Differences in GPA may matter less than some students expect — most career paths and companies prioritize other factors.
“It is hard to generalize about entire fields,” Career Services Director Patricia Rose said. “In general, certain employers, such as well-known banks, consulting firms, tech companies, Teach for America, which receive lots of applicants, tend to look at GPAs more closely than other employers do in these same industries who may receive fewer applications from Penn students.”
Wharton students who want to obtain jobs at brand-name investment firms, then, may need higher GPAs. However, other students within the school say GPA isn’t as important as other elements of their resume.
“Whether or not HR departments in companies actually have a GPA cutoff, that’s to be doubted ... you’d want to be encouraging a more holistic application process,” Wharton senior Vivek Jois said. “You want to screen candidates more on the basis of who they are, how personable they are, how willing to be challenged they are.”
Other students say a tougher grading curve in certain types of classes can be a disadvantage when it comes to career interests. Engineering students, for example, say that lower GPAs can hurt their chances to obtain internships.
“I think as far as looking for internships, GPA definitely matters just because it’s the best way for recruiters to look at your stuff,” Engineering freshman Phillip Trent said. “But I think it’ll be less of an issue junior and senior year, when we’re actually looking for employment — in Engineering especially, they care more about projects than grade point average.”
Some students have other reasons to be concerned about GPA — those planning on pursuing postgraduate degrees say grades really do matter. Students admitted to top law schools, for instance, have average GPAs in the 3.7 to 4.0 range, as do those accepted to elite medical schools.
“The importance of GPA — and LSAT, of course — to the strength of your candidacy as a law school applicant is extremely daunting ... unsettling even, especially considering the job market in which lawyers are mainly being recruited out of high tier schools,” College freshman Samantha Myers-Dineen said.
“As someone very interested in the legal field, I feel this constant pressure to perform at a certain level just in case I do decide to go to law school one day,” Myers added.
Besides these particular cases, however, Career Services says students shouldn’t see GPA as something that defines their career possibilities.
“Regardless of school, employers want to see how rigorous a student’s coursework has been; that’s why some ask for transcripts. Second, a GPA is only one aspect of a student’s candidacy,” Rose said. “Many employers look at other things as well, such as a student’s participation in Penn activities, leadership roles, part-time [work] or internship experience, etc.”
“Even the most sought-after employers hire students across a range of GPAs,” she added. “They know that Penn students make excellent employees and that’s why they recruit actively and broadly here.”
Penn has not recently examined data on school-specific average GPA between its four undergraduate student bodies — in fact, the most recently reported statistics are from 2001. The data from 13 years ago confirm what some students have long suspected: average GPAs differ slightly by school.
The College of Arts and Sciences and School of Nursing topped the list with GPA averages of 3.38 and are followed by the Wharton School with an average of 3.34. The School of Engineering and Applied Science trailed behind with an average of 3.28.
Although school-to-school differences are minimal, there are larger gaps between areas of study. According to the 2001 data, the average GPA among all humanities courses came in just under a 3.5. The average GPA earned in natural science courses, however, was between a 3.0 and 3.1. Social science courses hovered in between the two, with a GPA average of 3.3.
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