A Few Bad Grades?

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whatdotcolor
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A Few Bad Grades?

Postby whatdotcolor » Wed Mar 11, 2009 11:41 am

I'm applying for grad schools in the fall, but have a C's in a couple of upper level physics classes. Would this be a huge red flag? Does it help at all that I have a decent PGRE score? Also, does it matter that my undergrad program is well known and very intensive?

Thanks!

admissionprof
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby admissionprof » Wed Mar 11, 2009 11:44 am

whatdotcolor wrote:I'm applying for grad schools in the fall, but have a C's in a couple of upper level physics classes. Would this be a huge red flag? Does it help at all that I have a decent PGRE score? Also, does it matter that my undergrad program is well known and very intensive?

Thanks!


Yes, it's a serious red flag. It would help if you took a second semester of the same course and did well. It also matters whether your other courses are mostly B's or mostly A's. Your letter-writers should address it.

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Unnatural Log
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby Unnatural Log » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:01 pm

Just one instance but: I had C's in Quantum and E&M, and I've gotten into some excellent schools. My letter writers didn't address it, it was from a really good undergrad institution, and I got a good PGRE score.

Then again, physics wasn't my primary major (math was), and I applied to astro programs, not physics. I suspect those two things are major factors.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby blackcat007 » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:22 pm

Unnatural Log wrote:Just one instance but: I had C's in Quantum and E&M, and I've gotten into some excellent schools. My letter writers didn't address it, it was from a really good undergrad institution, and I got a good PGRE score.

Then again, physics wasn't my primary major (math was), and I applied to astro programs, not physics. I suspect those two things are major factors.

this is sooooooo complicated... :? ..
really there are too many parameters for an admission.

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Unnatural Log
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby Unnatural Log » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:49 pm

blackcat007 wrote:this is sooooooo complicated... :? ..
really there are too many parameters for an admission.


Yeah I agree. Bottom line is getting a C or two in a physics class is a pretty bad mark on your application but not guaranteed to get you rejected by itself.

markl
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby markl » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:32 pm

I also think that you need consider why you want to go to grad school and why you really got those C's. If you really put in your best effort but didn't come away mastering the material, grad school might not look such a good option for you.

cato88
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Wed Mar 11, 2009 6:04 pm

markl wrote:I also think that you need consider why you want to go to grad school and why you really got those C's. If you really put in your best effort but didn't come away mastering the material, grad school might not look such a good option for you.


Its only a couple C's, if he has decent PGRE and great grades otherwise why should you be be discouraging him obviously this is one of his goals for a while otherwise he wouldn't be a physics major which is more than can be said for some.

Maxwells_Demon
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby Maxwells_Demon » Wed Mar 11, 2009 7:00 pm

Of course, getting a C with professor X could be the same as getting a A with professor Y. At least at my school, this is the case, and I know students who schedule accordingly so their physics GPA is not hurt in this way. So I find it hard hard to make any judgments in general about this matter.

However, if you must be scheduling courses accordingly such that your courses are generally matched with easier grading schemes and more lenient professors than others, then maybe you weren't challenged enough in the class itself to be equipped as others. So maybe getting a C with the tougher professor is actually better in terms of training and exposure to the material. I also know students where this is indeed the case.

Maxwell's Demon

cato88
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Wed Mar 11, 2009 7:10 pm

Maxwells_Demon wrote:Of course, getting a C with professor X could be the same as getting a A with professor Y. At least at my school, this is the case, and I know students who schedule accordingly so their physics GPA is not hurt in this way. So I find it hard hard to make any judgments in general about this matter.

However, if you must be scheduling courses accordingly such that your courses are generally matched with easier grading schemes and more lenient professors than others, then maybe you weren't challenged enough in the class itself to be equipped as others. So maybe getting a C with the tougher professor is actually better in terms of training and exposure to the material. I also know students where this is indeed the case.

Maxwell's Demon

That sucks for him though because he is obtaining better training at the expense of his graduate school options.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby Maxwells_Demon » Wed Mar 11, 2009 7:15 pm

cato88 wrote:
Maxwells_Demon wrote:Of course, getting a C with professor X could be the same as getting a A with professor Y. At least at my school, this is the case, and I know students who schedule accordingly so their physics GPA is not hurt in this way. So I find it hard hard to make any judgments in general about this matter.

However, if you must be scheduling courses accordingly such that your courses are generally matched with easier grading schemes and more lenient professors than others, then maybe you weren't challenged enough in the class itself to be equipped as others. So maybe getting a C with the tougher professor is actually better in terms of training and exposure to the material. I also know students where this is indeed the case.

Maxwell's Demon

That sucks for him though because he is obtaining better training at the expense of his graduate school options.


Agreed. That is how the program is here. Depending who you end up with, it can be very tough, or not too bad. Is this the case for anyone else? Hm...

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mhazelm
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby mhazelm » Wed Mar 11, 2009 10:10 pm

Just my 2 cents, and I'm just a senior undergrad, so take it for what it's worth, but I have close to a 4.0 in physics classes and not bad in math (nothing worse than a B), yet I have been rejected almost everywhere due to GRE scores. So it seems that your grades will not help you much if you've got bad GRE scores. Otherwise, I suppose it depends on how good your GRE scores are - if they're great, you can probably get in. If they're so-so, then you might have trouble. But all I really know is that having great grades and bad GRE scores means you're probably screwed.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby slugger » Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:01 am

agreed--sorta. i dont think even a bad pgre will really screw you. worry more about your recommendations and research. at the last open house i attended no one really said much about anything BUT my letters--and i pulled like a 2.5 as an undergrad!!!. I even failed a math class once--hadda retake it the next semester with a different prof (along with about half my class-mates). My PGRE score is pretty crappy too, and my masters wasnt even IN physics. when u add it all up i think strong letters will do more for you than you even realize. they did in my case.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:54 am

What are the rest of your grades like? If the rest are 'B's I imagine the situation is very different than if the rest are 'A's... Are the 'C's for a reason that could be satisfactorily explained in your statement of purpose? (E.g. Illness) Are median grades for the classes available?

All things being equal, I'd answer yes, some (depends on how decent), and maybe.

The way I see it, they're looking for reasons to reject you since most schools have no shortage of applicants who will make fine grad students, and they have to make cuts somehow. In other words, you're probably going up against people who have similar stats, except they don't have any 'C's. You can tilt the balance towards you if you've got some particularly strong points (or at least level it if you can explain away your grades), but otherwise you can guess the result of their calculus.

We don't know the circumstances you got your grades in, so we're in no position to say that you should give up on physics, but it should certainly make you consider your situation. Most grad programs require you to get a 'B' or better in all courses, and while that does mean there is a lot of grade inflation, the classes are lots of work and some people can't hack it -- a 'C' would be an 'F' in grad school. So, before you continue, you need to decide if you can stop that from happening again.

@slugger you have a 4.0 in your Computational Biology masters program, you are applying to Biophysics program, and your PGRE isn't exactly horrible. I don't think your letters are what's driving your results.
Last edited by dlenmn on Thu Mar 12, 2009 1:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

cato88
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 1:10 am

slugger wrote:agreed--sorta. i dont think even a bad pgre will really screw you. worry more about your recommendations and research. at the last open house i attended no one really said much about anything BUT my letters--and i pulled like a 2.5 as an undergrad!!!. I even failed a math class once--hadda retake it the next semester with a different prof (along with about half my class-mates). My PGRE score is pretty crappy too, and my masters wasnt even IN physics. when u add it all up i think strong letters will do more for you than you even realize. they did in my case.

Thats because Masters is pretty close to an Undergrad GPA etch a sketch shake.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 1:12 am

dlenmn wrote:We don't know the circumstances you got your grades in, so we're in no position to say that you should give up on physics, but it should certainly make you consider your situation. Most grad programs require you to get a 'B' or better in all courses, and while that does mean there is a lot of grade inflation, the classes are lots of work and some people can't hack it -- a 'C' would be an 'F' in grad school. So, before you continue, you need to decide if you can stop that from happening again.

I think people underestimate grade inflation because the impression I have gathered is that people leave due to qualifiers or personal reasons much more often than grades at a rate large enough that leaving because of grades must be due to personal reasons as well ie. you have to be depressed to drop out because of grades.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby slugger » Thu Mar 12, 2009 1:32 am

@ dlenmn: i dunno man...i didnt apply to any biophysics programs, i applied to physics programs and specified interest in biophysics research, and looking over my transcript the only physics classes i ever aced were grad QM and my senior lab 3 years ago. MS or no, i think my letters made some sort of splash.

I say apply to a broad range of schools and pick your letter writers carefully, just my two cents.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:39 am

cato88 wrote:I think people underestimate grade inflation because the impression I have gathered is that people leave due to qualifiers or personal reasons much more often than grades at a rate large enough that leaving because of grades must be due to personal reasons as well ie. you have to be depressed to drop out because of grades.


Exactly. A C is like an F because the class average is an A-.

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dlenmn
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 12, 2009 3:08 pm

@ slugger, Fair enough, they aren't dedicated biophysics programs, but since you put that as your interest, I still think your masters was probably a big deal for them. For most people, I just don't see why recs would make such a large difference unless you've got something special going on. Most people only have a few real options for recommenders, and my guess is that most letters sound pretty similar (unless they torpedo you).

@ cato88, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, possibly due to lack of punctuation marks, so I can't quite respond. I do know that getting grades lower than 'B' (aka failing) is rare (~3:16), but it does happen. I think the reason it doesn't happen more often is due to a kind of selection effect -- the people who generally end up in grad school are generally the type of people who worked hard and did well in undergraduate classes, and thus get a 'B' or better in grad classes.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 3:17 pm

dlenmn wrote:@ cato88, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, possibly due to lack of punctuation marks, so I can't quite respond. I do know that getting grades lower than 'B' (aka failing) is rare (~3:16), but it does happen. I think the reason it doesn't happen more often is due to a kind of selection effect -- the people who generally end up in grad school are generally the type of people who worked hard and did well in undergraduate classes, and thus get a 'B' or better in grad classes.

But to be forced out of grad school takes more than one or two C's.
There is a small selection effect but not really because to get into college you needed above a 3.0 as well and obviously there still is spectrum of grades in undergrad. Harvard uses the same selection effect to explain why the undergrads all have such high GPA's yet Princeton doesnt have the same inflation problem. The selection effect is a bs argument that doesnt hold water. Grad Professors could make a spectrum of grades if they wanted to.

I cant possibly believe there are grad students that can delude themselves into believing there isnt some inflation in graduate schools as if all graduate students are such hard workers of equal talent that no professor could ever differentiate them.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 12, 2009 3:26 pm

cato88 wrote:But to be forced out of grad school takes more than one or two C's.


No. You get 2 'C's here and you can be out. If you get bellow a 'B' in a class, you have to retake. But, if you get below a 3.0 GPA, you can get the boot (I believe this is GPA at any point in time). 2 'C's can do that. I'm reading off the student handbook in front of me. It's probably similar elsewhere.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 3:40 pm

dlenmn wrote:No. You get 2 'C's here and you can be out. If you get bellow a 'B' in a class, you have to retake. But, if you get below a 3.0 GPA, you can get the boot (I believe this is GPA at any point in time). 2 'C's can do that. I'm reading off the student handbook in front of me. It's probably similar elsewhere.

I suppose that if a student wants to leave he will but otherwise he is likely to get a retake or some type of probation.
The only case I could imagine being forced out is All B's one C one semester => Probationary Period => All B's one C next semester other than you can be kicked out only technically, just like a lot of schools seem to say you only get two non-free chances at qualifiers yet before being kicked most people get another chance or two and then a possibly an oral qualifier (the show me any reason we should keep you test).

There is also as I mentioned the obvious grade inflation.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 4:10 pm

dlenmn wrote:@ cato88, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying, possibly due to lack of punctuation marks, so I can't quite respond. I do know that getting grades lower than 'B' (aka failing) is rare (~3:16), but it does happen. I think the reason it doesn't happen more often is due to a kind of selection effect -- the people who generally end up in grad school are generally the type of people who worked hard and did well in undergraduate classes, and thus get a 'B' or better in grad classes.


I think the only selection effect is grade inflation. What I mean is, professors/universities assume they have already selected the best and brightest, so everyone gets an A or a B unless you lag way behind. The scores on the e&m midterm I took last semester ranged from the 30's to an 85, the average was about 60. Plenty of room for a grade spread, but everyone above the average gets A/A- everyone below gets B/B+ unless you were in the 30s. Because of the common university policy that grad students must maintain 3.0 or better, and because schools don't want to have to accept and fund students then kick them out a year later, because schools don't want high attrition rates, and because grad school is about research not about competing with other students for grades, grad inflation is huge. But it doesn't matter, because nobody cares about your grades anyway.

By the way, my classmate did undergrad at Princeton and the grad inflation he told me about blew my mind. Basically, it's *extremely* hard to get an A, *extremely* hard to get a D or F, and very very easy to get a B. I think that is how it is at all ivies.

Completely off topic, just rambling.

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dlenmn
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 12, 2009 5:18 pm

cato88, I agree completely about grade inflation. As I said in my first post "there is a lot of grade inflation".

However, people do fail classes (again, by fail I mean less than a 'B'). In fact, the failure rate I've seen is probably higher than at my undergrad school. E.g. 2 or 3 people failed quantum in a ~30 person class (I don't know who they are -- some might not have been from the department). That's not the norm, but it does happen sometimes. I don't recall anyone failing quantum during undergrad (here, failing meaning 'F'). Grad classes have been more work than undergrad classes. So back to the point that started this line of conversation, if you're getting 'C's as an undergrad, you'll probably have to do better in grad classes if you want to stay in the program.

I don't know how much they try to force you out if you do poorly. I'm guessing you're right that it's uncommon to be forced out immediately if you don't meet the 3.0. On the other hand, perhaps they take the view that there's no reason to keep you around when they get hundreds of applicants a year, and you can easily be replace with someone who won't get 'C's in classes. My sample size is pretty small (as, I suspect, is yours), so I'll have to get back to you in a couple of years once I have more data.

I see good evidence for a selection effect. For example, the first years here are very willing to spend lots of time working on problem sets, more so than the average undergrad physics major I've seen. Is it that we were average physics majors and by coming to grad school we were transformed in to more dedicated students, or is it that they only admitted the people who were already willing to spend an above average amount of time working? grae313, I know what you're saying about exam grades, but homework grades have made up a good part of the grade in classes I have taken so far (e.g. 50% in the aforementioned quantum class), and most people did well on the homework by putting a ton of time in. For classes heavy on exams with large grade distributions, I see your point that grade inflation is the major factor, but I haven't had a class like that yet (the quantum class had exams like that, but the homework shrank the final grade distribution a lot).

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 6:39 pm

dlenmn wrote:However, people do fail classes (again, by fail I mean less than a 'B'). In fact, the failure rate I've seen is probably higher than at my undergrad school. E.g. 2 or 3 people failed quantum in a ~30 person class (I don't know who they are -- some might not have been from the department). That's not the norm, but it does happen sometimes. I don't recall anyone failing quantum during undergrad (here, failing meaning 'F'). Grad classes have been more work than undergrad classes. So back to the point that started this line of conversation, if you're getting 'C's as an undergrad, you'll probably have to do better in grad classes if you want to stay in the program.

Failing is a D or and F just like failing is a C in grad school no school is going to let you continue as an undergrad with a 1 average. A failure rate of less than 10% is not alarming. As an undergrad I only had one or two course where there was around or less than 10% D and F's given. If you havent observed a failure rate above 5% think that might be due to the prevalence of grade inflation in some undergrad programs which I think is not very fair.

dlenmn wrote:I don't know how much they try to force you out if you do poorly. I'm guessing you're right that it's uncommon to be forced out immediately if you don't meet the 3.0. On the other hand, perhaps they take the view that there's no reason to keep you around when they get hundreds of applicants a year, and you can easily be replace with someone who won't get 'C's in classes.

There is a simple reason for keeping a student if he can possibly shape up and im sure most people could guess what it is. Hint .Hint . Its the same reason people dont immediately sell their stock everytime it goes down a point.

dlenmn wrote:I see good evidence for a selection effect. For example, the first years here are very willing to spend lots of time working on problem sets, more so than the average undergrad physics major I've seen. Is it that we were average physics majors and by coming to grad school we were transformed in to more dedicated students, or is it that they only admitted the people who were already willing to spend an above average amount of time working? grae313, I know what you're saying about exam grades, but homework grades have made up a good part of the grade in classes I have taken so far (e.g. 50% in the aforementioned quantum class), and most people did well on the homework by putting a ton of time in. For classes heavy on exams with large grade distributions, I see your point that grade inflation is the major factor, but I haven't had a class like that yet (the quantum class had exams like that, but the homework shrank the final grade distribution a lot).

There a simple explanation for your observation which you clearly allude to- More weight is given to problem sets in graduate school therefore people will work harder on problem sets. Undergraduate have opposite weighting so obviously more effort is going to be put into exams. However exams differentiate students because I have never heard of group exams. The fact that more weight is given to problem sets is also a sign of grade inflation because there is obviously no effort to differentiate students. It is not uncommon for first years to work together on problem sets- Couldnt you possibly believe that might be the reason there is not that much deviation in grades?

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby irockhard » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:26 pm

So what's the offical verdict? Say I have straight A's in all of my classes, except that I got a C in a non-physics but physics related class in my junior year. I can most likely improve my GPA back to above 3.95. How bad would this C affect me? A deal breaker?

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby admissionprof » Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:49 pm

irockhard wrote:So what's the offical verdict? Say I have straight A's in all of my classes, except that I got a C in a non-physics but physics related class in my junior year. I can most likely improve my GPA back to above 3.95. How bad would this C affect me? A deal breaker?


That's exactly what happened to me, and I got into most of the top ten schools.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:09 pm

cato88 wrote:There a simple explanation for your observation which you clearly allude to- More weight is given to problem sets in graduate school therefore people will work harder on problem sets.


No, I gotta agree with dlenmn on this one, the people that end up here are extremely hard working and capable--moreso than average. And HW was worth about 30% in UG and is typically around 30% here.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:10 pm

irockhard wrote:So what's the offical verdict? Say I have straight A's in all of my classes, except that I got a C in a non-physics but physics related class in my junior year. I can most likely improve my GPA back to above 3.95. How bad would this C affect me? A deal breaker?


No one will care about one C in a non-physics class if the rest of your application is very good.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:23 pm

grae313 wrote:
cato88 wrote:There a simple explanation for your observation which you clearly allude to- More weight is given to problem sets in graduate school therefore people will work harder on problem sets.


No, I gotta agree with dlenmn on this one, the people that end up here are extremely hard working and capable--moreso than average. And HW was worth about 30% in UG and is typically around 30% here.

Well I guess it depends on undergrad because undergrads at my undergrad were hardworking and homework averages
were around 90% most of the time which meant everyone would have had an A if HW was weighted heavily. Homework in all of my undergrad had a maximum weight of 15% and my understanding was that UC schools weighted exams about as heavily although I have no experience with liberal arts colleges. This discussion is heading in the direction of my feeling like I had the short end of the undergrad inflation stick.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby astrofan » Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:52 pm

That is actually a big problem at some schools. Which is why class rank is so important (every school asks for it on the recommendation form).

cato88
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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby cato88 » Thu Mar 12, 2009 11:11 pm

astrofan wrote:That is actually a big problem at some schools. Which is why class rank is so important (every school asks for it on the recommendation form).

But nobody wins because it creates a system where grades are compressed in some schools and not so much in others making it really hard to compare students from different schools aside from the use of the PGRE.

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Re: A Few Bad Grades?

Postby astrofan » Fri Mar 13, 2009 1:50 am

That is true, and that is the argument for the PGRE (though, I don't think that is a great test for the comparison). Regardless what you do its going to be hard to compare students at different schools. Even if you standardized both tests and curriculum for each course taught at every school in the country, you will always have the problem of the curve. The problem with grading on a curve is your grade is very much based on other people in your class; MIT will always claim that its students are better than those at a state school.

No system will effectively compare students except an exam everyone takes. Class rank works well, but I agree that it looks bad when the person with the highest GPA in the department has a 3.5.




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