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Does distribution of grades matter when applying to grad school?

  1. Mar 14, 2014 #1
    I'm looking primarily for answers from people who have been on admission committees or have otherwise reviewed applications from undergraduate students.

    When you look at a student's transcript, is the distribution of his/her grades a factor at all? For example, I performed only around average in my first year (~3.0 gpa) but in every semester since I have been getting a 4.0 or very close (like 3.95). I will expect to graduate with a 3.7 overall. Now, obviously not taking into account any other part of the application (GRE, personal statement, references, research etc etc etc.) would I be viewed as more desirable than another 3.7 student that has a uniform distribution of grades?

    I did not perform as well in 1st year because of the typical adjustments (moving away from home, not used to working that hard, trying to fit in social activities). I am not the naturally brightest person in my class, but since 1st year I have developed a successful skill set of knowing how to study and work hard.

    I'll be applying next fall to physics schools in the US (I'm from Canada). I tried asking my department chair but he said it was against policy to talk about the internal admission process and pretty much gave me the bland response "just get the best grades you can".

    I figure the good folk of PF will be less formal ;)

    PS: I'm not actually worried about my grades, I'm more or less just curious what people who are looking at my transcript will think when they see my first year grades compared to 2nd/3rd/4th year. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Then you probably want a psychic. We really can't tell what other people will think, and every committee is different.

    In general, improving grades are better than non-improving grades, and grades that don't need to improve are better still. How much weight this has will depend on the committee.

    The response "just get the best grades you can", which you pooh-pooh, is very good advice. You have no control over past grades. You have no control over what an admissions committee thinks. You do have control over your future grades.
  4. Mar 14, 2014 #3
    Not that I have any kind of experience you ask for, but I tend to hear that admissions like to see positive trends in your grades (though of course, they prefer a 4.0). It's (probably) better to have your A's in your difficult senior level courses than in your easy freshman ones, if you can only have one or the other.
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