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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


GPA system: a poor judge

Need to pump up your sagging GPA? Register for Bands 41, a course in which 99.7 percent of the 323 students got an A in 2003.

Don’t worry, there’s no audition.

When I checked out the grade distributions of UW courses, I was amazed by the differences in grading not only among departments, but also within a single course. Make sure you get the right TA!


Unless certain sections attract all of the slackers, the charts clearly show there are harder and easier graders. And students taking easier-graded courses will on average have higher GPAs than students taking harder courses.

Examining the UW percentage distribution of grades for 2003-2004, it’s easy to see which courses and majors will get you on the Dean’s list.

Eighty percent of students in comparative literature courses got As or ABs, compared to only 35 percent of those taking engineering, mechanics and astronautics courses. Most of those students got between a B and a C.

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t really surprised by this.

How many of us have worked our asses off in one class and not done so well, but hardly made it to a single lecture for another course and gotten an A? I think of my roommate who slaved her way through Psychology 225, often reduced to tears, but who got an A in her French class, for which she tells me she did next to nothing.

It’s frustrating to think that a string of bad luck in courses could cost you admission to the journalism school, or whatever program you’re shooting for. Unless, of course, you scheme your way into easy As.

A glance at UW scholarship reports, which show average GPA by undergraduate school, confirms there are easy and hard departments when it comes to grading. The average GPA for Elementary Education majors is 3.794, while that of General Engineering majors is 2.927. Are these education majors just that much more serious about their studies than the engineering majors? It makes you wonder.

If GPAs are so dependent on how individual professors grade, and not necessarily an indication of how hard students have worked, why is GPA even a factor in, say, business school applications?

With this in mind, I called Don Hausch, the Associate Dean of the UW School of Business graduate program. The program application asks for a cumulative GPA converted to a four-point scale. I asked Mr. Hausch whether he thought GPA was a valid indicator of undergraduate performance or if it was really meaningless, since it assumes all schools and professors grade the same and all courses are equal in difficulty.

“It’s one piece of information, so it’s a nice starting point, a summary statistic,” he explained. “But our review of applications goes way, way beyond GPA.”

Mr. Hausch listed GMAT scores, undergraduate preparation, personal statements and references as other factors in the admissions process.

“[GPA] summarizes one important area, which is undergraduate performance,” he noted, adding, however, that he recognized there could be “different levels of grade inflation occurring.”

Frankly, I don’t see how GPA tells the business school or any other competitive admissions program anything. Maybe 50 years ago, when the course selections and majors were limited, it wasn’t bad. Today the UW College of Letters and Science offers 65 majors.

This spring UW is offering over 5,500 different courses. How can you average that? University administrators that insist on using GPA are creating an atmosphere in which students choose courses to game the system, not based on their interests.

This might come as a shock to some UW professors, but there are schools in the world that do just fine without GPAs. At my French high school, we were given grades out of 20 and there were no formal multiple-choice tests; all exams were full written responses graded subjectively. Convert that to GPA. French universities also don’t try to create an average grade.

Many students feel there is an unofficial minimum GPA students must have to be considered for UW programs. One of my roommates, a journalism major, estimated you need about a 3.5 GPA to apply to the UW journalism school. Though this is not stated explicitly in the application, she said it was widely known among students.

Qu’en pensez vous? What do you think? Has GPA screwed you over? Does the UW really need to keep it?

Cynthia Martens ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in Italian and European Studies.

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