I've heard all the stories about Chicago's rigorous curriculum, about their extremely difficult classes, and how it's hard to get As in them. However, I've also noticed that Chicago graduates have attended some of the best graduate schools. For example, my interviewer did his graduate study at Stanford, and another alum I met did his PhD at MIT. They are only a couple of examples.
If the Chicago classes are so hard and difficult to get As in, then how is it that Chicago graduates seem to have no trouble in getting in where they want to go?
Well, first of all, grades aren't terribly important in graduate admission. What is most important is research, and I think Chicago has some incredible research opportunities. For instance, I have participated in REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) here for the past 2 years, and I can take up extra research via the DRP (Directed Reading Program) here whenever I want. At least in the math department, the reputation that Chicago holds is one of a tight community of professors, graduate students, and undergraduates. I am doing work, as an undergraduate, under a professor who recently came here from the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton and is very well-respected in his field. I have heard similar accounts from other students. When such opportunities exist to forge close relationships with very respected researchers, it's no wonder that Chicago graduates get into the top graduate schools. Grades are so miniscule in importance. (Not to mention that the lack of grade inflation here is probably accounted for in many graduate programs that do take GPA into account.)
This is a good example of reputation for rigor being more important than the faux "objective" standards that students are used to in high schools and some colleges: it's much more what you do than what grade you got.
Same with more obscure schools that have great reputations in the professional or academic communities that they work in (e.g., Harvey Mudd,Cal Poly SLO, Grinnell.)
A great recommendation from a well-regarded prof in a discipline in which she's known to excel is much more valuable than an "A".
Right. The two best tickets into a good graduate program are enthusiastic support from well-respected faculty and actual work that the admissions committees can evaluate. Also, a realistic, mature understanding of what graduate study is and what its objectives are, and enough command of the subject matter to have a definite sense of what one's focused interests are. (So that's four things.) Chicago students have ample opportunities to acquire all four. And they tend to show well in an academic environment, because they are well-attuned to its values and are immediately recognizable as people who will contribute to an environment of respectful, rigorous debate within a department.
That's Chicago's brand, it's what Chicago stands for, and deservedly so. It's not the only place where students can acquire those qualities -- hardly! -- but it may be the place where the highest percentage of students acquire those qualities without consciously setting out to do that.
I also find that, among academics and people who might actually care about what college you went to, Chicago has a "halo effect," in which people seem to regard my academic abilities and values highly without pressing any further.
In the right crowd, it's a real wow, and it makes sense-- I challenge you to open up any academic book written in the last century and you are bound to find citations from University of Chicago press books or University of Chicago-published journals.
So our prestige, even if it's just through our academic publishing, means something important. (Gee, if only there were a Routledge University as well!) I would also add a few things to that: Chicago students generally come in as a smart, motivated, academically inclined group, so it's no surprise that they leave to go on to graduate study. Chicago kids have practically unfettered access to graduate-level academic programs; they also, as JHS suggested, have an idea of what's going on.
It might also help that--what--over 80% of Chicago students end up going to graduate school after the college? There's no doubt you'd find some very highly placed grad students from UChicago, partially out of the simple fact that so many of them go to grad school after graduation.
I think it was a little less than 2/3 this year, but certainly close to 60%. In honor of newmassdad, I counted the number of General Honors (about 740), but it was too boring to count the total number of graduates (original class was 1300+).
However . . . I believe that A- grades are generally achievable at Chicago, but that straight As are far more rare, and are not given out at all in many classes. My sense is that the grade range at Chicago is fairly compressed at the top -- lots of people in the 3.5-3.7 range, but not many above that. My daughter's housemate was PBK, and I don't think she was over 3.7. At my college, there were no +/- grades, and 30-40% of the grades in any given class were As. To be in the top 10% of the class, you had to be at 3.8 or higher. (But my class had no 4.0s.)
The median at both schools may well be around 3.3, but I think a 3.7 at Chicago means that you are a superstar -- maybe the equivalent of 3.9 at a peer institution.
JHS, I estimated my numerator a bit - counted those divisions where the numbers were not huge, counted the columns and multiplied by the number per column (which had a vairance of about 2) etc. There were about 1000 going through commencement.
I think the difference between 1300 in the class and 1000 graduating in June can be understood by realizing that a few graduate in December or March, either faster or slower.
Regarding GPA distribution, I can add another data point - one kid I know had a 3.9 GPA and was selected for PBK her junior year. That honor goes to the top 20% or so of PBKs, so by inference, would be going to kids in the top 2-3% of the graduating class I suspect.
I think there were a good deal more than 1,000 graduating this year (as opposed to going through commencement, where 1,000 may have been about right). Remember, the class size expanded by several hundred between the classes of 2006 and 2009. While people do graduate after the other quarters, I think it's not that many. I also think that the honors-thesis schedules may make it difficult to graduate with departmental honors before spring convocation, so there may be some bias in the numbers, too. (Departmental honors, at least in my daughter's major, required at least a 3.3 in departmental courses.)
It's interesting that someone had a 3.9 GPA. There's some irony here. I know that humanities courses are generally considered easier to do well in than science courses, but my strong impression is that it would be virtually impossible to have a 3.9 GPA as an English major, unless one selected one's courses based almost entirely on the professor's willingness to consider giving a straight-A (as opposed to A-minus) to anyone.
Anyway, I'm not ready to abandon my analysis yet. At my unnamed (but oft-initialed) undergraduate institution, two of the three seniors in my suite had 3.9 GPAs (well, 3.89 or so), and so did both of their girlfriends. It was also good enough for Junior PBK, Harvard Medical School, etc. But it wasn't super-extraordinary. The cut-off for Junior PBK was probably above 3.85, and probably represented 5% of the class. Until I hear more evidence to the contrary, I think a 3.9 at Chicago is dazzling, not something achieved by 2-3% of any class. (Oh, and by the way I also counted Chicago PBKs -- about 170, well more than 10% of the class.)
The kid I know with the 3.9 was a science major and took courses like Honors O-Chem.
Funny thing about Chicago is how they go out of their way to hide information about GPA distribution. So who knows how good a 3.9 is? a 3.5? All we know is that 3.25 is actually below the median. (or is it mode? or mean? )
Few students graduate in winter? I think you're right. I found one reference to Winter 2002, with 29 undergrads! Maybe there were a lot of no-shows in June?
how is it that Chicago graduates seem to have no trouble in getting in where they want to go?
Note that graduate programs can range wildly in selectivity. Admit rates at Cornell, for example, range from over 50% in engineering and some of the sciences to less than 2% in some of the humanities. The social sciences fall somewhere in between, but even some of the very best programs in popular fields like econ can have admit rates above 10-15%.
NMD - I figured (wonder how?) the person was a science major, and that was part of my point. Honors O-Chem may be extremely difficult, but if you are one of the best students in Honors O-Chem you are going to get an A, and if you are in the bottom third of the class you are going to get some sort of C. In The Middle-Period Fiction of Henry James (a made-up course title, I hope), you may be the best student in the past 5 years and still get an A- (true for some classes, not others), and it may be relatively hard to get a C unless you actually fail to do some of the work. So the average grade in the humanities course may be substantially higher than in the science course, the median grade may be about the same, but the top science students may well have somewhat higher grades than the top humanities students.
I understand your point. You may well be right - in the sciences, the grading is pretty objective, unlike the humanities. In the harder sciences especially (i.e. math, chem and physics) it is pretty clear on an exam when someone does or does not know the answer.
IBclass06 (and others), we really should distinguish between grad school (i.e. PhD programs) and professional degree programs (MBA, LLB and MD mostly) because the stats and admissions process are different. Chicago does very well for grad school. There is controversy regarding how well its students do for professional degree programs.
A data point on the whim professor grading. S1 was asked for his final papers by the prof of a social science course he was taking. In the email the prof said he was quite taken by them and they were models he wanted permission to use in something he was preparing. Having got full credit on all other assignments, S1 was perplexed when he got a B+. One day he ran into the prof and asked what he would have had to do to get an A. The prof said, "I don't know, in 30 years of teaching I have never figured out what A work would look like."
Many years ago when I was a TA, the courses were was graded on modified curve, never more than 30% receive an A or A-. Often, however, fewer received As, more like 5 or 10 percent.