A word about college grade inflation

<p>Now, I freely admit I am not wholly disinterested, but I get a bit annoyed when I read so many posts saying how "grade inflated" the Ivies are. </p>

<p>Law school deans don't listen to urban legends like how tough the grading at UChicago is or how everyone at Harvard has a 3.9. Nor do they look at <a href="http://www.gradeinflation.com%5B/url%5D"&gt;www.gradeinflation.com&lt;/a>. </p>

<p>Law school admissions officers have seen more college transcripts than most, if not all, of the posters here. They know which colleges have grade inflation and which don't. </p>

<p>There are top schools at which anyone who makes a good faith effort and is in the middle of the class or higher in terms of intelligence and preparation can make a B+ in humanities courses. However, at some of those same schools, few "flat As" or A+'s (if they exist) are handed out. So, yes, getting a 3.33 average is kind of like a gentlemen's C in the old days--though among a harder working group of gentlefolk. But people who have 3.9s are pretty rare. </p>

<p>To get a ROUGH idea of how tough your college is--especially if they are unfamiliar with it--law school admissions officers compare the median LSDAS gpa of all law applicants from your college with the median LSAT. Thus, for Yale LS applicants applying for the fall of 2003, the median LSDAS gpa was 3.49. The median for Tufts was reportedly 3.36. ('02 data, most recent I could find.)Now looking at that data, you might think that Tufts was less grade inflated. But the median LSAT of those Tufts LS applicants was 158; for Yale, 165. Law school admissions officers are NOT going to conclude that Yale is more grade inflated than Tufts is. Yes, the distribution of grades is different, but that's not the same thing. At UMass at North Dartmouth, the LSDAS median gpa is also about 3.33. The median LSAT is 147. Should anyone conclude that it's just as easy to get a 3.33 at Tufts as at North Dartmouth? </p>

<p>In giving these examples, I'm NOT trying to knock any particular college. The point is simply that reading these posts, I sometimes think that some posters sincerely believe that if you get into HYP and attend half your classes, you're guaranteed at least a 3.5. That's simply NOT true.</p>

<p>I'm going to disagree with the methods you take to reach your conclusions. </p>

<p>You simply CANNOT compare straight LSDAS GPA and LSAT between different schools to determine grade inflation for two reasons.
1. Nearly everyone at Yale, should they attend UMass Dartmouth, would get a 4.0. That doesn't mean that Yale should just hand out As to everyone - an A from Yale should mean more than an A from UMass Dartmouth. Harvard does not really operate on that theory; if you go to Harvard and have a 3.5, you'll be worried about your law school chances. The DISTRIBUTIONS of grades at schools are the essence of grade inflation, NOT the quality or caliber of students there.
2. The LDSAS grade data is skewed. At lower-quality schools, it's mostly the top people in the class who apply to law schools; at top schools, you'll get more of a distribution. To analyze grade inflation, you need to analyze ALL of the grades. Thus, the 3.33 average of UMDartmouth people who apply to law school might be near the top of their class, while 1/6 of Tufts grads apply to law school. </p>

<p>If you go to Harvard, attend all of your classes, and take a humanities major, you're going to get at least a 3.4. Now, that might not sound amazing, but that's in the median 50% of GPAs for almost all law schools. Compare my engineering curriculum: only about 10% of the class hit that high.</p>

<p>First, it's NOT my methodology. It's the methodology a lot of law school admissions officers use. That's why both #s are on your report. A poster from Dartmouth wanted to know if law schools will see Dartmouth as grade inflated. If he wants to know, he should check those two #s for Dartmouth because that's what an admissions officer at, say, McGeorge Law School, who probably doesn't see too many Darmouth apps, may well do. </p>

<p>Second, it's true that the North Dartmouth grads are more likely to be at the top of the class. So what? Because colleges don't all publish the median gpa or distribution of grades or even compute gpa's in the same fashion, the only hard data the law schools have is the median gpa of those who apply to law school. That's real data because the LSDAS gets the actual transcripts and computes the median gpa for each school for that schools applicants. So, fair or unfair, that's the data law schools have. Personally, I don't think it would be more fair to use the whole class, but whether or not it is doesn't matter because law schools cannot get this data.(I don't think it would be fair to use the entire class because after all the LSATs aren't taken by the entire class. They aren't using SATs, they are using LSATs, so they are comparing apples with apples, even if there are more apples at Tufts than UMass-ND.) Even if you "need" to look at all the grades as you claim, they can't. They use what they have. </p>

<p>Engineering is a tough major and it may well be the case that only X percentage of Tufts engineering majors hit some given gpa, but while law schools know that engineering is a tough major, that do NOT know what the median gpa for all engineering majors is at every college in the country. You do get hurt a bit , IMHO, by majoring in something like engineering, but you do. Not fair, perhaps but reality. You'll get a bit of a bump for it at most law schools, but not that much. </p>

<p>Personally, I don't think the median LSAT really measures the quality of the student body, if by quality you mean native intelligence. But it's kind of a rough tool to judge some "quality" that includes willingness to work because you can prep for it, so it measures some ephemeral mix of "smarts" and willingness to make an effort. It's not too surprising that MIT historically has the highest median LSAT , though there have been years in which it hasn't. </p>

<p>So, whether AA agrees with the methodology or not isn't the point. In fact whether I do is not the point either. It's not something I'm advocating or defending...it's what's actually USED. </p>

<p>The confusion is my fault in part because I'm really blending two different concepts here: my annoyance at the idea many posters seem to have that if you show up in class at Harvard, you get a 3.9 and the truth as to how LS's view grades from colleges with which they are unfamiliar.</p>

<p>Fine, that's what law schools use - but it does NOT address the overall issue of grade inflation. Fact still remains that it's easier to get higher grades in some majors than others and higher grades at some schools than others, all other things being equal. That's kind of the essence of grade inflation. </p>

<p>First of all, not all law schools use the methodology you describe. Some just use straight GPA. USNews uses straight GPA, and the Cornell admissions dean has admitted that, given the increasing importance of rankings, some admissions decisions will be based just on numbers, although they might not be very important. </p>

<p>Secondly, the issue of law schools not having access to everyone's GPA is moot. Really is. The class rank issue is much smaller a factor in admissions than straight up GPA, and again, it doesn't address the grade-inflation issue. If a 3.2 at Harvard puts you in the bottom of your class, that doesn't look good... but it looks a heck of a lot better than a 2.5, which would be at the bottom of the barrel at other schools (think Rice, a high-quality school without grade inflation). </p>

<p>I think we can all admit that most people who go to Harvard are really smart. Work ethic is a different story, and H probably is more forgiving in terms of grades than other schools. The GPA is supposed to measure work ethic (so very important in law school) as well as native intelligence. I'm convinced that people work harder under the threat of low grades. When 1/2 the class gets Cs or worse, people work hard out of fear. When 1/2 the class gets an A or an A-, there's not as much reason to work hard, and any lapses won't be as disastrous. </p>

<p>In many ways, I'm biased - I did the law school application procedure with an understandably low GPA. Afterwards, I can NEVER think that differences in GPA are properly accounted for, either among schools or majors. </p>

<p>Finally, I've yet to see anyone on these boards claim that a 3.9 at Harvard is a cake walk.</p>

<p>You're right when you say that some law schools only look at LSDAS gpa with no other data for the first cut. I agree. But for law schools that want to get a rough idea of how tough the grading standards are at a particular college, i.e., those who do want to take the grading standards of various colleges into account, the LSDAS gpa vs. median gpa at each school is the only hard data they have for schools with which they are unfamiliar. </p>

<p>Looking at that data, Rice grading (which isn't necessarily and often isn't the same as workload) doesn't look that tough. Rice LS applicants with a median LSAT of 161 got a median gpa of 3.4. Sure doesn't look a lot tougher than Harvard or Yale to me. Maybe the folks with 2.5 at Rice who are at the "bottom of the barrel" wouldn't be in the Harvard barrel at all. (BTW, there are lots of people at Harvard with below a 3.2. It's not THAT inflated.) </p>

<p>There are subjects in which the grading curve is lower than in others. Engineering is one of these. Yet, I know a good number of extremely bright people who chose MIT over Harvard because it doesn't have a foreign language requirement and they just can't hack foreign languages. I'm just saying that what's easier for one person--or even most people--isn't necessarily easier for everyone. A very good friend of one of my kid's kicks himself for going to one of those grade-inflating Ivies rather than MIT because he graduated without any general honors--cum laude, etc.--because his grades in the required foreign language courses were abysmal. Believe me, he put a LOT of time and effort into trying to PASS his foreign language courses and thinks how much easier MIT would have been without them. A friend's daughter did (relatively) poorly in engineering her freshman year, but didn't switch majors because she knew that she couldn't do the work in humanities. She reads VERY slowly and there was just no universe in which she could hack the work load in humanities as a result. She has NO interest in being an engineer, just chose the major because it allowed her to avoid English, foreign languages, etc., and focus on courses in which the quantity of reading is more limited. Graduated with a 3.6 from one of the best engineering programs in the country. Freely admits she would have failed out if she'd tried to major in English lit. Different strokes for different folks. </p>

<p>Oh, and yes, I admit I stretched a bit when I said that everyone here thinks you can get a 3.9 easily at Harvard. But nonetheless, I think --if you don't, we can just agree to disagree--that the Rice vs. Harvard and Yale LSDAS gpa /LSAT data means that the median Rice LS applicants with that 3.4 at Rice wouldn't get a 3.6 if he transferred to Harvard. I also disagree that a kid with a 1500 and 7 AP credits with 5 or better is going to work harder if he goes to a school with a less selective/-ed student body because more C's are given out and he's afraid he might get one. I think it's just as likely that such a kid who ended up at Harvard would look around him the first day and say OMG!!! so many of these people are Intel winners or USAMO or US Presidential Scholars, etc.; I am SO AVERAGE here!!! I better work my rear end off if I don't want to end up at the bottom of the class. </p>

<p>I think we can agree on a couple of things. The distribution of grades at different colleges varies enormously. I just don't think that, when law schools and government job posts (only applicants with 3.0+ with engineering degrees are eligible for consideration for a lot of them) use gpa cut-offs that Harvard, Yale or wherever folks are doing anything wrong when they make sure that the students in the middle of the class aren't omitted from consideration from opportunities they would have if they went to a school with less selective admissions requirements. I just don't think that it would be a better or more equitable world if the distribution of grades at each college in the nation were the same no matter what the differences in the quality of the student body. </p>

<p>Heck, you can hear the screams when kids see who gets elected to Phi Beta Kappa. It's limited to colleges with certain minimum standards, but it's limited to 10% of the class at Harvard College and 10% of the class at Manhattan College. Some Harvard kids don't think that's fair, believe it or not.</p>

<p>But then life never really is, is it? </p>

<p>Anyway, I've beaten this horse to death, so I'll let it go there.</p>

<p>I think you're taking a rather roundabout way of stating your arguments. First off, you are trying to demonstrate that the reputation for HYPS to be grade inflated is greatly exaggerated (which I think if it were true, would be seen as unfair to a lot of people) but then you conclude that life isn't ever really fair.</p>

<p>Look, the notion of grade inflation has to taken into the context from the frame of reference. I can agree that you can correlate GPA's with LSAT scores, and many law schools do in fact do that. Yet when seen from the point of view of places like MIT and Caltech, I think it will be difficult to sustain an argument that HYPS are comparatively grade inflated. You can talk about isolated exceptions to the rule, but the general premise still holds. Like I discussed before, what matters are not some isolated data points, but where the data points congregate. I think if you were to poll even the students at Harvard and ask them whether they think their school grades easier or harder than MIT does, the bulk of the responses would indicate that Harvard grades easier. That is the heart of grade inflation, as ariesathena said. It's not about what may have happened to specific rare individuals, but rather where the general trends lie. </p>

<p>The REAL issue at hand is perhaps not Harvard vs. MIT but rather tech vs. non-tech, and it only manifests itself into Harvard vs. MIT because MIT students tend to study technical subjects. I think it is a foregone conclusion that nobody seriously disputes that nontechnical subjects tend to grade easier than technical subjects do. You hardly ever hear of a Harvard psychology student saying how he is going to take a bunch of extra computer science and mathematics courses as easy GPA-boosters. Let's face it. The grade distributions in technical courses tend to be significantly lower than that in nontechnical courses. That's grade inflation. This goes a long way towards explaining what is happening at MIT - most MIT students are studying something technical, and technical classes tend to be graded hard. Yet that still means that, on the whole, Harvard is grade inflated relative to MIT.</p>

<p>MIT= median LSAT 169. Median LSDAS gpa =3.23. Yes, that's much tougher grading than Harvard. Law schools know that. Maybe a few poli sci, psych, philosophy, econ, and business majors at MIT actually benefit IF--I don't claim to know--gpa's in these fields at MIT are higher than in engineering, etc.
and a higher % of LS applicants from MIT are techies. (I don't claim to know if that's true either.)</p>

<p>Here's the real MIT data</p>

<p><a href="http://web.mit.edu/career/www/infostats/preprof.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://web.mit.edu/career/www/infostats/preprof.html&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>median LSAT = 163.5 (not 169)
median LSDAS Gpa = 3.31</p>

<p>I am surprised, Sakky. As you probably know, when you take the LSAT and register with LSDAS, you get a little report that includes the median gpa and median LSAT of the people from your school who took it in the same administration as you did--at least that's my understanding of what the LSAT # on the little ticket you get is.</p>

<p>So, when you look at the Yale data, you'll see that the LSAT for seniors is higher than for alums. While part of this is because people who take the LSAT a few years after finishing college tend to get lower scores, it's also because people who don't get great #s often don't apply to LS immediately, but work or do something else for a year or two to improve their applications for law school a bit. Some of the alums took the LSATs while they were in college up to five years ago. (LSAT scores are good for 5 years.) </p>

<p>In any event, one of my kids has several friends who are recent MIT grads who took the LSAT and at least one is currently a student at YHS Law. The number on his little ticket was a 169. That's the same number the list at <a href="http://www.jd2b.com%5B/url%5D"&gt;www.jd2b.com&lt;/a>. shows for 2003 at MIT. That's where I got the 169 from. </p>

<p>It may be that the # of law school applicants from MIT is so small that a couple of people with low LSATs can really change the median. I don't know..it just seems odd that the median LSAT of the MIT students who took the test in 2003 is 169 according to the little ticket..but MIT is showing a 163. </p>

<p>In any event, if you take/have taken the LSAT recently or know someone who has, check the LSAT median # on the LSDAS form! If you ask a MIT student who took the June 2002 LSAT and (s)he still has the ticket, it will show a 169.</p>

<p>Mean v. median. Often, if the cluster is small enough, they'll be the same thing (roughly). However, a lot of uber-high scorers could really pull up the mean (I would be surprised if many MITers got less than, say, a 155 on the thing), or the reverse could happen.</p>

<p>Also, big thing to consider: LSDAS holds data for five years on the school. It's possible to get an exceptional year going through, but that won't hold true over five years.</p>

<p>Just remember, if you do apply to law school...
Law school admissions officers will be looking at the data on your little LSDAS ticket, not the MIT website. MIT's website may have the "real" numbers, but the admissions officers look at the info they get from LSDAS. If you haven't taken the LSAT yet, pray that ALL of the Techies taking it do well ;) Techies who took the LSAT 5 years ago will get a ticket with different data than yours..it will show the median LSAT of Techies the year they took it and the median gpa of that same group of Techies...your gpa won't affect them.</p>