Seniors reflect on GPAs’ impact on students and career prospects

by Amanda Zhou | 6/10/16 7:00pm

For most of the Class of 2016, graduation marks the last time that their performance will be quantified by grades. Three graduating seniors reflected on how course selection, campus climate and job recruitment have shaped their perceptions of their GPA over the past four years.

Like many students, Feyaad Allie ’16 and Taylor Watson ‘16, reported a lot of grade-induced stress during the beginning of their Dartmouth experiences, but became more relaxed later on. Watson postulated that “stressing about grades was mostly a freshman year thing” because his sense of belonging was more dependent on achieving high grades. Later, he said, his grade-related worries changed depending on course layout and material. For example, the rigorous nature of organic chemistry challenged him to work hard to remain above the median.

“I learned how to ask questions and figure out what works. I think a lot of Dartmouth students struggle with asking questions or admitting if they can’t do things,” Watson said.

Watson heavily prioritizes class assignments and themes when selecting classes within his major, but he admitted that he tends to care more about numerical grades when selecting ‘lay-up’ classes to fill distributive requirements or to balance termly workload. He emphasized that it is crucial to balance work and fun; getting too hung up on grades can be unhealthy and cost people other enjoyable aspects of their college experience.

“Not having that standard, ‘You have to do the best you possibly can at all costs,’ I think, was really healthy, and I ended up doing fine in my courses,” Watson said.

Overall, Allie echoed Watson’s sentiments, saying that although he checked medians and asked others about the course load when selecting courses, he ultimately cared more about the professor than the grade. Allie argued that it’s always worth it to work a little bit harder than usual ­— sometimes sacrificing the prospect of an easy A ­— if the course material or the professor seems really exciting.

Robert Scales ’16 also agreed that median grades should not dictate students’ class-selection process.

“That attitude could really blind one from some of the incredible academic opportunities that Dartmouth offers,” Scales said.

Scales was fascinated by economics when he came to Dartmouth, and he declared a major in the department, despite economics classes’ tough grading reputation. He said that he has learned to distance his grades from his emotions.

“Grades are certainly one aspect of Dartmouth, but I don’t think they should overshadow the other elements of the Dartmouth experience,” Scales said.

Allie observed that in his experience, it has been difficult to tell whether students’ attitudes towards grades at the College are healthy or unhealthy, because no one really discusses them.

“It’s somewhat taboo to talk about [grades] informally,” Allie said.

Watson, on the other hand, was optimistic that most people on campus feel pretty good about their GPAs.

“At the end of the day, it’s not worth groveling for a grade. I think the majority of people feel fine about [their numerical performance],” he said.

One reason that students may be generally satisfied with their performances is that everyone is doing relatively well. On average, students are receiving higher and higher grades each year. Over the past few decades, the average Dartmouth grade point average has risen from 3.05 in the 1970s to 3.40 in the 2010s — representing an 11.48 percent increase across all departments.The number of valedictorians and salutatorians has increased over the past few years. Last year, the Class of 2015 recognized a grand total of 12 students at graduation, naming four valedictorians and eight salutatorians. From 2010-2015, there were on average four valedictorians and four salutatorians recognized in each graduating class. In comparison, from 2004-2009, there were on average only one to two valedictorians and one to two salutatorians recognized in each graduating class.

In some ways, a transcript full of A’s is inconclusive. College President Phil Hanlon addressed this issue as part of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward “policy initiative, emphasizing the importance of curbing grade inflation to increase classroom rigor. One part of the proposal involved the potential removal of the non-recording option. On May 22, however, the Dartmouth faculty voted not to change the non-recording option. Many argued that increased focus on GPA would lead to a decrease in intellectual exploration.

One theoretical culprit for grade inflation is the growth of an increasingly competitive workplace. As students compete more intensely for jobs, the standard grade point average will naturally rise. Allie, Scales and Watson all agreed that grades play a role in hiring after college.

Scales said that GPA is an undeniably important number in the world of job recruiting, but it was just one of many factors that influenced his studies at Dartmouth. A high GPA, he said, cannot define a person, but it can be indicative of a strong work ethic.

“I think an intrinsic desire to develop intellectually is key for succeeding in the real world, but grades obviously don’t exist after college,” Scales said.

Allie believes that grades are an easy way for employers to sort through intern resumes, but they do eventually lose relevance.

“Once you graduate to your first job, no one cares about your GPA. They care about your job experience,” Allie said.

Watson argued that grades matter more if someone decides to apply to specific institutions like medical school, law school or high-end finance jobs. However, he is not interested in any of these areas; he noted that if he decides to apply to graduate schools later, his GPA will matter, but so will his post-graduation experiences.

The overall consensus was that Dartmouth students crave the opportunity to learn and to be challenged, without placing too much emphasis on grades.

“Coming from a high school at which grades received much more attention, I think Dartmouth students place an appropriate amount of emphasis on grades,” Scales reflected. “I think this balance is relatively unique within higher education, and Dartmouth students’ levelheadedness definitely enhanced my experience here.”