The mean GPA earned by American college students is 3.1, a solid B average. Anything above a 3.0 GPA is considered a fairly strong performance and is often enough to maintain any scholarship awards. Scoring a bit higher than average will improve a student’s chances at standing out to employers or being accepted into a graduate program. However, only those toward the top of their college cohort will earn a place on the dean’s list. The following blog will answer the question—what is the dean’s list? We will also offer examples of how the dean’s list works at a number of prominent colleges and universities.

What is a Dean?

Let’s start by answering a basic question—what is a dean? “Dean” is a title given to the academic leader of a given college or department/school within a larger university. It is an administrative position and the responsibilities of deans vary from school to school. However, in general, they serve the senior management of the college (President, Provost, etc.). Dean’s usually manage students and faculty in a multitude of capacities.

What is the Dean’s List?

Similar to the “honor roll” or “principal’s list” in high school, the dean’s list is a recognition of earning excellent grades. The dean’s list award is awarded by some colleges annually, while others issue the honor each semester.

GPA for Dean’s List

Not all colleges determine the dean’s list based on a strict GPA cutoff. Some institutions do name a constant GPA figure. For example, the University of Pennsylvania grants the dean’s list distinction to any student with above a 3.7 GPA. On the other hand, Temple University awards dean’s list honors to students with GPAs in the top 16% each semester. We’ll explore a number of other examples below in order to illustrate the variability in how dean’s list eligibility is determined.

As a further complication, some larger universities have different GPAs or cutoffs at the various colleges or schools within that institution. For example, the College of Arts & Sciences may have a different minimum GPA than the College of Engineering.

Example Schools

UNC Dean’s List

The University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill places students on the Dean’s List who:

  • Earn a minimum of a 3.5 GPA
  • Have no grade lower than a C
  • Are enrolled in 12 or more credits in a given semester

To learn more about your admissions chances at this school, visit our blog: How to Get into UNC Chapel Hill.

UW Madison Dean’s List

The University of Wisconsin has a more complicated set of dean’s list rules. Here, underclassmen and upperclassmen are held to different standards. Additionally, UW Madison has different rules depending upon which academic program you are enrolled in.

Within the UW Madison College of Letters & Science:

  • Freshman or sophomores must earn a 3.6 or above in 12 credits worth of coursework.
  • Juniors or seniors must earn a 3.85 or better.

In the UW Madison College of Engineering:

  • Any student with a 3.5 semester GPA earns a place on the Dean’s List.
  • The only exception is if that student has less than a 3.0 cumulative GPA.

To learn more about the admissions process at this school, visit our blog: How to Get into UW Madison.

LSU Dean’s List

Until 2022, LSU required that students take 15 credits in a semester to be eligible. They lowered that to 12 credits this year. The criteria is as follows:

  • Students who earn a 3.5 to a 3.9 are placed on Louisiana State University Dean’s List.
  • Those who earn better than a 3.9 are placed on the President’s List.

Click here for more info about applying to LSU.

UConn Dean’s List

UConn is a university that only awards a place on the Dean’s List to those within the upper quartile of their given college or school. This can work out quite differently depending on one’s academic programs. For example, here are some school-specific cutoffs in the Spring 2022 semester at UConn:

  • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: 3.86
  • School of Business: 3.88
  • School of Education: 4.0
  • School of Engineering: 3.81
  • School of Nursing: 4.0

To learn more about earning admission to this school, visit our blog: How to Get into UConn.

MSU Dean’s List

Michigan State University is a school with a very simple and straightforward system. At MSU, the list is for anyone who:

  • Take 12 or more credits.
  • Earns a 3.5 or better GPA.

To learn more about earing admission into MSU, visit our blog: How to Get into Michigan State.

Purdue Dean’s List

The Purdue University Dean’s List is a recognition given to any student with:

  • A 3.5 in a semester over 3.5 GPA.

To learn more about gaining admission to this school, visit our blog: How to Get into Purdue.

Penn State Dean’s List

Like Purdue, PSU has a straightforward formula for determining eligibility:

  • 3.5 GPA and a minimum of 12 credits.
  • Part-time students can be considered if their GPA across semesters is a above a 3.5 over 12 or more credits.

To learn about your chances of getting into PSU, visit our blog: How to Get into Penn State.

Other Academic Awards

As we mentioned in the introduction, earning academic honors can help you stand out when it comes time to hit the job market or applying to graduate/professional school. Highly desirable employers may only be looking for resumes of students possessing high GPAs. Similarly competitive graduate programs, law school, and medical schools will want to see GPAs much higher than average.

Some schools will award an award such as President’s List to students who obtain 4.0 (or sometimes lower) GPAs. When it comes time to graduate, students can earn Latin Honors on their diplomas for cumulative GPAs. Some colleges award Latin Honors using a GPA cutoff, while others award it only to a certain percentage of top students. One such example is at UPenn, which uses the following breakdown:

  • Summa Cum Laude: 3.8 or above
  • Magna Cum Laude: 3.6 to under 3.8
  • Cum Laude: 3.4 to under 3.6