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MBA Admissions Advice: Go For The Easy "A"

Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
edited August 2013 in Business School - MBA
In B-school admissions (as with med school and law school) there's an ongoing debate as to whether an applicant will be penalized for a lower GPA due to tougher grading at their undergrad school. The general belief has been that admissions officers know how undergrad schools grade, and allow for that. But, Melissa Korn of the WSJ reports that a higher GPA, even if inflated, can win out:
"Experts take high performance as evidence of high ability" but don't consider how easy it is to achieve that performance, wrote researchers...

In other words, an applicant with a 3.6 GPA might wow the admissions office, even if the average student in that person's graduating class finished with a 3.7. The applicant who managed a 3.4 in a class whose average hovered closer to 3.2, however, might not make the cut.
M.B.A. Admissions Tip: Always Go for an Easy 'A' - WSJ.com

Will this spark even more grade inflation in undergrad schools?
Post edited by Roger_Dooley on

Replies to: MBA Admissions Advice: Go For The Easy "A"

  • tigerashtigerash Registered User Posts: 590 Member
    wow i really hope this isn't the case, as i'm looking forward to studying in Cal Poly SLO, where the average engineering gpa is quite low. i'm also hoping to pursue an MBA later, so i don't know what to make out of this...
  • bernie12bernie12 Registered User Posts: 5,393 Senior Member
    I thought this was the case for all 3 of the "big three" professional schools (med. school, MBA programs, and law schools). These professional schools definitely don't encourage people to complete challenging curricula especially if it means getting some B grades. They generally seem to encourage superficial success. You simply "play the game" to get the highest GPA and entrance exam score as possible (an easier course load will help with both as it will increase the GPA while also providing more prep time for the exam). Undergrad is mainly just a stepping stone for people considering these 3. It's more about getting in than being ready for the next step.
  • hardworking21hardworking21 Registered User Posts: 840 Member
    @bernie12: I don't understand why that's such a bad thing. "Playing the game" just means you're getting closer to what your end goal is (doctor, lawyer, etc.). And if being a doctor or lawyer (or business) is your true passion, why not try to get the best outcome possible (as in, get into the best med school, the "best residency" if that exists, etc.)? Just because you "play the game" doesn't mean you aren't passionate about what you're studying/you're career interests.
  • bernie12bernie12 Registered User Posts: 5,393 Senior Member
    There is really nothing wrong with it since it's the way it is. However, unfortunately, it often means you kind of have to sacrifice some of better academic aspects of the undergraduate experience that may involve taking a risk (seriously, think about it, if the process breeds heavy risk aversion at this early a stage in terms of pursuing passion, in the future, many who had to take such approach may continue to do this and thus end up simply settling for security instead of innovating within their field or taking it to the next stage. UG should be that time where you can take the risk. This is fine to some extent, but things like Healthcare in the US can use some innovation and I feel the UG experience could play an even bigger role in laying the groundwork). In addition, many people are not that sure that those things are what they want to do (there are many pressures a lot of times to choose one of the big three), and may indeed want to explore something they like, but often hesitate if they feel it risks their GPA. Also, I sometimes get the feeling that many UG classes "adjust" their content and expectations to more or less take into account that students mainly need a high GPA. For example, it is well known that courses like general chemistry function as "service courses" for pre-meds and it appears that a general consensus among many professors is that general chemistry is kind of useless as it presents chemistry in a strange way that is not conducive to people actually retaining the information or much more, enjoying it. There is nothing wrong with playing the game, it's just that the game should not be that way. If the Big 3 professional schools reconsidered their stance on admissions and certain ranking agencies reconsider their metrics, it may do undergraduates and undergraduate education a lot of good. The current process discourages students who actually want to explore at the undergraduate level from doing so (at least if it is beyond their current known comfort zones). For example, I feel bad for a friend who is pre-law but is Chemistry B.S. major. She wants to go to law school, but her passion is chemistry. Given that, with the current process, I would tell her to forsake her passion for chemistry and pursue a more stereotypical UG major that many law students take as the average grade awarded in the chem. dept is 2.85/4.0. She is above average, but certainly not so much that she is around the average of a typical law school admit. I feel kind of bad because she actually does enjoy it despite it being more challenging. She will certainly become a great thinker and problem solver, but that's not good enough to get into law school. She better just kill the LSAT and pray I suppose.

    Anyway, point is, playing the game and always playing it safe can dull down the academic part of UG and UG ultimately becomes more or less a degree mill with plenty of opportunities to pump up the CV and resume. The "Game" w/prof. schools makes UG more like High School part 2, where many are merely disengaging the academic aspect (beyond getting the grade the easiest way possible) and primarily just doing ECs. A stricter balance should be more common in my opinion. You should be encouraged to fully engage with and take many courses that seem interesting to you that you may indeed get a B in (instead it's "only pursue that interest or pique your curiousity if definitely think you will make an A". That's kind of restrictive. It's like saying "only step out of your comfort zone if your a near perfect student if you want to get into X school"). Prof. schools hardly allow this. They like obedient students better. I don't blame med. schools since their curriculum outside of clinical work/experience is primarily content oriented and less about thinking about the systems (I've seen med. school exams, and they often end up easier than a similar UG course at a selective institution because you don't have to think as much. It's more about remembering the scenarios. Curveball questions didn't seem common), but this makes little sense for law and business schools where critical thinking/analysis and innovation/improvisation are key to higher levels of success.
  • peacefulmompeacefulmom Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    Grow your mind and don't worry about your grades. In the end, your mind will determine your success not your grades. Don't be a fool and take easy classes!!!
  • peacefulmompeacefulmom Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    Did you read the article on admissions to Berkeley. Grades aren't everything. Follow your passions and it will work out!
  • peacefulmompeacefulmom Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    Lastly, it is sometimes your extra-curriculars (and I don't mean school related ones) that make you the more interesting candidate-- whatever you do, do not waste your education. Take the most interesting classes by the most seasoned professors. Grow your mind!!!!
  • prowlingsprowlings - Posts: 146 Junior Member
    While grades certainly aren't everything, do still try your best to get advantages... (Try for easy professors, work the timing cleverly, etc.)

    In other words, don't be a GPA whore but still try to get as high of a GPA as possible, if that makes sense..? lol
  • cumuluscumulus Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    Well, I'm glad to know that the people who are going to have our lives in their hands as we get older are being told not to challenge themselves, not to learn how to think through extremely difficult problems, and not to learn as much as possible, but to see which path is easiest and take that.

    I can't possibly imagine how that would cause a problem. :-(
  • Time2Time2 Registered User Posts: 708 Member
    If your approach to college (or life) is to always try to figure out how to 'take the easy way out'......I would imagine your work ethic on the job once hired by your employer won't be much better.
  • HeliosToWinHeliosToWin Registered User Posts: 47 Junior Member
    I don't buy it. The empirical example they're using is pretty dubious and most certainly isn't sufficient to justify a definite rule of "going for the easy A".

    Top business/graduate schools most certainly know about grade deflation policies and take them into consideration. If we at CC know about it, trust me, so do they.

    Schools like Princeton & JHU are known for their grade deflation - and it's taken into consideration during admission to graduate schools.
  • bernie12bernie12 Registered User Posts: 5,393 Senior Member
    They know about grade deflation policies for which JHU does NOT have, at least not spelled out like Princeton or Reed's. Also, JHU's is mostly in the sciences and engineering like other schools. JHU has a very large engineering and pre-med community and I'm sure this skews the grades down as it would with other elites that grade more harshly in science classes such as Vanderbilt, Emory, Northwestern, Berkeley, UCLA, Penn, and Cornell. These schools usually curve large science courses no higher than 3.0 and intro./pre-med or engineering courses are normally no higher than 2.8. The same can't be said for humanities and social science courses.

    The problem is, they aren't really accounting for the varying degrees of inflation. Even if you just look at elites, there are clear differences in grading practices among them that don't necessarily reflect differences in student quality. They can be split basically into those who on average give grades that average below 3.4 (including all students not seniors as senior/graduating GPAs tend to be higher than the whole student population) and those who are above it (between 3.4 and 3.5 which are places like Harvard, Columbia, and Duke), and those significantly above 3.4 (3.5 + like Yale, Brown, and Stanford).

    And yes, GRADUATE schools take things like grading practices and course rigor into account, however, professional schools seem to care less. This kind of makes sense right? PhD and Masters programs are sometimes funded (often in the sciences) so they need to see if you can survive the environment which will indeed be very challenging (I mean, they are literally investing in you and while some Ph.D programs may protect your coursework progress by curving excessively, they still must worry about you dropping out due to the research intensive element which usually involves lots of failure and rough patches. A person who didn't challenge themselves and maintained superficial perfection through an easy path way may have a much harder time handling grad. school and may be better suited for a prof. school option), whereas many professional schools will just pass people because students are paying to go there. I mean, many professional schools, particularly law and med schools at elite universities are moving to pass/fail. In addition, for those who do grade, it's hard to get below B because they curve (or provide standard, content/memorization based exams) so that people don't get below them as the standards at many stipulate that students must maintain a 3.0. You think they're going to flunk students paying sky high tuition?

    Professional schools can indeed by rigorous in their own way, but failure and very hard times is generally not an inevitable part of the program like many graduate programs (especially science programs). Due to this, UG experience before grad. school is more flexible. Prof. schools are, on the surface, mostly about coursework anyway (and practical experiences are usually integrated into a formal course). And coursework, unlike things like research and independent projects are much more predictable and in your control. The UG experience of those pursuing those is very similar. The goal is to demonstrate total control and achieve complete predictability and thus achieve the highest grades in coursework (and in the case of pre-med, jump through EC hoops as well. As in, you need very specific types of EC experiences, which may limit the ability to explore your actual EC passions to the fullest or make many feel as if they are wasting time if it's not something directly related to medicine/healthcare). It's like early preparation that teaches students to "stay in line".

    I would honestly prefer pre-prof. students not to take the easy way out, but I would indeed encourage them to do so, unless they are a stellar student (in comparison to his or her cohort at the school). I mean, if the latter really wants to go there, they kind of don't have much of a choice in the matter.
  • SpislaaSpislaa Registered User Posts: 21 New Member
    I think that colleges would rather see that a student has challenged himself/herself.
  • xelinkxelink Registered User Posts: 1,125 Senior Member
    This is the MBA forum...

    They view GPA as GPA regardless of major. Some allowances might be made but usually few. GPA still isn't weighted all that highly though.
  • mackinawmackinaw Registered User Posts: 3,002 Senior Member
    edited February 2014
    My daughter had roughly a 3.2 undergraduate GPA with a degree and major (BFA, product design) that are far from a typical pre-business track. Some special circumstances were partly to account for modest grades (Illness, plus a tragedy for a close friend hers). The school also had a very intensive program, and most students didn't really have time for serious EC's. After about 4 years in "the economy," however, with the economy going to h*ll in 2007-8, she decided to prepare for the GMAT and try to get into a top-level MBA program.

    She took a math course at a local college, took a self-directed online GMAT prep course. She got 720 on her GMAT. She told an interesting story in her essays, showed sincere career interests and leadership partly reflective in her extensive voluntary work for a nonprofit after college. She was admitted to a top-10 MBA program.

    I realize this is just one case. But it illustrates that undergraduate GPA's aren't everything, nor are they determining, even if in general they do matter a lot. Her GMAT, essays, and work and volunteer experience made it easy for MBA admissions committees to envision a career arc that moved through earning an MBA.
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