Study abroad programs see higher grades, per College report

by Pierce Wilson | 10/3/19 2:10am


Foreign study programs offered by the College consistently feature higher GPAs than on-campus classes.

Source: Staff Photo

For the past decade, the average GPA in classes taken on language study abroad programs, language study abroad plus programs and foreign study programs has been significantly higher than the average GPA in classes taken on campus, according to an internal College report obtained by The Dartmouth. 

The report, the contents of which The Dartmouth first reported this past summer, presents academic trends at the College over the past five years, with the 2007-08 academic year as a 10-year reference point.

Although both on-campus GPAs and off-campus GPAs have steadily risen since the 2007-08 academic year, the GPA in classes taken off campus was, on average, 0.25 grade points higher than the GPA in classes taken on campus during that period. 

In the 2017-18 school year, for example, the average GPA in LSA and LSA+ programs was 3.71, and the average GPA in FSP programs was 3.72, just above an A minus. The average on-campus GPA that year was 3.49, between an A minus and a B plus.

In 2018, the College offered 18 LSA and LSA+ programs and 28 FSPs, with over 500 students participating.

While some of the GPA increase can be attributed to the selectiveness of the programs, the overall nature of studying abroad plays into the higher grades. 

Italian professor and director of the Rome LSA and LSA+ programs Tania Convertini said that, although there are likely several factors at play in the GPA discrepancy, she believes there are fundamental differences between studying on-campus and studying abroad.  

“Learning abroad happens in a different way than it does on campus, and we have to expel the idea that academic rigor is in any way related to the grade,” Convertini said. 

She elaborated on the notion that rigor and grades are not linked.

“The academic rigor is attached to different components,” Convertini said. “The quantity of reading might be different, because students are engaged in different ways. They’re speaking the language all day long, they might be interacting with people, they might be going to see a play.” 

According to Convertini, faculty members who plan LSAs and FSPs understand this difference and are conscious of it when planning a study abroad program. 

“The kind of intentionality of planning a study abroad program takes into account the need for learning by exploring and learning by reflecting,” Convertini said, which she suggested might contribute to higher GPAs abroad. “When students learn by experiencing, they have a higher possibility [of succeeding].” 

Josh Calianos ’22, who studied abroad in Berlin this summer, said that his GPA abroad was exactly the same as his on-campus GPA and did not affect his overall grade point average. 

He noted that for all three of his classes in Germany, the professor for each class assigned significantly less homework than any of the classes he had previously taken on campus. However, Calianos indicated that there were other factors that made up for the lack of homework. 

“This was offset by the fact that we were speaking German all the time,” Calianos said, something he described as “taxing.” He added that this more than compensated for the decrease in workload, especially during the first three weeks. 

“It’s very possible for a class to be difficult and still have a high median,” Calianos noted, adding that by the end of his LSA, speaking German around the clock had become less taxing.  

Calianos also said that, in the case of the Berlin LSA, the discrepancy in GPA could be explained by the fact that college culture is different in Germany. He also said that a change in engagement with extracurriculars may have been a factor — aside from a cycling group, Collins said that he didn’t do many activities in Germany and that most of his time outside of class was spent experiencing Berlin and spending time with the other students on his LSA.

Isabel Burgess ’20, who participated in the Peru LSA+, offered similar sentiments on her experience abroad. 

“The point of an LSA+ isn’t necessarily to have a really intense class, but about the whole experience in general,” Burgess said. 

She said that, of the three classes she took during her LSA+, two of them had an A median and the other had an A minus median. Burgess said she believes this is a positive because it gave her more time to explore. 

Burgess also argued that, in the case of an LSA+ where all of the classes are Spanish classes, it makes sense to have higher grades.

“If everyone participates in a discussion to the best of their ability in a different language, they should get an A,” Burgess said. “So, it’s a little bit harder to assign a value to how well someone participates in an LSA than it would be for something like engineering or math.” 

Studying abroad “does not mean to just have a course on campus and transfer it to another country,” Convertini said. “We should be careful in thinking that students are even doing the same thing. They’re not.”