Do Grades Matter?

Getting graded.  It’s been a necessary evil in everyone’s life since we were all old enough to hold a crayon.  At every stage, we either cut the mustard or we don’t and then progress to the next level of grading.  For those applying to graduate school, you may have thought those college grades were all but forgotten, but now find yourself having to face them once again.  And guess what?  The grading doesn’t stop with the application process, because very soon you’ll be back in the classroom.  This begs the question…do grades really matter?

I’ll start with the good news: 

Of all the profile characteristics represented in a business SCHOOL application, the most forgivable is the GPA. 

If you think about it, this makes sense, because every college grading scale is slightly different, and there’s no way to standardize the very subjective process of earning grades in a class like you can with standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT.  Additionally, there is generally a diminishing amount of importance placed on GPA the longer one is out of school.  In other words, if you’ve been out of college six years, your GPA is going to figure into the admissions decision less than it does for someone who has only been out for two years.

The bad news is, grades do matter. 

Unlike the GMAT or GRE, your GPA is a representation of your skills over a much longer time frame, so schools definitely pay attention.   The adcoms figure anyone can cram for the GMAT and better their score, but it’s harder to maintain four years of good grades.  Also,grades indicate more than just academic skill—good marks in college also mean you are probably good at time management and have a decent amount of determination to boot. There is some variation in how much emphasis individual schools put on GPA, but know that they all care about your grades, and will dig pretty deeply into your transcript to gauge classroom performance.

But what about after you get into b-school?  Are you finally done worrying about your grades?  It’s an interesting question, since many top b-school have actually done away with grading in the traditional sense where you receive an A or B in a class.  This can be welcome news for those who have grown tired of the constant grading regime. 

Some b-schools simply rate students on an enhanced pass/fail scale, which takes a bit of the hyper-competitiveness out of the equation and makes for a more cooperative academic environment. 

You must still perform well, but there’s less emphasis on an exact grading scale.  This trend does not always rescue you from scrutiny, however, since some employers (who are generally not supposed to ask interviewees about their grades, but do it anyway), will try to get you to convert your school’s marks to a traditional GPA.  I guess there’s simply no escaping being graded.

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