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Grade deflation at MIT...

faradayfaraday Posts: 475Registered User Member
Sorry, another thread about MIT from me.

As everyone knows, MIT academics are tough, and grade-deflation is pervasive. Having received offers of admissions from other top engineering schools (Georgia Tech, Stanford,Carnegie Mellon ...) I wondered how grade deflation differs at MIT compared to those schools. I'm specifically concerned with engineering/science/math classes.

Can you confirm/comment on my appraisals? I'm sure this thread is to interest to other admitted also, as well as me, so that's why I made a separate thread.

Thanks.

Case 1: MIT is known for grade deflation b/c every major has to go through grade-deflated GIR's, the same way Caltech is known for grade deflation. However, upper level classes for science/engineering are just as grade-deflated as peer-engineering school.

Case2: MIT is even more grade deflated than comparable engineering schools, like Stanford/georgia tech, both because of GIR requirements and the upper level classes that are more grade-deflated than comparable schools.

Case 3: MIT earns its grade-deflation reputation because students there tend to be more masochistic/intellectually motivated. They overload with hard classes, and also tend to major in engineering/science majors which tend to be more grade deflated. However, the grading policies for engineering/science classes are the same for peer engineering schools like Stanford.

Case 4: Although more grade deflated than comparable schools, MIT compensates with 1st yr pass/no record.

Which case describes better grade deflation at MIT?

Also, do you know the average GPA at MIT? And if we want to go to grad school at MIT for ChemE/or EE/Physics, is there an advantage to go to MIT undergrad (I heard both Harvard and MIT are known for incestuous enrollment of undergrads for graduate).

Thanks.
Post edited by faraday on

Replies to: Grade deflation at MIT...

  • faradayfaraday Posts: 475Registered User Member
    Sorry for grammatically awkward syntaxes. Since I have been admitted to MIT, I lost my eloquence... :D
  • CountingDownCountingDown Posts: 10,366Registered User Senior Member
    Georgia Tech is sink-or-swim. Freshman classes are purposely designed to weed people out. S felt MIT has a more supportive and collaborative environment. Don't discount the value of pass/fail first semester.
  • locknlockn Posts: 3,033Registered User Senior Member
    MIT's average gpa is around 3.3, while GA tech's is less than 3.1. Of course, if the MIT student body went to GA they would have much better grades, but MIT's deflation is exaggerated. You just have to work much harder.

    Stanford is genuinely inflated, average is well over 3.5! The only college I've seen worse/better than that is Brown, but that is probably biased because people who don't think they will do well will just take classes ungraded.

    I don't see real data for CMU, but this student survey suggests that the average is 3.2.
    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~pattis/advising/surveys/orientation%20pm.pdf
  • collegealum314collegealum314 Posts: 6,583Registered User Senior Member
    Assuming you come in having done well in AP classes, the GIR's are much easier than upper-level classes at MIT--at least for engineering majors. The GIR's at MIT are less taxing than Caltech's (assuming you don't pick the theoretical route,) but your major classes and requirements will be as tough.

    I've heard Georgia Tech is a weed-out school too, but the competition is not as tough there.

    I would say Case 2 is true. It's easier to get a high GPA at Stanford in the same major compared with MIT. I know a lot of people who majored in science or engineering at Stanford and have taught and/or taken classes at another top school. Plus, a bunch of Stanford people in technical majors didn't necessarily get into Stanford for their technical prowess (i.e., they were strong in community service or some other activity)--this is especially true in premed majors like bio or chem. This type of thing is certainly less prevalent in MIT admissions, if it happens at all. I don't know as much about Carnegie Mellon...but again, only Caltech really compares to MIT in terms of academic difficulty. The next hardest place might be Berkeley.

    If you get a 4.3 in chemE or EECS as an undergrad, then you have automatic acceptance to the master's program at MIT.

    Hope that answers your questions...
  • faradayfaraday Posts: 475Registered User Member
    Well, stanford may be grade inflated because more people major in the humanities, which brings up the average. What I suspect is that stanford physics/engineering is just as grade deflated as MIT engineering/physics. Is that possible?

    One of my concerns is that I love the MIT culture: the geekiness, the nerdiness, the intense enthusiasm for science, the pranks. However, I also plan to do graduate work, and am concerned that GPA might become a hindrance. Looking at the graduate forum, you'll notice most people even in engineering applying to grad school have GPA's way above MIT average, in the 3.7-4.0 range. That means to get a decen shot I also need to be better than an avg. MIT student, sth I doubt I am.

    "assuming you don't pick the theoretical route" : well that might be a problem. I promised myself to take 8.012/8.022, and maybe 5.112....
    Is that unwise if major in ChemE? I really like physics/quantum aspects of chemistry. My background from HS includes Calc BC, Chem/physics/Bio AP, and some multivariate calc (the chapters concerning vectors. I haven't done Lagrange Multipliers yet, and my mechanics knowledge is basic. I haven't done any calculus of variations or lagrangian mechanics yet.)
    Thanks everyone for contributing.
  • locknlockn Posts: 3,033Registered User Senior Member
    That means to get a decen shot I also need to be better than an avg. MIT student, sth I doubt I am.
    This might be a problem if you went to some random grade-deflated college no one has heard of, but every grad school in the world knows about the rigor of MIT.
  • collegealum314collegealum314 Posts: 6,583Registered User Senior Member
    "However, I also plan to do graduate work, and am concerned that GPA might become a hindrance"

    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.

    BTW, I don't buy that Stanford is just as grade-inflated in technical majors. And I don't think the average Stanford science/engineering major is as capable as your average MIT student, so its hard to compare stats.

    The only grad schools that you need to be overly concerned with GPA are med and law schools.
  • collegealum314collegealum314 Posts: 6,583Registered User Senior Member
    assuming you don't pick the theoretical route" : well that might be a problem. I promised myself to take 8.012/8.022, and maybe 5.112....

    No, go ahead and take them. If you have a problem in 8.012, you can always transfer to the regular 8.01 class after the first test. In fact, I'd say there is more leeway grade-wise since the mean is much lower in 8.012 and 8.022. Besides, it's pass/no record so there is no harm in taking them.

    A lot of people will not study on pass/no record and/or overcommit themselves to other activities (sports, fraternity, etc.) So if you actually try the same way you did in high school you will have an advantage over a lot of people.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Posts: 3,752Registered User Senior Member
    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. I

    Does this include theoretical math and physics? Faraday may want to go to physics graduate school, and if it's anything like math grad school, the people you're competing against could be straight A students from MIT with insane schedules, and/or very talented international students. I also think that in theoretical subjects where the notion of "research" and/or independent class work is limited to a greater degree than in other subjects, grades will be more and more important.
    faraday wrote:
    Well, stanford may be grade inflated because more people major in the humanities, which brings up the average. What I suspect is that stanford physics/engineering is just as grade deflated as MIT engineering/physics. Is that possible?

    I would buy it is quite hard to do well in Stanford engineering/physics, because I know at least one very capable student, accepted to MIT, Stanford and the likes, who found Stanford EE very tough to do well in. However, the average grades MAY (not sure) be allowed to be higher than at some other schools, but getting an A may still be getting an A, if you know what I mean. I think if you're planning on graduate school, you have to be a strong student at any of these schools though, and marginal differences in difficulty may not be crucial -- i.e. who cares if more students at one school cross the C+ line than at another, you have to have GOOD grades anyway, and I feel like actually doing very well in any of these schools isn't easy.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Posts: 3,752Registered User Senior Member
    As an addition, I believe that unlike medical and law schools, graduate schools will more heavily take into account the school you came from as they evaluate how you did. They're not GPA-mongers, they just want the smartest researchers possible.
  • MikalyeMikalye Posts: 1,132Registered User Senior Member
    I have a problem with the terminology. Grade inflation is the phenomenon where average grades keep going up. This is because education is seen as a market and the market votes against anything "too hard".

    I have never seen grade deflation at MIT, in that I have seen no evidence that grades are moving down at all. MIT's grading is not even particularly rigourous in the sense of trying to weed out the weak. What does exist at MIT is a much stronger peer group than exists most other places.

    The overwhelming majority of MIT students were in the top couple of a percent of their high school graduating classes. Heck, the 75th percentile for SAT Math scores at MIT is 800. And it does not take a doctorate in statistics to work out that fully half of these brilliant and talented kids will be in the bottom half of their class at MIT.

    That is where the pace and the pressure comes from. That is in part why there is such a collaborative and supportive culture amongst the students at MIT. This is in fact one of the things that I love about MIT. Everyone is in it together, and everyone is slightly out of their comfort zone. Now, they can all prosper. The admissions office takes real care to ensure that those admitted can do the work. But the fact that you will not automatically get A's and be at the top of the class can come as a real culture shock to those that always have done so.
  • hamham Posts: 577Registered User Member
    Speaking of GPAs appropriate for grad schools, what about graduate Business (MBA) programs like Harvard Business, Wharton, Stanford? As an engineering undergrad or double major engineering and business ugrad at MIT.
  • neuron39neuron39 Posts: 455Registered User Member
    I don't think you can overstate how collaborative the atmosphere is at MIT. Not only is the first semester Pass/No record (and the second semester ABC/No record), there is no class rank. Kids often study in groups without the competitiveness.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    Grade inflation is the phenomenon where average grades keep going up. This is because education is seen as a market and the market votes against anything "too hard".

    I have never seen grade deflation at MIT, in that I have seen no evidence that grades are moving down at all.

    I think what people generally mean by grade inflation is actually relative grade inflation, or perhaps to use an even more accurate financial term, relative grade "exchange rate". The real concern is what MIT's grading standards are relative to those of other schools, regardless of whether those standards are moving with time. Or, in simple terms, whether it is easier to get higher grades at other schools and if so, what the implication is in terms of future success markers such as grad school placement, jobs, major scholarship competitions such as the Rhodes, and numerous other possibilities.

    To give you a specific example, in order to even be eligible to win a Marshall Scholarship, you must have an A-minus GPA (hence, a 4.7/5 under MIT parlance). If you don't have that, the scholarship committee won't care why. Maybe you took extremely difficult weeder classes, maybe you went to an school that grades outlandishly harshly, maybe you overloaded your schedule (perhaps because you don't have money and hence were trying to graduate early). It doesn't matter. They won't care. All they'll see is that you don't have an A-minus GPA.

    http://www.marshallscholarship.org/applications/rules2009.pdf

    Now, one might argue that the Marshall Scholarship is a highly specific and peculiar example that affects only a tiny minority of students. Yet the use of GPA screens is widespread within industry. Many companies won't even bother to interview you if you can't present a certain GPA (usually a B average). Similarly, many graduate programs, even - and perhaps especially -at the lower-ranked grad schools, have minimum GPA averages that applicants must demonstrate before they can even apply. For example, the UCSD Computer Science graduate program - which is a highly ranked CS program - required a minimum B GPA from any applicant from a US undergrad school (foreign schools are exempt due to differing grading schemes). If you don't have that GPA, you can't even apply.
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