GPA: Can you be too perfect?

  • #1
Math Is Hard
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If you were in charge of admissions, wouldn't it be a little freaky to see transcripts with all "A"s and "A+"s for a student? I would wonder if that person had a "life" and if they might implode at the next level of coursework if things went less than perfectly.

I was a pretty uptight undergrad student, nothing but A+, A, or A-. I actually liked it when I got an A- in a course because I thought, "well, they will see I am not a robot", when my transcripts are reviewed.

I have no idea how admissions committees look at these things, but if I were on one, I might be slightly biased against students with flawless grades, worrying how they might fare at the next level. I guess that's what the essays sort out.

This is not a personal question, BTW. I've already been admitted to my program. Just general curiosity.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I think that the committees think a lot less than you give them credit for. There is not much to tell about someones personality based on their grades except that grades probably correlates with responsibility and personal drive.
 
  • #3
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Isn't that the point of letters of rec?
 
  • #4
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Agreed, you can't just make arbitrary and unsupported assumptions about people. Well, you can, but I guess anything goes then.
 
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  • #5
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Meh, seems unlikely adcoms would even think that hard about grades. Also research is more important than having a "life", right? :P
 
  • #6
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If you were in charge of admissions, wouldn't it be a little freaky to see transcripts with all "A"s and "A+"s for a student? I would wonder if that person had a "life" and if they might implode at the next level of coursework if things went less than perfectly.

Or it could be that you went to a school with massive grade inflation like Harvard.
 
  • #7
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Apparently I have heard some cases of employers turning down people with high cGPAs as those people might be sound technically and expert in their field, they do not have what is demanded by employers of today: communication skills, confidence, man-management and temperament
 
  • #8
Vanadium 50
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That sounds silly. Why would a B student have better communications skills than an A student?
 
  • #9
G01
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Apparently I have heard some cases of employers turning down people with high cGPAs as those people might be sound technically and expert in their field, they do not have what is demanded by employers of today: communication skills, confidence, man-management and temperament

That sounds silly. Why would a B student have better communications skills than an A student?

I agree with Vanadium.

Why would an employer use grades to determine communication skills? This is what interviews are for.
 
  • #10
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GPA is not everything.

However, all else equal, higher GPA is always better than lower GPA.

All else is never equal though.
 
  • #11
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That sounds silly. Why would a B student have better communications skills than an A student?

An A student can easily cheat the system. I see it all the time.
 
  • #12
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Also I've heard of perfect A students speaking of a pressure vector. High grades doesn't mean you know everything, it just means you know how to pass a test expertly.
 
  • #13
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Also I've heard of perfect A students speaking of a pressure vector. High grades doesn't mean you know everything, it just means you know how to pass a test expertly.
Your username fits this... viscosity. Haha.

I have no idea how admissions committees look at these things, but if I were on one, I might be slightly biased against students with flawless grades, worrying how they might fare at the next level. I guess that's what the essays sort out.
Yeah. Grade inflation is a common problem, but as long as you have a high, consistent GPA....
 
  • #14
Vanadium 50
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So you're arguing that grades are reliably and negatively correlated with achievement? Hmmm....
 
  • #15
turbo
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If I were in admissions, I wouldn't shy away from students with all A's. It might be a sign that they weren't sufficiently challenged in their previous course-work, or maybe that they really buckled down and learned the material as well as the instructors demanded. Either way, they deserve a shot. If they go through some shock early on and start to melt down from increased demands, that can be addressed.

My friend and I both had a few B's and B+'s in HS but she and I tested above the top 99.5 percentile on our SATs. We were not the Valedictorian or Salutatorian of our class, either. Top honors went to my cousin, who was a really hard working young lady and was a perfectionist in school. Second place went to a nice lady who was in the business track. It's hard to compare typing, bookkeeping, stenography, etc, one-to-one with technical courses in the science track. Still, she earned the grades and earned the honor, and she and my cousin had to to write and present speeches at graduation. My friend and I dodged a bullet. I had to say a few words while collecting an award for participating in more extra-curricular activities than anybody else in my class but that was a piece of cake.
 
  • #16
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This sounds stupid. I love math and sciences and I enjoy solving problems. This is my life. You have to have hobbies outside your expertise to have a so-called 'life' is the most stupid cliche.
 
  • #17
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This sounds stupid. I love math and sciences and I enjoy solving problems. This is my life. You have to have hobbies outside your expertise to have a so-called 'life' is the most stupid cliche.

Good point. Social norm. But does your statement imply that you would in a room for 18 hours 7 days a week?
 
  • #18
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That sounds silly. Why would a B student have better communications skills than an A student?

Because the B student spent time outside the classroom writing poetry.

I'll let others talk about graduate admissions committees, but I do know first hand that employers are a little worried about people with GPA's that are too high, because it suggests that they might focus too much on classes and not on things that aren't graded.

One other difference is that most managers are people that don't have perfect GPA's so that having perfect GPA's is not something that gets you much respect in industry.
 
  • #19
bcrowell
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Or it could be that you went to a school with massive grade inflation like Harvard.

I was a grad student at Yale, which I think has average grades about the same as Harvard. I taught undergraduate labs (to premeds), graded the work, and recommended final grades. Although the grades I recommended were very high, the thing was that most of these students really were very good students. In most cases, there was essentially nothing being taught in the course that they didn't master, and they basically never did anything major that was incorrect in their written work. The Ivy League isn't like it was back when Bush went to Yale. Admissions standards are extremely high.
 
  • #20
lisab
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I'm not so sure there's a real difference between a 4.0 student and a 3.9 student.
 
  • #21
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So you're arguing that grades are reliably and negatively correlated with achievement? Hmmm....

It would be interesting to do a statistical study of people's undergraduate grades and outcomes after getting their Ph.D., but personally, I can tell you that I've had a much easier time in industry because of things that lowered my GPA in college.

I'd expect zero correlation, but it wouldn't surprise me if the correlation was negative.
 
  • #22
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I was a grad student at Yale, which I think has average grades about the same as Harvard. I taught undergraduate labs (to premeds), graded the work, and recommended final grades. Although the grades I recommended were very high, the thing was that most of these students really were very good students. In most cases, there was essentially nothing being taught in the course that they didn't master, and they basically never did anything major that was incorrect in their written work.

I've had experience at both Harvard and UTexas Austin. The thing about UTexas Austin (at least when I was a TA there, I hope it has changed) was that you had very good students also, but there weren't enough upper class places for all of the people taking physics, so the lower division courses graded extremely harshly in order to weed out students, and the attrition rate was extremely high. Part of the way you did this was to set up the tests so that silly minor mistakes could kill you on the tests, and there were students that got "weeded out" at UTexas physics that I thought would have done just fine at MIT or Harvard.

One thing that the professors at MIT did which I thought was a great thing but which would get you screamed at in some places is that they generally put problems on the final exam that were not covered in class. The philosophy was that "life gives you problems that we didn't cover in lecture, and so will we." That sort of thinking (which I think is great) would get you in trouble at UTAustin and at least with the courses that I took at Harvard as well.

This insures that no one got anywhere near 100% on the tests, but then the final grades were scaled so that you ended up with reasonable GPA's. Also the way that tests at MIT were graded was pretty good. You got lots of points off if you missed the concept, but you got few points off if you "got it" but just did something stupid. The consequence of this is that you cannot machine grade tests, because you need someone that is pretty skilled to figure out what the student was doing. Hand grading is extremely time consuming, but people at MIT thought this was vital enough so that you had to hand grade the tests. Once you start machine grading tests, then what happens it that you end up playing a game of "gotcha."

Curiously machine grading is something that the University of Phoenix does not do, for the same reasons.

Something that I find interesting is that how you grade is part of the "hidden curriculum". There is a very deep and (I think wonderful) philosophical message in how MIT grades that makes it different from how Harvard grades. One thing that makes it really interesting is that it's "tacit knowledge." People are used to a given grading system and they assume that how the world works and they don't think very deeply into how that system works, and the "deep philosophy" that is embedded in the system.
 
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  • #23
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Also part of the reason I happen to believe that "grades aren't that important" is that I got that philosophy from some of my teachers both in high school and at MIT. The problem with that philosophy is that it got me into the meat grinder. Grading policy at MIT is something that people have screamed about since 1861, and the people that I was strongly influenced by were what I called "new school" people in the Office of Undergraduate Education (the names there are Benke, Paul Gray, and Margaret Macvicar) that had a very different philosophy than the "old school" people that ran the departments.

I was very strongly influenced by "new school" people but "old school" run the graduate admissions so the fact that I had relatively low GPA meant that I wasn't able to get into graduate schools that I wanted to. On the other hand because of that background, I think I've done better after I got my Ph.D. so if I had to talk to a younger me (which is what I'm doing now), then I'd give "new school" advice.
 
  • #24
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Thanks for starting this thread MIH :)
The Ivy League isn't like it was back when Bush went to Yale. Admissions standards are extremely high.

:rofl:
 
  • #25
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Good point. Social norm. But does your statement imply that you would in a room for 18 hours 7 days a week?

Hmmm...I'd say 14 hours a day during school years. It is a lot but that's how I function.
 

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