For a university student, graduating with an honor is a great title to have. It is no surprising that many students try their best to pass through the Gate of Honor. Unfortunately, not everyone can pass through the Gate and land the coveted title. Some voluntarily stop in front of the Gate, thinking that the reward doesn’t justify the effort. But many more are actually disappointed, hoping that they could have the chance.
Now the chance has increased in NUS. The university has decided to widen the Gate to welcome more students in. it lowers the GPA requirement from 3.5 to 3.2 in four schools: arts and social sciences, business, science and nursing. In other schools in NUS, 8 out of 10 students can graduate with an honor, while in the 4 schools here the ratio is 6 to 10. With the lowered bar, around 500 more students from the 4 schools can move on to their fourth year and study for their honors.
The Purpose of an Honor System: Flexibility
It is definitely a great change, and also a rational one. The purpose of having an honor system is flexibility. When one gets into NUS, he usually gets into a three year track. At the end of the three years, one can decide if he wants to continue his study in the fourth year. If he chooses to and his GPA meets the mark, he can stay on campus for one more year. If his grades in his fourth year meet the mark, he can graduate with an honor. For those who do not wish to continue study or those whose GPA do not cut it (or both), he can graduate with just a bachelor’s degree.
The Benefit of an Honor System: Choice
So the honor system allows mutual selection. The university selects students whose academic results are good enough for further studies while students also choose if they want to stay or leave. It works fine.
And NUS makes it works better! It gives more choice back to students by lowering the requirement. In other words, it allows more students the ability to make a choice. It makes the honor program more inclusive.
Choice and Quality?
Would the change dilute the quality of students who graduate with honors? That is unlikely to happen for two reasons. Firstly, the quality of students entering NUS, and the 4 schools in particular, has increased. NUS, with its rising global ranking and exciting education initiatives, has attracted more and more high school leavers in Singapore and from overseas with good academic results. It can be seen from the steadily rising 10th percentile admission grades in the Indicative Grade Profiles of the university.
Students are doing better, and a student who gets a 3.2 may be as ready for an honor program as a student who got 3.5 a few years ago. In the same spirit of finding students who are suitable for more challenging studies, the policy change apparently lowers the admission bar, but in essence it sticks to the same bottom line that increases together with the average quality of students.
The second reason why lowering GPA wouldn’t dilute the quality of students is that getting into one’s fourth year does not necessarily mean being able to graduate with honors. One still has to meet the mark for getting the title, otherwise one graduates with a bachelor’s degree, much like those who only do a three-year program. Including more students may increase competition, and also allow more students the chance to work hard. It is to the benefits of the students and the university.
Finding a Job with an Honor Title
And the initiative also has positive impact on students finding a job. As you can see, except for nursing, the three other schools aren’t very practical in nature. They wouldn’t teach how to build an airplane model or how to argue in court. Even the science school is more theoretical than applied.
When the students are applying for a job, they usually can’t present their portfolio or work sample. They may not also have hard skills acquired by those engineering students. They don’t have many “concrete achievements”. In that case, employers may rely on other factors that differentiate a student. Having an honor is definitely a plus, as it shows greater ability and motivation to learn.
Having said that, places like NTU with direct honor system are still easier for students to pursue an honor, as one needs no further selection after one gets into a university. The selection mechanism in NUS is still there. But you can put the favorable move of NUS on your scale of consideration and see if it tips the balance a little bit.