a career adviser at the Web site CareerBuilder.com, said honors distinctions do not necessarily matter to employers.
“It really depends on the employer. Graduating with honors certainly isn’t going to work against a student, but some employers weigh the honors designations more heavily than others,” said Morsch, adding that most employers are looking for well-rounded candidates.
Jeff Miles, director of Graduate Admissions at the Elliott School of International Affairs said graduating with honors is a positive factor; however, when the Elliott School reviews potential applicants, the school considers a combination of factors. With an acceptance rate of about 15 percent – around 330 accepted out of less than 2,000 applicants – a candidate needs more on his or her resume than honors.
“We’re looking at about six or seven factors,” Miles said. “We’re looking at undergraduate (grade point average), GRE scores, work experience, foreign language proficiency, recommendation letters, statement of purpose, as well as looking for whether the student has taken micro and macroeconomics, and (looking at) the undergraduate institutions the (candidates) are coming from.”
There are three different ways students can receive honors distinctions at GW. Students can apply and gain admittance to the University Honors Program, a selective program which offers accepted students small, specialized classes. In addition, students can receive honors including magna and summa cum laude, which are GPA-based honors, as well as departmental honors, which are awarded on requirements set by departments individually.
Director of the University Honors Program Grae Baxter believes that participating in honors programs does set students apart in the application pool.
“From my own experience, I would say that being a graduate of the Honors Program does set students apart and gives graduate programs and employers a look closer at that student,” Baxter said.
Baxter also said that because grade inflation leads to inaccurately high GPAs at colleges and universities around the nation, the distinction of being an honors program participant is one way graduate schools and employers can identify truly quality students.
“As the meaningfulness and value of a student GPA declines, the value of other indicators rises,” Baxter said.
According to Baxter, graduate programs tend to be more sensitive to the differences between GPA-related honors and honors program than employers.
“Employers might just go for GPA for convenience and leave it at that,” Baxter said.
Marva Gumbs-Jennings, executive director of the GW Career Center, assists students in their job searches and believes that only having high GPA does not say enough about a student.
“It doesn’t tell me anything about teamwork, how you can communicate.”
Though an honors distinction may not act as a make-or-break factor for students applying to graduate schools or for jobs, participating in an honors program speaks to what type of student that applicant is, Morsch said.
“It says the student is intelligent enough to be accepted into the program or earn the designation,” said Morsch.