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Suggestions to incoming 2014, re: Grade Deflation

rauduongrauduong Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
edited February 2010 in Princeton University
A quick disclaimer: I'm not anonymous on College Confidential because the information on this forum affects people's real lives. My username is also my Princeton netid because I believe that I should be held responsible for the suggestions that I make.

To the meat of the matter: grade deflation.

I was really nervous about grade deflation. Many of you have probably spent some time agonizing about it, and more of you have been curious about it. The official FAQ's about Princeton's grading policy can be found online, so I won't re-explain the technicalities.

Grade deflation does have an quantitative affect on your GPA. In some classes, it means that your professor will tell you that you've done fantastic work on an essay, but give you a B+. In other classes, the curve on your exam follows the general spirit of the grade deflation policy.

Ten years down the line, employers will care more about my abilities and my past experience rather than my GPA. But will grade deflation put me at a disadvantage when I apply to my first job or grad school?

In most cases, it shouldn't. When you send out your resume to many companies, there will undoubtedly be a few that will ignore your alma mater and your major and only look at your GPA. That's reality -- nothing works out perfectly. The advantages that you get from your Princeton education far exceed the losses that result from a couple negligent hiring committees.

The companies that you'll want to work for are the ones that can appreciate you and your education. Many companies will give you the chance to interview and prove your abilities just because they know what caliber of students graduate from Princeton.

When I congratulated my RCA for getting an interview with Microsoft, she told me not to be too excited because she didn't know anyone from Princeton who Microsoft refused to interview. During her interview, they tested her analytical and programming abilities rather than discussing her GPA, and she ultimately received an offer.

Many grad schools have similar attitudes towards applicants from Princeton.

I care less about statistics and more about how things affect me. Will I have to work harder at Princeton because of grade deflation? I will never know because I won't ever be able to repeat my undergraduate experience at another school. I just know I would've worked hard no matter where I ended up.

What matters to me is that I am pushing myself to exceed academically. I am happy with my grades as long as I worked for them and deserve them, not because of the letter grade I receive.

What matters to me is that the woman sitting next to me sees my Princeton beanie and starts a conversation with me. She reveals that she's a professor at UC Irvine and that she wishes she could have a Princeton student doing research with her. We talk about our experiences, and she ends up offering me a summer research position. We never once mentioned grades or GPA.

Grade deflation isn't that big of a deal. I am happier and more successful for simply accepting it and loving Princeton. I'm proud to be a Princeton student at any cost.
Post edited by rauduong on
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Replies to: Suggestions to incoming 2014, re: Grade Deflation

  • german_cargerman_car - Posts: 89 Junior Member
    But will grade deflation put me at a disadvantage when I apply to my first job or grad school?


    You are at great disadvantage because of 1) Grade deflation and 2) Lack of graduate/professional program at Princeton.

    Only 17 Princeton UG entered Yale Law vs. 90 from Yale UG.
    only 50 Princeotn UG entered Harvard Law vs. 300 from Harvard UG.
    ooly 25 Princeton UG at Columbia Law vs. 140 from Columbia UG.
    Stanford law also prefers their own UGs.

    ALL top medical, business and PhD programs also prefer their own undergrads.....

    But I guess you will have a good chance at UC Irvine
  • randombetchrandombetch Registered User Posts: 1,079 Senior Member
    Hi Raymond. I would argue that grade deflation is a big deal in that it negatively impacts the atmosphere of the campus, and makes it harder for medical school/law school applicants from Princeton to get in.

    Also, the advantages of being a Princeton student apply to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, etc. students as well. So grade deflation should be a consideration for those whom get into those colleges as well.

    Oh, and have you taken any of the following?
    Econ 100, any intro Japanese course, upper level ORF courses, writing seminar, and intro physics courses.

    PS: german_car's a ****, just ignore him. We need better mods on CC.
  • rauduongrauduong Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    Councilmember: I think your response is fair and I respect your concerns. I remember reading these forums a lot last Spring. I was worried and I didn't know if I would regret choosing Princeton. My motivation is to help convince people not to get bogged down by this detail.

    There have always been a lot of people who have negative opinions about grade deflation. Let me be clear that I would rather there be no grade deflation, but this doesn't stop me from trying to help people have a good attitude about what exists.

    This transitions to my response to randombetch: (Hi, by the way. Thanks for posting; I know you were active on CC during this time last year, and I learned a lot from you as well.)

    You're right to point out that I didn't address the cultural and atmospheric impact of grade deflation. I'm trying to be realistic and optimistic at the same time, and it's helped me deal with my workload so far. I think if more people agreed with me or found their own reasons to not be caught up in grade deflation, we can avoid a negative impact of grade deflation on campus.

    I agree that grade deflation deserves fair consideration when choosing between other top tier schools. However, I do encourage greater consideration for things like financial aid and personality/academic-goal compatibility.

    And, I've had my fair share of courses where I felt the effect of grade deflation, particularly my upper-level Spanish course and Writing Seminar. I wanted to feel frustrated that "Great work!" was accompanied by a B-range grade, but its importance diminished.

    As I continue my career at Princeton, my optimism and cheerfulness is likely to be tested. But, here's to hoping that the student body and I are happy rather than cynical!

    Thanks for the note about german_car. I saved time by not replying to him.
  • tjan91tjan91 Registered User Posts: 746 Member
    random betch: whats the deal with the courses that you listed?
  • randombetchrandombetch Registered User Posts: 1,079 Senior Member
    Your welcome Raymond, I'm glad I could help! I guess you're right - if people did worry less, then it would be less of a problem. Perhaps in the future when it's established that a lower GPA from Princeton means more than a GPA from Harvard or Yale, grade deflation will be less of an issue. I don't think that has been established yet though.

    Many professional schools (all medical schools, not sure about law/biz schools) have grade reporting services compile the grades from the transcripts, and then they view grades in their own format. Because of this, the letter explaining grade deflation that comes with every transcript is never seen by the admissions committee. I still think that a 3.5 from Harvard (their average GPA) is seen as better than a 3.5 from Princeton (0.22 above average).

    tjan - those are some of the courses that I think are very grade deflated. In intro to Japanese, my friend worked her @ss off (she said harder than she's ever worked for any class in her life) and she pulled off a 93% in the class. That was a B+. In the upper level ORF classes, two of the professors admitted just last week that the students are getting screwed by grade deflation despite what Dean Malkiel says about the policies being more like "guidelines." Department chairs are held accountable for having higher than 35% A's in their department - they will not be too happy if professors in their department are giving out more than 35% A's.
  • tomjonesisthemantomjonesistheman Registered User Posts: 2,978 Senior Member
    After reading this, I still have doubts that I won't be able to do better than 70+ % of students at Princeton. I'm planning to study engineering too. This grade deflation thing is a big turn off. I just hope that I can get at least a 3.5 GPA.
  • tjan91tjan91 Registered User Posts: 746 Member
    a 3.5 at harvard is def not seen as better than a 3.5 at pton. probably considered to be equal even though a 3.5 at pton is harder to achieve.
  • PtonGrad2000PtonGrad2000 Registered User Posts: 1,368 Senior Member
    There are several issues that always seem to come up on the Princeton forum. The issue of Princeton's grading policy is certainly one of them! You might be interested in the following analysis if you are worried about how the policy affects graduate and professional school admissions. I use medical school admissions as an example because the data are publicly available. Data for admission to law school, business school and graduate school in the arts and sciences are less easily obtained but I strongly suspect that what I show in the following applies to them as well.

    The analysis was performed in January of this year, from self-reported scores on a public website used by students applying to medical school. It assesses the average GPAs and MCAT scores for successful applicants from some leading undergraduate schools. Limited data points are available for analysis but I still believe the general picture they reveal is accurate.

    What quickly becomes apparent in this analysis is that a lower GPA from Princeton is seen as equivalent to a significantly higher GPA at schools known to have more grade inflation. For example, among the applicants reporting data, a GPA average of 3.53 was enough for a Princeton applicant to receive an offer of admission to medical school. At Stanford, a 3.63 was required. At Harvard, successful applicants had an average GPA of 3.64. At Yale, successful applicants appear to have needed around a 3.71 GPA.

    To Get into Any Medical School:

    Required GPA Based on Reporting By Successful Applicants

    3.53---Princeton
    3.63---Stanford
    3.64---Harvard
    3.71---Yale


    One might wonder whether this changes if looking at admission offers from just the top 25 medical schools in the country (as ranked by U.S. News for 2010). The answer is that the pattern still holds true. Princeton applicants apparently required an average GPA of just 3.68 to be accepted to a top 25 school. Medical schools seem to have required higher GPAs for successful applicants from Harvard (3.71), Stanford (3.76) and especially from Yale, where successful applicants to the top 25 medical schools had an average GPA of 3.80.

    Te Get Into a Top 25 Medical School:

    Required GPA Based on Reporting By Successful Applicants

    3.68---Princeton
    3.71---Harvard
    3.76---Stanford
    3.80---Yale


    Finally, looking just at successful applicants to the top five medical schools, the same pattern held true. At the low end, an applicant from Princeton required just a 3.76 GPA to be admitted to a top five school. Those same schools seem to have required a 3.85 GPA from Yale while Harvard and Stanford fell somewhere in-between.

    To Get Into a Top 5 Medical School:

    Required GPA Based on Reporting By Successful Applicants

    3.76---Princeton
    3.78---Harvard
    3.80---Stanford
    3.85---Yale

    Of course, GPAs are not the only factor in medical school admissions. MCAT scores are equally important and interviews play a role as well. The following comparison shows the MCAT scores and GPA averages for successful medical school applicants from each of these four schools:

    Successful Medical School Applicants:

    Average GPA---Average MCAT---School

    3.53---36---Princeton
    3.63---35---Stanford
    3.64---37---Harvard
    3.71---36---Yale

    Again, it can be seen that Princeton applicants were successful with significantly lower GPAs and yet received the same average MCAT scores as successful Yale applicants (at the other end of the extreme) with much higher GPAs.

    The point here is that medical schools seem to be quite aware of the tougher grading standards at Princeton and its applicants do just as well as applicants with much higher GPAs from schools with more grade inflation. I would turn the classic "grade deflation" worry on its head. In fact, if attending a school with more grade inflation, you'll need to have a significantly higher GPA to be competitive.

    These results are not terribly surprising. As grade inflation continues at many schools, medical schools and other graduate programs will require higher and higher GPAs for students applying from those schools.

    Among the Ivies, grade inflation is greatest at Brown and lowest at Princeton:
    Ranking of Ivies from highest average GPAs to lowest:

    Brown
    Yale
    Harvard
    Columbia, Dartmouth
    Cornell
    Princeton

    National Trends in Grade Inflation, American Colleges and Universities

    The problem with grade inflation is that it appears to be a trend that is unchecked. While students might defend the distribution of grades and average GPA at a particular institution today, how do they explain the fact that the averages were so much lower in the past? Is it really true that students are so much smarter today than they were ten or fifteen years ago? What about the future? If the grade inflation trend continues unchecked, at some point grades become totally meaningless. All students at the top schools will receive an "A" for every class. Long before this point is reached (and we're quickly heading in that direction) there will be a natural reaction from employers and graduate schools. They'll simply cease to accept meaningless grade point averages from these schools and will require something, like class rank, that cannot be inflated. From the above analysis, you'll see that medical schools are clearly already beginning to take grade inflation at various schools into account in their admission decisions.


    I'm convinced that the reaction of graduate schools and employers to continued grade inflation will only accelerate. Here are some additional news stories about the problem:
    "In truth, some university leaders are embarrassed that grading is so lax, but they are loath to make any changes," he says in an e-mail. "Grade inflation in academia is like the alcoholic brother you pretend is doing just fine. When someone calls your brother a drunk, you get angry and defend him, although privately you worry. That's where we are with grade inflation: public denial and private concern."

    Doesn't Anybody Get a C Anymore? - The Boston Globe
    Yet even the most transparent grading system won't eliminate our students' desperate pursuit of A's. Of the 20 teachers who came to the session, most could offer some tale of grade harassment.

    "Most of the complaints that colleagues tell me about come from B students," said James Mooney, special assistant to the dean for academic affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences. "They all want to know why they didn't get an A. Is there something wrong with a B?"

    Apparently there is. "Certainly there are students who are victims of grade inflation in secondary school," said Mooney. "They come to college, and the grading system is much more rigorous. That's one of the most difficult things to convey to the students. If you're getting a B, you're doing well in a course."

    A's for Everyone! - washingtonpost.com

    I learned that grades started to shoot up nationwide in the 1960s, leveled off in the 1970s, and then started rising again in the 1980s. Private schools had much higher grades than public schools, but virtually everyone was experiencing grade inflation.
    What about today?

    Grades continue to go up regardless of the quality of education. At a time when many are raising questions about the quality of US higher education, the average GPA at public schools is 3.0, with many flagship state schools having average GPAs higher than 3.2.
    At a private college, the average is now 3.3. At some schools, it tops 3.5 and even 3.6. "A" is average at those schools! . . .

    These changes in grading have had a profound influence on college life and learning. When students walk into a classroom knowing that they can go through the motions and get a B+ or better, that's what they tend to do, give minimal effort.

    Our college classrooms are filled with students who do not prepare for class. Many study less than 10 hours a week – that's less than half the hours they spent studying 40 years ago. Paradoxically, students are spending more and more money for an education that seems to deliver less and less content.

    With so few hours filled with learning, boredom sets in and students have to find something to pass the time. Instead of learning, they drink.

    A recent survey of more than 30,000 first year students across the country showed that nearly half were spending more hours drinking than they were studying.

    Grade inflation gone wild / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

    . . . and then there is the following:

    “Parents [of high school students] Fight FOR Grade Inflation Despite Warnings”

    Parents Fight for Grade Inflation Despite Warnings
  • AlumotherAlumother Registered User Posts: 6,233 Senior Member
    And, for job opportunities (vs. professional school), you are so incredible with a Princeton GPA of 3.7 that the grade deflation issue is just not worth all this distress. Anecdotal evidence based on Aludaughter's post-Princeton experience.
  • Silly PuddySilly Puddy Registered User Posts: 127 Junior Member
    Hmm, interesting post, PtonGrad.
    Alumother wrote:
    And, for job opportunities (vs. professional school), you are so incredible with a Princeton GPA of 3.7 that the grade deflation issue is just not worth all this distress.

    Not just 3.7. I've known people with GPAs well below 3.5 getting interviews (and ultimately jobs) at top tier firms (think McKinsey/Bain/Goldman). I'm not suggesting it's easy to get these jobs even from Princeton, but I do think that people need to keep things in perspective.

    And if you're interested in graduate school in a discipline, keep in mind that while your GPA is important, far more weight is given to the recs from professors and your research (at least for every discipline I'm familiar with). Given the reputation of Princeton profs in their areas and the accessibility of research opportunities, I'd say Princeton puts you at a huge advantage.
  • randombetchrandombetch Registered User Posts: 1,079 Senior Member
    For example, among the applicants reporting data, a GPA average of 3.53 was enough for a Princeton applicant to receive an offer of admission to medical school. At Stanford, a 3.63 was required. At Harvard, successful applicants had an average GPA of 3.64. At Yale, successful applicants appear to have needed around a 3.71 GPA.

    This is faulty logic... I suppose if a school gave every student a 3.0, then a 3.0 would be "enough" to get those students into medical school? Of course a school with an average GPA of 3.28 is going to have an average medical school acceptance GPA less than that of a school with an average GPA of 3.51.

    3.53 is 0.25 higher than Princeton's average of 3.28
    3.71 is 0.20 higher than Yale's average of 3.51

    If anything, students accepted to medical school from Yale had to be less "better-than-average" than Princeton students did. It's not valid to state that because the group of Princeton students accepted to medical school had a lower average GPA than the group of Yale students accepted to medical school, a lower GPA is "required." (By the way, "required" is a bad word in this context because plenty of students with a GPA of lower than 3.53 got into medical school from Princeton)

    PS, if what you say is true, then Stanford dominates Princeton in medical school admission. Their average accepted GPA is a 3.63 while their average GPA is a 3.55. Far more impressive than Princeton's accepted GPA of 3.53. AND they have a lower average MCAT score? Wow, I wish I had gotten into Stanford.

    PPS, thanks for the statistics! I'm very happy to know that the average GPA of a Princeton student who got into a top 5 med school is 3.76, since that's right around what my GPA looks like.
  • PtonGrad2000PtonGrad2000 Registered User Posts: 1,368 Senior Member
    I suppose if a school gave every student a 3.0, then a 3.0 would be "enough" to get those students into medical school?

    For a school of Princeton's caliber, I would say, yes, assuming that these students were still scoring at the highest levels on the MCATs and did well in their interviews. (As I've pointed out in the analysis above, successful Princeton medical school applicants are receiving the same average MCAT scores as their fellow students at schools where there is a great deal more grade inflation.)

    Think of it this way. According to reported statistics, students at CalTech have the highest average SAT scores in the nation by a large margin. This is widely known by graduate school admission committees. Were CalTech suddenly to decide, as university policy, that all of its students would henceforth have their GPA's uniformly lowered to 3.0 would it make any difference in how graduate school admissions committees would view them? Would those students suddenly be 'dumber'? Those admissions committees would now see that every undergraduate coming from CalTech had a 3.0 but still had high GRE scores and great recommendations from professors. The graduate school admission committees would simply ignore the GPA and look at other factors.

    I think what is often missing here is a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of grading systems. I would suggest that even professors have different opinions and I believe that many (including you, Random) believe that grades represent a judgment against some universal standard. In other words, some feel that there is something that can be identified as "A" work, "B" work and "C" work without reference to the work of any other student in a particular class. Now if this were the sole theory of grading then, since most Princeton students were "A" level students in high school, they should all be "A" level students in college. This seems to be the theory that is used to justify grade inflation at many schools across the country where the claim is made that the 'quality' of the enrolling students has increased in recent years thus explaining the rise in average GPA. The problem with this theory, however, is that, if followed to its extreme, it eviscerates the other important functions of grading systems. If all students receive "A's" then there is no way of assessing one's performance in comparison to one's peers and those who are not self-motivated to do their best work, will not. Those judging the performance of students coming from such a school will not be able to use grades as a measure of relative abilities. This is the same problem that undergraduate admissions offices have with high schools that do not report grades. In the absence of grades, they simply look more closely at class rank and standardized test scores.

    There is, however, another way to view grading systems and this is to see them not as systems of comparison to some universal standard but systems that attempt to compare your work to the work of your peers. Compared to the work of a student at a community college with very low academic expectations, yes, you might be doing "A" level work in your organic chemistry class. But the world will not judge you on this standard. Instead, you will be judged within the academic peer group to which you belong. Is a "C" in an organic chemistry class at Princeton indication of greater mastery of the material than a "B" in a similar class at the community college with low academic performance? Absolutely. Is that "C" an indication that, in comparison to your fellow students who received "A's" in that Princeton class, you have not achieved the same level of understanding? Absolutely.

    Like it or not, the world will always judge you in comparison to those it thinks are your peers. Witness the criticism of Brett Favre as a 'poor' quarterback because he threw the interception that cost the Vikings the game last week. The American public graded him a "B" in comparison to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who, based on his performance in the other game that weekend, has a 4.0! Do any of the "armchair quarterbacks" who criticized Favre for his decision to throw that pass think that they could have done better? Probably not (other than the very dull-witted ones). Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history but this year, he wasn't as good as his football 'peers' and that's the way his performance was assessed.
    Of course a school with an average GPA of 3.28 is going to have an average medical school acceptance GPA less than that of a school with an average GPA of 3.51.

    I think you're making the argument for me here. The point of my previous analysis was to show just that. Princeton applicants with lower GPA's (but apparently the same MCAT scores) are getting accepted to the same medical schools as applicants from schools with much more grade inflation. Again, I would turn this observation on its head and point out that if you have a 3.5 GPA from a school with significantly more grade inflation you will be at a disadvantage in medical school admissions compared to a Princeton applicant with a 3.5 GPA coming from an environment where there is much less grade inflation.

    3.53 is 0.25 higher than Princeton's average of 3.28
    3.71 is 0.20 higher than Yale's average of 3.51

    If anything, students accepted to medical school from Yale had to be less "better-than-average" than Princeton students did.

    I hope we'd all agree that this distinction (i.e. a difference of .05 on a 4.0 grading scale) is just a little too small to be very worrisome and the gathering of the Yale statistics is suspect since the school does not report them officially and that number comes from surveys taken by the student newspaper. My point was simply to show that the evidence suggests that admissions committees are admitting Princeton students to the same schools as their peers despite the lower GPAs. Exact measurements are admittedly impossible.
    (By the way, "required" is a bad word in this context because plenty of students with a GPA of lower than 3.53 got into medical school from Princeton)

    Fair criticism.

    PPS, thanks for the statistics! I'm very happy to know that the average GPA of a Princeton student who got into a top 5 med school is 3.76, since that's right around what my GPA looks like.

    I'm sure you're on the right track here and it's clear that you're working hard. That's a terrific GPA from Princeton. I have no doubt but that this will be reflected in your MCAT scores as well and that you'll end up at a fine medical school! Furthermore, I think this is what Princeton wants, that is, students who will be motivated to work hard to learn and to challenge themselves, not simply to assume that they 'deserve' the highest grades because they did so well in high school. Keep it up.
  • eating foodeating food Registered User Posts: 1,927 Senior Member
    I'll tell ya, it definitely doesn't feel like grade inflation when you're pulling several all-nighters just to not get an A.
  • randombetchrandombetch Registered User Posts: 1,079 Senior Member
    Thanks for the words of encouragement, Ptongrad.
  • danasdanas Registered User Posts: 1,781 Senior Member
    At Princeton University, Grumbling About Grade Deflation - NYTimes.com

    I don't think current Princeton students would have a problem with this if graduate and professional schools were more aware of the system at Princeton, but the sketchy information I have seen seems to indicate that they are largely in the dark, in spite of efforts by Princeton to highlight the grading system.
    Maybe this article will help.
    Grades on transcripts at Dartmouth are followed by a + sign or a - sign, to indicate that the student stood in the top or bottom half of the class in each course. Another attempt to deal with grade inflation.
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