Claim: A standard college regulation specifies that a student whose roommate commits suicide automatically receive a 4.0 grade point average for the current school term.
The type of death required to qualify a student for a 4.0 average varies. At different schools it is said that a roommate's murder, accidental death, violent death, slow drawn-out death (such as cancer), or death
from any cause is covered by the regulation. Murdering one's own roommate does not qualify, however.
Not all versions specify that a roommate must die. Some variations of the legend maintain that the death of a parent or other close relative, or any person who is important in the student's life, also qualifies.
Some versions also add extra provisions, such as "death must occur in the room or with the roommate" or "death must occur during the last six weeks of term." A student who does not witness his roommate's death receives only a 3.4 average; survivors each receive a 3.5 average if the deceased had more than one roommate.
The "reward" received by the surviving roommate is not always a 4.0 average. Some versions award only a 3.0 average, or an alternate "prize" such as first choice in the next dormitory "room draw." Alternatively, some versions specify that a dead roommate entitles one to free tuition that year.
Origins: Although many schools will offer some sort of bereavement consideration under exceptional circumstances, no college or university in the United States has a policy awarding a 4.0 average (or anything else) to a student whose roommate dies. This rumor (or at least its widespread distribution) appears to be of fairly recent origin, dating from approximately the mid-1970s. It most likely started out as an expression of the pressures students feel to achieve good grades in the form of a morbid joke (i.e., "Even if the pressures of school cause some people to off themselves, there's no reason we can't profit by it!"), and the joke became legend when it was spread as true by credulous students, picking up variations along the way. A similar theme of suicide (and student grade consideration for witnessing it) can be found in the pencil suicide legend.
In an episode of "The Simpsons" (broadcast 19 November 2000), after Lisa is believed to have died, Principal Skinner tells Bart he will be receiving straight A's.
On NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (episode title "Art"; original air date 7 October 2001), when detectives find that a suspect received credit for passing all her college classes even though she was assigned no grades, the school registrar informs them that per "school policy" the student had been given a pass that semester because her roommate committed suicide.
On "CSI: NY" (episode title ""Some Buried Bones"; original air date 7 February 2007), a student under pressure to do well at school murders his roommate and tries to frame somebody else for the deed in an attempt to garner an automatic 4.0.
Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Last updated: 9 June 2011
Bennett, Gillian and Paul Smith. A Nest of Vipers.
Sheffield: Univ. of Sheffield Press, 1990. ISBN 1-85075-256-7 (pp. 69-76).