Friday, May 4, 2007

Grading Scales and Graduate Applications

As I prepare to take the GRE's this summer and apply for Graduate school this Fall I'm feeling pretty stressed. The main reason for my stress: my school's grading scale. Our grading scale is not the more universal 10 point grading scale (to which all 3 major universities in the area, Duke, Chapel Hill, and NC State adhere), but a grading scale which tries to incorporate the curve automatically. Our grading scale is as follows: A - 95-100, B - 87-94, C - 77-86, D - 70-76, F 70 and below.

I feel that this grading scale is inherently flawed. For one, instead of allowing a curve to occur naturally (if a professor so chooses to utilize a curve), it builds one in. Secondly, and my main concern, is that it puts Southeastern students at a disadvantage when compared to our peers from other institutions. If someone from UNC and I both make 93's, then we apply to graduate school, my peer from UNC has a 4.0 while I have a 3.0. The suggestion was made to include a copy of our grading scale when we send out our transcripts, but this will do little to help. Schools keep records of their incoming graduate students' GPAs. This is often posted in order to help people gauge whether they should consider a particular school (i.e. if the avg. GPA for a school is 3.7 and you have a 2.5, perhaps you should apply elsewhere just in case). So, lets say I apply to Duke, but because of the grading scale, my GPA is a bit lower than their average...I doubt Duke is going to want to lower their average for that year (and overall) just to let me in because Southeastern's grading scale is more strict.

I don't see any advantage in keeping the grading scale that we currently have. I don't think the more stringent a grading scale, the more academically rigorous your school is. Southeastern is a good school because we have amazing faculty and good degree programs.

Because of this, I'm going to be sending a letter to the Dean with some research I've done on the benefits of a 10-point grading scale. However, I wanted to ask (since many people in the Bibliobloggosphere are educators or are currently pursuing Graduate degrees) your opinion. What do you think?

7 comments:

Patrick George McCullough said...

Hey Josh, Good thoughts. I hate the GPA dilemma. I don't think we have it as bad as your school's formal scale, but it is every professor for her or himself. You never know what kind of grader you'll get. Even within a school, if I take a prof who is known to be a much tougher grader and put the same (or more) effort into the class as someone who took a known "easy grader," they may end up with a higher grade.

I have a quick question for you... are you applying to master's or doctoral programs or both?

Josh McManaway said...

I had thought of trying to go straight into a Ph.D program, but I really want to pursue a Masters and then a Ph.D. I think if I attempt a Ph.D straight out, I'd be so far below everyone that I'd fail.

Mike said...

My school has the same scale that yours has. It can be pretty frustrating at times.

Patrick George McCullough said...

That's probably wise. I have have benefited greatly from my masters program and I feel I've grown tremendously. I have even taken a doctoral class (NT Research Methods). Maybe your school would allow you to start taking some doctoral classes while you're still a masters student too. You can also bone up on your languages, particularly German, if you don't have it already. All of these things will make you an even better candidate, and simply better prepared for the toughest doctoral programs (though, I should note that you are further along than I was when I was an undergrad!).

Then again, I just read the other day this advice that aspiring academics should take at least a year out of school and work in publishing. It made me wish that I had pursued working with a publishing company in between my bachelors and MDiv (instead of working in health insurance!).

Josh McManaway said...

Patrick, that's a good article. The thing is: I just don't want to take any time off. I've worked full time my entire undergraduate career and I'm ready to just...have some time to study, to be a student. I have that "life" experience that everyone raves about and it's terrible. I say 'No thanks.' Give me books!

Brian said...

I agree on the gpa stuff. it doesn't measure smartness - it measures abilities to take tests or to submit papers professors want. a person with a 4.0 isn't necessarily smarter or a better student than one with a 3.5 necessarily.

TBrookins said...

I understand where you're coming from--I myself was a student at Southeastern. However, an admissions committee knows that 4.0 at a UNC or Duke is far greater an accomplishment than would be a 4.0 at Southeastern, especially if it had a 10-point scale; the rigor of the latter is just not commensurate with the others (I've been a student at UNC and at Southeastern). A Southeastern 4.0 on a 10-point grading scale is okay, but by itself it wouldn't be impressive to any serious doctoral program. I think schools like Southeastern narrow the scales then to equalize, if only partially, the perceived unevenness in rigor. To avoid the possibility that a committee will look at your "4.0" inequitably I think it's a good idea to do some work at a "tier one" school to show that you are capable of A's anywhere. I just finished up my second round of Ph.D. applications (the first round yielded one acceptance at a seminary), and I'm getting more favorable bites this time, after having proven myself in a "more rigorous" program. Best wishes to you.