Graduate school grades

Do grades matter in graduate school?  In my area of social science they really don’t.  You have to get an A or a B to pass the class (some schools will do it by GPA instead so a C here or there is ok so long as you get enough As to balance), but there’s really no bonus to getting straight As.  Nobody looks or cares.  The only grade I actually remember from graduate school is the B I got in a class that I was almost positive I was going to fail.  In my area of study grades seemed pretty random… the 3-hour exams at the end of the semester generally had nothing to do with the lecture which had nothing to do with the homework (which generally was not graded for credit).

Straight As help if you’re trying to go from an MA to a PhD but graduate school Bs are not going to kill your chances to get into a PhD program if you got straight As as an undergrad.  Graduate school classes are supposed to be harder than undergrad classes.

Apparently what’s true in my area of social science is not true in the humanities.  Notorious PhD, girl scholar, has a really interesting post on how Bs in an English program mean you should leave graduate school entirely.

Man am I glad I’m not in English!

I can’t even imagine that kind of pressure.  What if you’ve got an obnoxious prof that’s just a low grader*?

How do grades work in your discipline?  Does a B mean you should give up?

*On a separate note:  This year’s class sure cries a lot.  My world is awash in the salty tears of entitlement.

19 Responses to “Graduate school grades”

  1. Spanish Prof Says:

    In my discipline (Spanish), a B is at least an advanced warning sign. But since the field is so wide, if you got a B in Medieval Spanish Literature but your specialization is Contemporary LAtin American literature, I think a committee would understand and not kill your application. Still, less of a B+ is looked with suspicion.

    • Foscavista Says:

      I agree with the above, but I believe that my program was sympathetic if you got a B during your MA, for you are still learning. In PhD courses, however, that’s a different story. Also, I got my MA and my PhD at the same institution, so the profs already knew me. When you do an MA at one and a PhD at another, they may not see a student’s improvement.

      Unlike Spanish Prof, who does Contemporary Spanish-American literature, I do early modern Spanish literature. When I got an A- during my MA classes in Spanish-American Modernism, I felt both happy and sad. Happy for it was a hard class, and sad for that was the paper I worked the hardest for.

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Cripes, I’m glad I didn’t have that kind of pressure. My adviser told me to focus on my research, not my classes.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    In the natural sciences, grades in graduate school don’t mean shitte. The only time anyone ever even asks to see your graduate school transcript is pursuant to some post-doctoral fellowship applications.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, pretty much here too. If my grades were awful, I guess there could’ve been a problem. But most of my grad school success or failure was based on how I was doing in research. I really didn’t even take that many classes, certainly not after the first 2 years. After that it was all working on my projects.

    • Dr. O Says:

      They matter in so far as the program want to find out during your core courses if you have a brain in your head (just in case that somehow slipped through the cracks during the application process). But, other than that, I’d agree that they’re pretty meaningless.

  4. Kathryn C Says:

    I have a friend who is getting her MBA at UCLA. she got a C in one of her classes and now is on academic probation. Apparently they don’t flunk you, they just give you C’s and give you a quarter to raise your grade. Yikes…that’s hairy.

  5. frugalscholar Says:

    Well…yes, Bs are bad in humanities. BUT one of the great success stories of my grad years is a fellow w/ lots of Bs. He also had to get a special dispensation to take his exams after flunking twice. He got some terrible term jobs, but somehow–who knows how–is now tenured at a prestigious university. He’s rather famous too.

    I would have dropped out in shame. I think it’s a gender thing???

  6. CityFlips Says:

    I’m in a nutrition program. Our department policy is that you have to maintain above a C average. I’m pretty sure any professor would be unhappy if a student got a C, but it’s not a big deal because we’re mostly over-achievers anyway! GPA seems to matter a little bit for fellowship applications and post-doc applications if you’re applying for a competitive program. Still… I think research experience always trumps GPA.

    On the entitled note…oh my goodness! I know exactly what you’re talking about. Drives me crazy that students are points oriented and not concept learning oriented. Generally this year is better than last year for that kind of thing!

  7. Rumpus Says:

    I think in engineering it may vary by school or department, but my experience was that one could be barely understanding what was happening in class and still pass. I never heard of anyone getting a C. Even so I think I got a reasonable amount of knowledge out of my classes, and they certainly broke up the research time. They did a poor job of getting me ready for anything though.

  8. retrochef Says:

    In my program/department (mechanical engineering), the department and college (and possibly the university, but I’m not sure) require you to keep a certain GPA to graduate (although I think it’s a C). You also can’t get below a C in some of the core classes.

    Generally, the GPA is only a major worry for MSs who plan to go to PhD work elsewhere, or PhDs who want to go into academia. If an industry hire decision came down to two different GPAs, then the higher number would probably get it, but they tend to prioritize a lot of other factors (software knowledge, research/work experience, even written communication skills) over straight “book knowledge.”

    Looking just at the (publicly viewable) grade distributions for the core courses — if our program laughed B-average students out of the department, we wouldn’t have many left.

  9. notnihilistic Says:

    As a graduate student in French I also teach undergraduate classes. I currently have a graduate in one of my classes and she told that she needs a B. However, her grade is a solid C. Her department is Religious Studies. How bad is to get a C in grad school even in an undergrad class?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If she is earning a C it is irrelevant what she “needs” unless the department culture has said something different. Usually undergrad classes do not have as arbitrary grades as grad classes, so the grades are actually based on something. If she doesn’t know a foreign language and needs to know it, then she’s just going to have to take the class again.

  10. 2012 in review « Grumpy rumblings of the half-tenured Says:

    […] Graduate school grades 17 comments April […]

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