A recent Inside Higher Ed article, “Questionable Admissions,” reveals research that indicates that graduate schools prefer students with higher grades from an institution where everyone earns high grades over applicants with lower grades from an institution that’s cracked down on grade inflation and judges student more rigorously.
The research, which was conducted by PLOS ONE, is based on an experiment in which 23 MBA admissions officers were given fake b-school applicant profiles. The profiles included the fake applicants’ transcripts, as well as the measure of grade distribution at the students’ institutions. That is, the admissions officers could see that some of the institutions swayed towards higher grading and that others did not. The admissions officers were also told that “all the applications came from those about to graduate from colleges that admitted smart students of roughly equal academic ability.”
Results of the experiment showed that applicants with higher grades were more likely to gain admission than those with lower grades, even though the grade context provided should have indicated that grades didn’t necessarily reveal a student’s academic abilities.
This was a small study, and on some level I'm not sure the conclusions being drawn will be supported by further study. And what are those conclusions? That grade inflation pays for the graduates of the institutions that suffer from it.
Why am I unconvinced? Princeton grads don't suffer when applying to grad school and it has a tough grading scale. So do the military academies. And so does UC Berkeley, especially its engineering program. And so do the IITs of India. The graduates of these program, even though they may not have the easy As and frequently do have a slightly lower GPA, get in.
I suspect that when admissions officers know the name and reputation of the institution, they may do an adjustment themselves. Many will definitely prefer an applicant with a 3.4 from Princeton than a 3.9 from Podunk U even if told that students from Podunk U are just as smart as those at Princeton.
Again, I think additional research is necessary before we conclude that grade inflation inflates more than student self-esteem.
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