Grades are overrated. Yeah, I said it. And no, I’m not advocating any hippie, satisfactory/no credit system (sorry, Brown). I’m just saying that grades are so arbitrary, it’s hard to take them seriously as an indicator of future success.
Take, for example, the variation between schools. We all know Princeton University implemented a policy of grade deflation six years ago. Back in 2004! Come on, New York Times (and our dear Daily Pennsylvanian) — grade deflation is old news. What’s interesting is that we somehow haven’t managed to get past it. Surely Princeton was hoping other schools would follow their lead, and we’re all so glad that they didn’t, but does it really matter? Everyone knows Princeton is an excellent school — so is Penn. We have excellent students who deserve top-notch grades, but we can’t all get A’s. Duh. That story is the same for almost every elite university.
Just last week, Pomona College began a review of grade inflation because 60 percent of grades given at Pomona are A’s. Wow. It makes you wonder — how many schools have that percentage of A’s given out and are not investigating grade inflation? And for that matter, how many schools are giving out A’s 50 percent of the time? My guess is a lot. So if you’re worried about comparing GPAs with kids from other schools, don’t. It’ll make you crazy.
Furthermore, we all know grade distribution depends on the department, class size and professor. So even if you took the same class at the same time and put in the same amount of work as a clone of yourself in another section with the same amount of students, you might get different grades. If that’s not arbitrary, I don’t know what is.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Katherine! Grades do matter! How will I get a job/be a doctor/lawyer/person of distinction and fame if I don’t have a high GPA?” And believe me, I’m right there with you. GPAs are a fact of life, and we all have to deal with the stress of keeping it up.
But all is not lost. Not everyone weighs GPAs so heavily or considers grade deflation the injustice of our time. And honestly, with so many kids getting A’s these days, it’s harder for employers and selection committees to determine how awesome you are based solely on your GPA. It’s common knowledge that you can get a higher GPA by taking easier classes anyway. What’s really impressive are students who struggle with a subject, but keep with it for sheer perseverance.
“Graduate and professional schools will indeed be interested in how challenging a student’s curriculum has been,” Senior Associate Director of Graduate and Professional School Advising Peter Stokes wrote in an e-mail. “A transcript without a senior thesis or several advanced courses isn’t necessarily a problem, but such things can speak to the rigor of the curriculum.”
The best part of all of this, of course, is that your GPA is not something that will haunt you for the rest of your life. In fact, it probably won’t even haunt you past the age of 25.
“GPA matters more when students are in college or recently graduated, but is much less pivotal once someone has been in the workforce for awhile, because at that point the prospective employer can better assess their prior work experiences,” Career Services Senior Associate Director Barbara Hewitt wrote in an e-mail.
So here’s my suggestion: Forget grade deflation — or inflation, for that matter. Work hard in your classes, and take the ones you want to work hard in. Don’t discount GPA entirely, but remember it’s just one small part of your academic experience, and its importance varies between job industries, academic fields, programs and people on admissions committees. Don’t sweat it — we’ll all be ok in the end.
Katherine Rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rea-lity Check appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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