Saying Goodbye to Grades

February 23, 2010

E.M., 1L

I didn’t worry about grades in college. I was in trade school (as I am now) and was sure that the jobs I would hold would be staffed by people unlikely to care that I had attended college, much less want to know my GPA or see a transcript. I was almost exclusively motivated by academic interest when choosing classes. Fortunately, this benign neglect of my GPA did not hurt me in the end.

Many applicants and, I believe, all current students find Yale’s idiosyncratic grading system—which includes a first semester entirely free of grades—appealing. We all thoroughly understand and appreciate the way it allows one to ease gently into the work of the law, establish relationships with classmates and professors free from the pressure of grade-induced competition, and direct energy to projects outside the classroom.

Each of these is invaluable. Each has made the first few months of law school among the most engaging and enjoyable of my life (I hear this is not always the case).

Less obvious, however, is the way they interact. This lack of grades is a life-long gift. It allowed me to construct my identity in law in terms more meaningful to me than grades. It let me choose metrics and commitments more suited to my goals than competition against classmates who share none of them.

The pleasures of a completely ungraded first semester are fleeting (we do, after first semester, receive evaluative grades of “honors” or “pass”). But the effect of this openness will endure, widening our grasp of and deepening our commitment to law and the causes it should serve.