GPA is making students risk averse

It is Senior Spring for a quarter of the Vassar community. We are dealing with senior theses, final classes and the impending terror of what comes next. For many, that means graduate school applications, letters of recommendation or taking the GRE, LSAT or MCAT. It also means stressing about our GPAs. I am one of those seniors. I am in the middle of law school applications, waiting to hear back from schools that will tell me if my time at Vassar has made me competitive enough as a candidate. I have already received two rejections. And while I have also been accepted into one university, those rejections hurt. They hurt on a deep level. And I have found myself worried. Worried that I took the wrong classes, that I took too many risks as a student because my GPA is not a 4.0. It is a good GPA—I am not on a “Ds get degrees” path by any means—but my GPA is average for law school applications. It would be slightly below average for medical school applications. Should I have prioritized using my Non-Recorded Option (NROs) in my second year of language classes so it did not impact my GPA? Should I not have taken that geography class that challenged me as a writer and made me a better student? I do not think so. An NRO would have given me a safety net to not try as hard, to not put in the highest level of effort and learning. I took those classes to be better, to be challenged as a student now so that when I am challenged later, I will know how to handle it. 

According to Academia Insider, most graduate programs consider applicants with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. However, for most doctoral and prestigious master’s programs, average GPAs jump to 3.5 or even 3.7 and higher for certain programs. A student’s GPA affects scholarships, honors and program enrollment. Because the GPA is such an important factor in a student’s academic journey, students may feel compelled to take easier courses to protect themselves and their GPAs. It also makes me curious about how our professors are handling the overwhelming pressure from students as they scrape for a higher grade than they might have earned. The average GPA is increasing across multiple majors and at every level of education. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, high school students’ GPAs in English have increased from the average 3.17 to 3.39, from 3.02 to 3.32 in math, from 3.28 to 3.46 in social studies and from 3.12 to 3.36 in science. In 2022, more than 89 percent of high school students received an A or a B in their core classes. Students are also taking harder classes but learning less as the average score for AP courses are consistently dropping, meaning that grades should not be increasing. Worse AP courses have begun teaching, not to increase knowledge of the material but are teaching to the test, creating students who are getting the grades but not as much of the content. Similar levels of grade inflation are happening at colleges and universities. According to in 1973, the average GPA was 2.9. GPAs began to rise again in the 1980s. By 2013 the average was 3.15, with private schools seeing larger jumps than public schools. 

Grades are important. They measure our progress and our understanding of material. But if everyone is getting As and Bs in the American system of academia, how do you stand out? You have to build over-inflated resumes of activities and extracurriculars, forcing you to sacrifice your studies and continue the cycle of grade inflation. Grades should not stop us from learning. Right now they are. Grades have inflated with our fears of failure. They have stopped the joy of learning in its tracks. We should not be so focused on a letter in the alphabet that we miss the process of education, the development of critical thinking, and growing knowledge. Our grades should be more focused on how we improve, on how we grow as learners and people. Perfection is not reality so why must it exist in my GPA? Graduate schools should loosen up, look at the whole student. Interview students during the application process; ask us about what we learned, how we learned, what classes we took and if they challenged us. Which of us worked as students, which of us studied abroad. What opportunities are we missing because we cannot take the risk of it ruining our chances at what dream school we have our eye on? If the only factors that matter are GPAs and test scores, you are already failing your students before they even arrive. Let us be challenged and take the fear out of academic success. 

One Comment

  1. College entrances – not needing SATs;
    Every kid in school getting an award for showing up;
    An award for participation;
    It’s called the infantalization of the American young adult.

    The world wants to have surgeons who haven’t flunked school, Engineers who have performed high level of scientific rigor, artists who have honed their art to perfection- not wannabes who have hung around college campuses with a victim mindset.

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