How Your Grades Affect Your Graduate School Application

Jack McDermott – Top Admit Consulting

Your undergraduate cumulative grade point average is one of the most common measurement tools admissions committees use to evaluate your academic performance and potential. American, British and Canadian universities typically standardize the grading system into a 4.0 system.  It is true that some colleges evaluate a B+ as a 3.3 or 3.33 or 3.4. The admission committee generally uses the values assigned by your college -- provided the top grade is a 4.0.  However, the evaluation of your “grades” is multi-dimensional.

Class Rank.  University professors, admissions committee members and deans have consistently complained about the issue of “grade inflation.” Over time, high schools, colleges and graduate schools have issued more “A” grades, and less “C” grades. To account for this problem, admission committees have placed increasing reliance on class rank – basically a percentile ranking of the applicant versus their classmates. For example, a 3.8 GPA sounds impressive, but if this ranks you 79 out of 100 (only 21st percentile), it is much less impressive. In addition, being in the top 10 percentile of an elite international university like National Taiwan University is more impressive than being in the top 10 percentile of a less competitive school. 

Major GPA.  Another sub-component of your GPA is your GPA in your major field of study. This is especially important if your graduate degree will be the same as your undergraduate degree. For example, if your undergraduate degree was in microbiology, it is logical for the admissions committee to place more emphasis on these grades than your grades in English, history, and social sciences. Optimally, the applicant performs better in the major field of study than they have performed in other required courses or prerequisite courses.

Upperclassman GPA. Come colleges use their own calculations to derive an applicant’s GPA for their final two years (junior and senior years).  These are generally upper-level courses, and more predictive of performance in graduate school.  In addition, universities like to see improvement, or an “upward trend” in grades over the course of the student’s academic career. 

It should be obvious: your undergraduate grades are an important part of the admissions process, but it is also important to remember the evaluation of your grades is multi-dimensional, and not reduced to a single number.

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