ayes and seas or all bees?
September 18, 2008 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Here's a question: What would you rather see on a grade report: a collection of A/A-s and the occasional C, or consistent B/B+s? If there were two students, and their GPAs were the same, and you were the director of admissions of some academic program, who would you pick?

I'm in college. My grades have been scattershot, but have been steadily rising, and I've been on the Dean's list last semester, with one of my professors mentioning that I was 'miles and miles ahead of [my] peers'.

I'm concerned about my study priorities, as when I'm short on time, I'll decide to focus my energy on one or two courses, sometimes leaving the others to suffer. More often than not, I'll do fine, but I've had semesters full of As, Bs, and Cs.

I've been reconsidering -- is this a bad idea? Should I try to divide my work, so I get consistently half-decent grades rather than very good grades on the majority of my classes and very bad grades in another? What do you think?
posted by anonymous to Education (17 answers total)
I would get good grades in the subject area that is either my major or what I intend to pursue as a career and put the others aside.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:59 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

If there were two students, and their GPAs were the same, and you were the director of admissions of some academic program, who would you pick?

I would pick the one with the better admissions essay / personal statement.
posted by Heretic at 6:00 AM on September 18, 2008

My thinking is that, all GPAs being the same, if a program goes as far as to view the transcript for actual grades, the ones they will be looking at will be the ones in your major or the ones that directly apply to the academic program you are applying for. I don't think anyone cares that you got a C in Spanish if you're applying for a research position in Biochemistry and you aced your chem classes. As long as you maintain a high overall GPA, that's usually the first hurdle before they would even begin looking at individual grades, and only then probably to find inconsistencies.
posted by genial at 6:02 AM on September 18, 2008

a collection of A/A-s and the occasional C, or consistent B/B+s? If there were two students, and their GPAs were the same, and you were the director of admissions of some academic program, who would you pick?

A collection of A's and C's tells me that the kid is capable of applying herself, but only when she wants to. A collection of Bs tells me that she never applies herself.
posted by three blind mice at 6:13 AM on September 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

if you're talking about grad school, and all other things were equal (unlikely), the one with the As would probably be in better shape, as long as the Cs were outside the subject area. Bs all around, I think, would be a sign of mediocrity (at least with respect to grad school application pools). Also, one reason I say that it is unlikely other things would be equal is that if you do A work for a class (esp. high A), a letter you get from that professor is going to be much better than if you do B work. And letters are much more important than grades, really.
posted by advil at 6:19 AM on September 18, 2008

I had all As and A+s except for PE and art, so if I saw a similar scattershot of marks I would interpret that as saying that the person is great at certain things and not so good at others. As long as those As and A+s are in the classes most closely related to the field you want to study/work in, I would say that's fine.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2008

Are you getting A's in the classes that matter for your grad program? I was a bit like you. I would put most of my effort into courses that I liked (for me it was math). So my "major GPA" was really good. I, however, was quite horrible in history and philosophy (but excellent in English and Comparative Lit). I got into grad school for math just fine. I worked in admissions one year for my program, and getting lots of B's in your major subject area was definitely frowned upon. It made us think you wouldn't be able to handle the difficulty of our program. The occasional C in a gender studies class was no big deal.
posted by bluefly at 6:43 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The other important thing you can do is to take time off after graduating and work in the field for a few years to get strong letters. Grades fade in importance over time. Your most recent accomplishments will have the strongest impact on your admissions chances. Everyone else is right, though: get the best grades in your major that you can, get decent grades everywhere else. And be sure that the rest of your application shows that you're graduate material.
posted by Capri at 6:56 AM on September 18, 2008

I run graduate admissions for my department. C's outside the subject area or allied fields are not considered very relevant. A scattering of bad grades among the A's _in_ the subject area would suggest that you were talented but flaky, and this is a negative for success in graduate school. Consistently mediocre grades would be bad, too, though!

But look, your grades matter 5% as much as your letters (in my field, math, anyway). If your professors are telling YOU you're miles ahead of your peers they will say the same in your letters, and you'll be fine.
posted by escabeche at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Or Bs could mean that you take the hard teachers who don't give out As easily. It depends so much on the rest of your transcript, writing skills, etc. that it's a little hard to say.

But I don't think that an opportunity to sacrifice an A in a class in your field is worth it. Ideally, of course, you'd figure out a way to score at least a low B in those classes that you put on the backburner.
posted by desuetude at 7:10 AM on September 18, 2008

I had the most frustrating conversation last admissions cycle with an applicant whose overall GPA was below our minimum. He kept insisting the low grades were in "stupid stuff that didn't matter" which made a terrible impression. We deny 80% of our applications, and we really don’t need students who weren’t successful at a large chunk of their undergrad education. So even if you’re thinking classes outside your major aren’t important, and encouraged to think that by people here, don’t say it!

In my experience, students with undergrad GPAs in the 3.3 to 3.0 range will very rarely be standouts in our grad program, no matter how those undergrad grades were distributed.

More than two or three C grades are a warning sign, no matter what the subject. I would take it as an indicator that the student doesn't manage their time well (negative for grad school), or blows off subjects they think aren't important (also negative for grad school.) I administer admissions for a science program, but we still need students who can write and who value the larger continuum of knowledge.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:45 AM on September 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nthing the importance of having good grades in your subject area. For graduate schools, they will recalculate your GPA to add weight to those classes that are within your major.
posted by palindromic at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2008

If it's an issue of time I would shoot for 1 A and 3 B's vs. 2 A's and 2 C's. I agree though 4 B's never looks that good.

Another point: trending upward is very important. If you can utilize your time better in the last year of school and get those A's without the C's anyone who looks closely can think you improved on your ability to manage your time and apply yourself.
posted by shmooly at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2008

For graduate schools, they will recalculate your GPA to add weight to those classes that are within your major.

Some programs may do that. I wouldn't count on all of them doing so.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:09 AM on September 18, 2008

Unfortunately, the old adage, "it isn't what you know, Its who you know" is true. Make some contact with professors in the graduate program you are considering entering. If you can get your foot in the door before you get your application in the mailbox, then you have much better chances.
posted by warriorengineer at 12:39 PM on September 18, 2008

@Squeak Attack - you must not know too many engineers. Save one, every single engineer that I know has more more than a couple of C's. I had many a professor that made sure that 50% of the class got C's with even as few as 15% B's and 10% A's.
posted by warriorengineer at 12:45 PM on September 18, 2008

Are you considering doing graduate studies in the sciences? If so, your letters of recommendation and summer lab work and research experience would count for much more than your grades. They want to see that you're capable of actually doing research.
posted by peacheater at 7:28 AM on September 19, 2008

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