Is Grade Deflation a Problem?

by Amy Marcott on October 13, 2011 · 0 comments

in Student Life

Credit: Dawn Ashley, Flickr

Last week a story on the Boston Globe’s The Next Great Generation (TNGG) blog pointed again to the perennial issue of grade inflation and deflation in Boston-area schools, looking specifically at what is apparently inflation at Harvard and deflation at MIT. Think idiosyncratic grading policies are harmless? Maybe. After all, recent grads’ resumes contain more than grade point averages–internships and extra-curricular activities count for a lot. But in this difficult economy, good jobs are harder to come by; a strong GPA can make a difference.

Excerpted from TNGG blog:

“Our grades are oriented toward the brightest students in the world. Those that get As are those who are the smartest and hardest workers in the world,” said MIT sophomore David Couto. “If you are not extremely smart or working very hard, you simply will not get an A. An A is a grade reserved for a master of a subject, unlike high school where you could semi-know a subject and get an A.”

On College Confidential, MIT has a reputation among engineering schools — which are notorious for their extreme emphasis on advanced problem solving and intricate mathematical logic — for lower GPAs due to grade deflation.

“In my experience, this has been difficult to transition to because I’m not accustomed to having to work so hard and still not doing as well as I would like on exams,” said Iris Sheu, a sophomore at MIT. “I would imagine that goes the same for everyone else here. Part of going to this school is learning that getting a grade other than an A may be okay.” [Read the full article.]

Discussion boards on College Confidential remain active around this topic. One concerned prospective student wrote, “I also plan to do graduate work and am concerned that GPA might become a hindrance.” The prospective student received the following reply:

If you are average at MIT, that will probably be good enough to get into just about any grad school. The only reason not to choose MIT is you think you will be so overwhelmed that you will learn less at MIT than a school with easier classes. But that’s hard to know before getting there. I would try really hard for the first year-and-a-half or so. If you are course 6, take one or two of the core classes in your major as a freshman (6.01 or 6.02.) For chemE, see how you do in 10.213 (thermo for ChemE)–most people take this as a first-term sophomore. If you can get a “B” in these classes, I would say it is in your best interest to stay. If not, you might think about transferring to another school or asking yourself whether you really like engineering. (Did you really excel in and enjoy physics and/or organic chemistry? Maybe then you would be more suited to be a course 8 or course 5 major.) Plus, if you like programming and like math but hate course 6, you can always major in applied mathematics.

Alumni, what do you think about discrepancies in grading policy? Does grade deflation affect admission rates to graduate school or hinder professional success? Tell us what you think in the comments section below, or leave us a note on Facebook.

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