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What's the mean letter grade in U.S. colleges?

  1. Aug 23, 2012 #1
    Strictly not so much an academic guidance question, but I don't know where else I can put this.

    In the U.S., What's the typical letter grade you get if you're around mean in a course in college?

    From where I'm from, being mean in class equates to a B- or a C+, and I'm just curious to know if it's similar in the United States.

    As I wish to pursue my graduate studies in the United States, I just wanted to know if my GPA would have to be adjusted according to the difference in grading between them and where I'm from.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2012 #2
    Depends on the school and the subject. There's been a lot of grade inflation in the US over the past 50 years or so, especially in the humanities. The mean grade for a course in, say, sociology at the average US university is probably around a B+ to an A-.

    The STEM fields on the whole have suffered less from grade inflation, but there has still been some. The average grade for an upper level physics or engineering course is probably around a B to B-.

    Edit: I would imagine that the admissions people at whichever university you are planning to apply to know this as well, and will take it into account.
  4. Aug 25, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the help. The sociology mean grade of B+ to A- is pretty crazy!
  5. Aug 25, 2012 #4
    It is. Grade inflation is a crazy and counterproductive phenomenon all around. Its a conflict of interest to have the person educating you also advocating for your success and simultaneously, supposedly, critically evaluating your ability. The clear answer IMO is standardized tests, but those are generally disliked and not embraced by educators. They like to cite issues with them, but just as much I think that they threaten the convenient conflict of interest that teachers enjoy.
  6. Aug 25, 2012 #5
    But we use the GRE as a key component of a grad school application. That's pretty standardized. Most admissions committees know the score. A 3.9 from Berkeley will carry more weight than the same GPA from Stanford.
  7. Aug 25, 2012 #6
    From what I've gathered it seems a B(~80%) or 3.0 GPA is considered a "borderline successful" grade, it's also the minimum that most graduate departments require for admission.

    I'm also a prospective applicant from from a country with a different grading scheme. Here a 5/10 is a passing grade and getting a 7/10 is considered highly successful, but apparently that converts to a B-B+or 3.0-3.3GPA according to some companies that make grade conversions for you (search for World Education Services).

    In the UK for example, anything >70% is considered 1st class, which is the highest grade title one can obtain, and anything below a 40% is considered failing.

    It also depends what criteria is used to grade. In Spain, the UK, and many other European countries the norm seems to be just one final exam worth the entirety of the grade and very rarely some homework that can add up to 10%.

    I think it's a good idea to mention what texts you used for your courses in your applications, because in some countries the basic courses are taught at a high level using what are considered "graduate level" texts. I have had two courses in analytical mechanics that used Goldstein & Landau, statmech was taught from R. Kubo's, and my first qm course used Cohen's text.
  8. Aug 25, 2012 #7
    Where I went, in chemistry and physics, in LD classes grades are almost exclusively determined by calculating the class average, making that a B- and then every standard deviation is a letter grade difference.

    In UD courses, probably 35-40% get As. And a C is pretty much showing up. Funnily enough. My quantum chemistry professor was from Russia and his first year teaching he gave 50% As but the department told him that was too much and to give less. The next year there were only 15% As.
  9. Aug 26, 2012 #8
    Both being one of the best universities of in the world, why would that be?

    Good point, but I don't think I'll get to mention that in my application.(?) Perhaps the universities will take a look at the textbooks used in certain courses?

    Thanks. Where I'm from, 10-20% get A-range in LD courses. The percentage might be higher in UD courses, since the classes are much much smaller.
  10. Aug 26, 2012 #9
    Berkley explicitly asks to fill out a list with the textbooks used in your core courses and I'm sure they're not the only ones to do so.
  11. Aug 26, 2012 #10


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    Stanford is for people who didn't get into Berkeley.

    But seriously, some of the schools with the worst grade inflation are schools with extremely high admissions requirements. I was a physics grad student at Yale and TA'd lab courses for premeds. Essentially everyone in the class mastered the material and turned in more or less perfect work. If they made a mistake, I would explain it to them, and they'd get it and never make the mistake again. That's very different from the teaching experience at a less selective school.
  12. Aug 26, 2012 #11
    As mentioned before, a mediocre college "success" in the U.S. is considered a 3.0 which roughly translates to low B/very high C. So I would say that you'd be fine, but as far as where you're from and how the grading there works could obviously affect a U.S. grad school's decision.
  13. Aug 27, 2012 #12
    Indeed. And Berkeley is for people who can't afford Stanford. There are good arguments for grade inflation at places like the Ivies, Berkeley, Stanford and the like. There are also good arguments against. How do you evaluate someone in a fair way when the competition is different at different schools? This is one of the big complaints I've heard from people who went to Caltech. Supposedly there is much less grade inflation there so people feel unfairly treated (e.g. someone would would get a 4.0 at a less competive school could get a 3.5 or lower at Caltech). I don't have any specific knowledge of the grading at Caltech but I have heard this more than once.

    Grade inflation is a tricky business. I don't know the answer.
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