College GPA: Does It Depend on Major? The "All Things GPA" Thread.

Does the college a student attends matter more than the GPA they earn when seeking employment? Do employers “weigh” a GPA differently depending on the reputation of a college or the particular major being perceived as “easy” or “hard”? Is a 3.0 for a computer science major or engineering major looked at differently than a 3.0 for a Humanities or Liberal Arts major?

Or is it the reverse? Does GPA matter more than the reputation of the college, and if so, under which circumstances? Or do they matter equally?

My son in an engineering major. In high school, he was a top student with a 1460 SAT and was an AP Scholar with distinction. In college, his GPA is hovering around a 3.0. He sees friends who were less accomplished students in high school majoring in non-STEM majors and having higher GPAs.

Is a 3.0 considered “average” for an engineering major? Below average? If so, what is the average GPA for engineering majors?

How do companies that hire engineers look at GPAs? What about graduate schools and law schools? Do they look at GPAs for STEM majors differently than non-STEM majors?

If you have experience with any of these questions, I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks in advance for your feedback.

I think you will hear a lot of “it depends” type answers. It will depend on the industry, the employer, and maybe the individual(s) who are part of the hiring process. I don’t think any of the factors you cited are looked at in a vacuum. I was in law and banking which is different than engineering. Schools and majors mattered to me and my firms and not just GPA. I suspect people who hire engineers have opinions/knowledge about the quality of engineers coming out of certain programs and whether that school has grade inflation or deflation. I also suspect grad/professional school admissions decision makers take into consideration the relative difficulty/grade inflation/deflation of certain schools and majors.

A better source for you and your son should be his school’s career placement office. They should have data on the post graduate employment/grad school placement of graduates in your son’s major (percent employed/admitted, employers/grad school, gpa, gre medians/avgs).

This older paper (from ; another paper at ) suggests that, in the mid-2000s, grades in social sciences and engineering averaged about 0.2 higher than grades in natural sciences, while grades in humanities averaged about 0.3 higher than grades in natural sciences.

Of course, individual students may find some subjects harder for themselves than other subjects. For example, some science majors may find it more difficult to analyze literature.

College GPAs generally a lower than high school GPAs. College generally takes students who earned HS GPAs in the 3.0 to 4.0 range and spreads them across the 2.0 to 4.0 range (a few fall below 2.0 and flunk out). Even the most selective colleges that start with students with HS GPAs of 3.8-4.0 have average college GPAs of “only” 3.5 to 3.6, indicating that many of their students have lower GPAs in college than in high school.

A NACE survey found that about 70% of employers use college GPA as an initial screen to help determine which college applicants to interview, and about 60% of those used a 3.0 GPA cutoff.

Law school admission is heavily focused on LSAT and college GPA. can give you an idea of what kind of LSAT and college GPA each law school is looking for. Note that college GPA is recalculated for law school applications; +/- is 0.33, and A+ = 4.33, so college GPA for law school application could be greater than 4.0: .

Medical school admission first sorts applications in priority for human reading by MCAT and college GPA (recalculated differently from law school – +/- is 0.3, and A+ = 4.0). Human readers than determine priority for interviews. may be helpful.

PhD program admissions are holistic by the department. Upper level courses in the major and their grades, undergraduate research, and recommendations from the previous are likely to be the most heavily weighted.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the major is. For the Florida Bright Futures merit award, you need a certain gpa to keep it and if you fall below that, you get one chance to raise it and then it is gone. Doesn’t matter the major, the school, disabilities, illnesses during the semester, grandmother’s death, or that you had a really good reason to drop the class or stay in it. Get the required gpa or lose the money.

Both my kids had to maintain 3.0’s to keep their school merit awards, and one was an engineer and the other a history major. (it was actually harder for the history major to keep hers than the engineer).

My daughter’s athletic conference had an honor roll and there was set cut off (and a separate award for a 4.0). One school had ~38 players their team and ALL players were on the honor roll. You have to figure there is a little bit of grade inflation at that school but their gpa’s still read 4.0.

This varies tremendously depending on a variety of factors, including which group is averaged. For example, I was an engineering major at Stanford. One analysis based on 2011 data found that Stanford engineering school had a mean GPA of 3.6 with ~65% A+/A/A- grades. This was slightly higher than the overall average GPA across all schools of 3.57, with ~62% A+/A/A- grades. . Given the current grade inflation trends, I’d expect both have mean of ~3.7 today.

Stanford’s neighbor UC Berkeley prints average GPA by major at . The mean GPA for an engineering major appears to be ~3.4. L&S appears to average somewhere between 3.4 and 3.5, with a wider variation between different majors.

At Both Stanford and Berkeley, engineering majors appear to have average GPAs well above 3.0. In general the mean GPA tends to increase when a larger portion of the class does A quality work, such as at the highly selective colleges above. It’s common for less selective colleges to have much lower mean GPAs, sometimes with the most common grade being C. Along the same lines, it’s common for mean GPA to be higher in honors/accelerated versions of classes than in standard versions of classes In general private colleges tend to have higher mean GPAs than public colleges, like the example above. However, there are many exceptions to both of these generalizations. . If you have a particular college in mind, you may be able to look up specific numbers.

Again it depends on many factors. In my field of work, having a major in a related engineering field is usually a requirement for job applicants. So employers are comparing engineering majors to other engineering majors for the position. Even in the rare cases where an engineering major is not required for the job, there will be engineering tech questions in the interview that a non-engineering major would be unlikely to pass, unless they took a good number of tech courses during college. I’d make a similar comment for graduate schools in engineering fields, such as a MS in engineering, although a small portion of students from other majors due pursue a MS in engineering… often majors that are not known for easy grading, such as physics or CS.

GPA also varies by employer. I’d expect engineering employers primarily use GPA as a screen (usually >= 3.0) for first job, and otherwise emphasize things like relevant work experience, relevant skill sets, doing well in the interviews, being able to do the job well; rather than emphasizing college mean GPA. In the employer survey I linked to in the other thread, science and tech employers ranked GPA as the 2nd least important criteria when evaluating resumes of new grads for hiring decisions. The full ranking from highest to lowest was as follows. There are plenty of exceptions to these generalizations. I’ve had one interview with an engineering employer as a new grad in which he scrutinized over my transcript during the interview and asked about grades in specific classes. He seemed as concerned about my grades in specific classes as my answers to interview tech questions.

Relative Importance of Attributes in Evaluating Graduates: Tech Employers

  1. Internships – 24
  2. Employment During College – 23
    – Huge Gap –
  3. College Major – 11
  4. Volunteer Experience – 11
  5. Extracurricular Activities – 9
  6. Relevance of Coursework – 8
  7. College GPA – 8
  8. College Reputation – 6

My son had a 3.1 overall GPA but 3.5/3.7 GPA in his major/minor (Economics/Math) at an average public flagship. His career department told him to put these numbers on his resume. He was told that 3.0+ GPA in a hard major is acceptable however he could see that the most desirable employers in his field of interest established GPA cutoffs of 3.2 or even 3.4 so he could not even apply with 3.1.

Lower GPA can be compensated by obtaining tech certifications e.g. CCNA, CISSP, AWS, passing actuarial exams, publishing software code on Github etc.
As mentioned above internships and/or relevant job experience is the key to obtaining employment. Some doors may be closed initially because of the low GPA but nothing stops you from obtaining a more prestigious employment as your next job - at that point nobody cares about your GPA. After a year at his first job my son moved on to a better employer working on more challenging problems alongside people graduated from the fancier colleges. He probably had no chance to be hired there right out of school with his GPA.

Its almost impossible to get an interview at the top consulting/financial firms unless you have a 3.5 or better GPA, regardless of your major. However, if you have the right connections, you can potentially network your way in.

Internships and work experience are valued much more than extracurriculars unless there is something unique about your EC.

I think it does depend on major. D was told 3.0 for engineering was the minimum hurdle.

That said, many companies wouldn’t talk to younger students at the career fair (freshmen/sophomores) unless they were in honors college (3.5 min GPA to stay in good standing). Seems like GPA is less important after students land the first couple of internships.

This article, with studies, shows how majors can greatly affect one’s GPA. Here is an example:

“If the Math department adopted in its introductory course the English 101 grading distribution, our simulation indicated an 80.2 percent increase in the number of students taking at least one additional Math course! Alternatively, if the English department adopted the Math grade distribution, there would be a decline of 47 percent in the number of students taking one or more courses beyond the introductory course in English.”

And sometimes, no one gives a rat’s patootie about someone’s GPA at all, as long as there’s a degree. Honestly, outside of CC, where we only seem to care about “top” this or that, grades are far less important.

1 Like

In the professional world Prestige means virtually nothing. Only a small percentage actually go to those schools, and even then, an even smaller number get employable degrees. There’s not enough of them for employers to care about. Most employers are small to medium size companies that recruit locally and regionally. The idea behind college is to gain marketable skills. If you graduate with a “liberal studies” degree, don’t expect employers to beat down your door with job offers, no matter how good your GPA is.

With a degree like engineering, there’s not a big correlation with grades and job performance. Some engineers might not get the best grades, but they excel with hands-on work. That’s especially true with computers.

Don’t let a lower than expected GPA discourage you. I wasn’t a book learner either, and I’m doing fine. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

Where grades or GPA in college actually matter:

A. If the student needs to meet a high GPA to renew a merit scholarship.
B. If the student needs to meet a high GPA or enter competitive admission to a major that does not have capacity for all interested students.
C. If the student wants to transfer to another college.
D. If the student wants to attend professional school (e.g. law or medical school).
E. When seeking the first job out of college, having a GPA at least as high as employer’s GPA cutoffs for interviewing (most commonly 3.0) avoids being screened out by GPA.
F. If the student is a marginal student on or near academic probation or dismissal.

Once graduated from all schooling and past seeking the first job, grades or GPA tend to be much less important.

Nowhere that I’ve worked. Even the middle-of-the-road engineering firm I worked with long ago had GPA constraints for new hires. As did a majority of the companies my D interviewed with last year - pretty much all of the highly sought after employers.

I was heavily involved in recruiting at the very well known consulting firm I worked for for 25 years. GPA was absolutely an initial screen, varying by college.

Check a college job fair - it’s certainly not just CC.

Yes, your major certainly has to align - that’s a given. I once interviewed a Physics major with a 3.8 for a management consulting job. I’m not sure he even knew why he was there. I think the GPA met the bar and a slot was free - maybe he needed interview practice.

I was an engineering manager for a large aerospace company. In that context; GPA ABSOLUTELY DOES MATTER!! We were doing cutting edge engineering in the space program and wanted the best engineering talent we could get.

We had the usual advertised 3.0 minimum GPA for college grads. Didn’t matter where you went to college; MIT or the state school down the street. Of course we’d take the MIT student over the state school student when all else was about equal. We would, however, get so many applications that the real GPA cutoff was more like 3.4 or 3.5 just to limit the number of applications to sift thru. HR did that first cut by GPA before the application even hit my desk. GPA less than 3.4 and I’d never see it.

We would require submittal of the applicant’s college transcript. Many managers, including myself, would review the actual courses taken and the grades obtained. I’d calculate a STEM class GPA. So that A in art wouldn’t really offset a C in engineering.

While GPA was very important, the demonstrated ability to “play well with others” was just as important. I once rejected an applicant with a college GPA of 4.0 that I brought in for an interview for that reason.

After I retired from the large company I did some consulting for a small (25 person) company that was doing some very high tech work. Their requirements for hiring were just as stringent.

There are smaller to medium companies that do not have such stringent requirements that I have known. So all is not lost if your GPA isn’t up there. It is just that your choices are much more limited.

Because 3.0 is such a common GPA cutoff for employers hiring out of college, the difference between a 2.99 and 3.01 GPA in terms of interview opportunities can be quite large, perhaps larger than the difference between a 3.01 and 4.0 GPA.

For me personally, I don’t care if someone went to college or didn’t go to college or what their degree is in. I just want to know if they can do the job, and do the job well. I interviewed a handful of internal applicants for a position about 5 years ago - one of the people had a degree and many years experience and one was a 21 year old who was working full time while going to school part time. It was a 3 part interview with 3 different levels of mgmt and we all picked the 21 year old. And he knocked the job out of the park. I’d hire him again in a heartbeat.

*that being said, if it’s for a job such as being a nurse or doctor, obviously you need the education to go with it. :smile: *

If you are talking about a job where the knowledge you learn in college is unimportant, then GPA doesn’t matter at all. If the job requires that knowledge, then GPA is more than just important, it is the skill that you are paying the employee for.

It is the old story; if you are flying and you hit some severe turbulence, who would you prefer to have designed the wing structure? The person who got an A in his structural analysis class or the one who majored in beer pong? The company who would take the hit (financially and otherwise) if the wing fails would rather the A student.

I don’t want to fly in a plane with key components designed by 1 college student in isolation, regardless of what grade he/she received in a structural analysis class. I want an experienced company to do the design that has a proven record of quality work in wing structure. One that does sufficient simulation, verification, testing, … passes reviews by external agencies, etc. A process that involves many individuals working together. New grads may be involved in aspects of that process, but I certainly hope they are not designing the wing structure in isolation. I’d expect design work to be primarily done by well experienced employees – ones that have a proven track record doing something similar at that company or others, not based on the grade received in a college class.

Along the same lines, many (not all) engineering companies primarily use GPA as a general resume screen with a cutoff near/at 3.0. Hiring decisions are more influenced by things like experience doing something similar to the position in a work environment, testing of required skill set during interview, etc. If a kid cannot do structural analysis related problems during the interview, he is probably not going to be hired, regardless of what grade he received in a class he took several years ago. If the employee gets hired and does a poor job, he may not last long. And he probably won’t be working on critical tasks, without sufficient support from others.