How To Be A Dean’s Lister – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on How To Be A Dean’s Lister.

How To Be a Dean's Lister

Recently I noticed there’s a good number of students (mainly university) who reads PE. So I figure it’ll be useful for me to write a post on getting on the dean’s list. This post will be beneficial for any student, not just university students, as it’s about achieving academic excellence. Even if you aren’t a student, it’s still a good read. I reckon some of the tips shared here can be cross-applied to other areas in life.

Coincidentally it’s the exam periods of the local universities right now (all the best to those sitting for exams now!), so these might come a little late for this semester. Use it as the prep guide from next semester onwards, and you’ll be set to graduate with flying colors :)

What is a Dean’s List?

Dean’s List should be a familiar term to university students / graduates. Here’s what Wiki has to say:

A Dean’s List is a category of students in a college or university who achieve high grades during their stay in an academic term or academic year. .. Its meaning varies from institution to institution, and other terms are sometimes used instead in place of dean (e.g. provost’s list, chancellor’s list, president’s list).

Dean’s List, as the Wiki describes, is an honorary roll assigned to the top students. The GPA cut-off to get into the Dean’s List varies across faculties and academic terms. If I were to give a ballpark estimate, your GPA has to be at least 3.6/4.0 or 4.5/5.0 (i.e. average of A- and A for all subjects) and above to be considered on the Dean’s List. If students were more competitive in a particular term, the cut-off will be higher.

When I was studying in NUS (National University of Singapore), I was on the Dean’s List for all 3 academic years I studied there. NUS Business School was a competitive faculty (it’s a leading business school in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region), with a good number of students from top junior colleges and scholars from the neighboring countries, so it was an accomplishment to be on the list. I later graduated in 2006 as the top student in my specialization (Marketing). In my graduation year, I was also awarded gold medals for being the most outstanding student, which I was honored to receive.

Looking back, university years were easily my best years in my entire 2 decades of education, and I’m not saying that because I did well. The graduation from every academic phase from primary school -> secondary school -> junior college -> university would grant us students with increased freedom and liberty. It was something I really appreciated, especially being free-spirited at heart. (IMO, bureaucracies and disciplinarian approaches hardly bring out the best in us – while there’s merit behind the approaches, it’s only short-term. In the long-term, they tend to stifle and suffocate.)

Why get on the Dean’s List?

There are definite benefits from being a Dean’s Lister, some of which are deterministic and a couple I consider more as fringe benefits.

I’d like to highlight that these are benefits I experienced as a business student during my time (2003-2006). They might not apply to other universities/faculties/time periods, though I reckon they shouldn’t differ much. The baseline upsides should be the same no matter where you are from.

6 Key Benefits of Being a Dean’s Lister

  1. A sense of personal achievement. The most important reason, IMO. Getting on the Dean’s List is clearly a great personal achievement to be proud of. Dean’s List is not awarded on absolute GPA score; rather it’s on comparative basis with your peers. Meaning if all your peers happen to be top academic whizzes, you have to be a super whiz to top them. Being on the Dean’s List means you are pretty much in the top 1-5% of the faculty in terms of academic results.
  2. Increasing your employability factor. Ultimately we study in university to get a good job – our best possible job. While results is not the sole determinant behind getting a good job (there are your leadership activities, attitude, personality fit, etc), it is highly important, especially for top jobs with Fortune 100 companies. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the first preliminary cut off top employers use in recruitment is academic results, especially for campus recruitments.
  3. Invitation to special events. Since you’re among the top in your cohort, you’ll be invited to special events. Most common being networking events with executives from other companies, usually top ones – the ones you might want to join. To be honest, of all the ones I’ve been to, I only found some of practical use – but it’s always good to just be there and meet new people. There are also international case competitions, where participation is generally on invitation basis. Again, invitees are usually selected from the Dean’s List first.
  4. Exclusive access to top employers. Top companies often hold recruitment events on campus. There are the recruitment seminars to masses, and then there are the exclusive networking sessions with smaller groups – whereby the students are selected on invitation basis. Not surprisingly, the HR in the top companies commonly request the Dean’s Office to invite students of a certain cut-off GPA. Examples are Procter & Gamble (my ex-company as most of you already know), McKinsey, investment banks and consulting firms.
  5. Being on the Dean Office’s radar. When you are on the dean’s list, people in the dean’s office and university career office tend to know you. After all, there are several hundreds of students in the faculty, and only a small handful are selected to be on the dean’s list. Ego-boosting reasons aside, this can be useful for random situations, say when you want to get the inside scope on what’s going on, an inside favor of sorts, or just generally having a new friend to talk to about university matters.
  6. Prestige and recognition. If all the special invitations and inclusions in exclusive events aren’t already enough recognition, being on the dean’s list is pretty much synonymous with intellectual smarts and success in university. As the board would put up the list of people on the dean’s list online and also on school campus, students who read it generally know who you are, at least by name. People usually speak of dean’s listers with a certain awe and respect.

While it was exciting being on the Dean’s List back in university, I don’t associate it as part of my identity today. (such thoughts, if any, crumbled away right about the same time I discovered my purpose) It takes me by surprise nowadays when someone refers to this aspect of my past. The conversation will go like: “I think it’s really amazing you were on the Dean’s List before”, and I’ll be like: “Dean’s List? Wha….. oh, back in university. It’s nothing, really.”

The one thing I identify with myself the most today is my mission to help others achieve excellence and live their best life (my purpose). Anything else is just an external identity, a representation of certain values and beliefs. I don’t connect much with labels and instead look at the message behind the labels, because ultimately labels are impermanent and will be shed away one day anyway.

Continue to: How To Be A Dean’s Lister – Part 2

  • Judith

    I would add, though, that being on the Dean’s List will NOT necessarily get you a job, and that internships are extremely important. I was on the Dean’s List many times as an undergrad, graduated magna cum laude and with general Honors, which I was assured was a Big Deal at my school. I went on to graduate with high distinction from one of the top 25 law schools in the country, with a whole pile of prestigious awards. I graduated a year ago and have been looking for nonprofit and government jobs ever since. In a month, I’m going to have to apply to Starbucks and it’s one of the most depressing, personally defeating things I’ve had to do. So, my advice to students: do those internships. Don’t take summer classes, get an internship. Otherwise, you’ll get passed over despite how great your academic resume looks.

    • Whitney

      As a fellow Attorney, I understand your disappointment. Before you apply to Starbucks try to get work as a Contract Attorney. It pays slightly more than Starbucks. Take a look at this article. It states that your experience is not an isolated incident. Good Luck with the job hunt.

    • Celes

      Hey Judith, I’m sorry to hear about your predicament. I agree that strong academic results doesn’t automatically grant a great job (or a job for that matter, in a competitive or poor performing industry). I’d say it best functions as a first level filter for companies and is only 1 of the many filters. I have friends who are learning as well in the hard way, having focused more on academics and not equipping themselves in other aspects, and realizing afterward it was just part of the equation. In the end leadership experience and work experience are the crux. Some of my ex-colleagues didn’t have the top grades but they made up for it with their other experiences.

  • dhina lieva

    hi celes, it’s my first time to visit your blog and i found it very interseting, all the tips and advices you are giving to your readers are sincere, especially this one. I also was a dean’s lister and luckily, it helped me become confident looking for the best jobs around. I was quite disappointed before that after my undergrad graduation I was stucked for nine months, had difficulty landing a job related to my course. Fortunately, after patiently waiting and perseverance, I am happily contented with my work now (though of course aiming still for something). I am proud that I became a dean’s lister, as you’ve said, it has a positive impact to employers.

    Cheers from the Philippines – I am glad that I found your blog, I’m also a blogger of, yet sometimes, I run out of ideas and topics to post.

    Keep it up! God bless you :-)

  • anon

    “Dean’s List? Wha….. oh, back
    in university. It’s nothing, really.”

    Really, Celes, really?

    • Celestine Chua

      Yes, really. :)