Grade point average is generally considered the best measurement on which to define a college applicant’s character and intelligence. Character because it shows that he or she works hard, purportedly, and intelligence because it shows that he or she is able to understand class concepts and do well in them — again, purportedly.
But Sunday, USA Today published a debate considering the worth of the GPA in college admissions and beyond. Apparently for many colleges, the number is not a telling or comprehensive a way to judge an applicant unless it’s put into context.
Granted, this is obvious, if only for the basic reason that different high schools all have different grade weighting systems. This, after all, is why admissions departments assign representatives to certain districts and certain schools. How else would Boston University evaluate its many international applicants? GPA is not a perfect system, the same way that standardized test scores cannot tell us everything about an applicant, for which reason some colleges (mostly smaller ones) have nixed the SAT requirement on their applications. In considering a prospective student, there are always other factors, like extracurricular activities, as well as a student’s particular interests over the requirements of his or her school. Moreover, as much as grades vary by school, they also vary by teacher, and often are more subjective than we want to believe.
But GPAs and test scores are still the best solution to setting a bar on which to judge thousands upon thousands of applicants. Ultimately, a good GPA says a lot about a candidate, for which reason pass-fail courses are not the solution to the question of GPA relevance. In pass-fail settings, even those who do the bare minimum have the same grade as those who want to work hard. Interestingly, however, USA Today commentators noted how GPAs include grades from non-academic classes like physical education and band, so therefore are not a good indicator of an applicant’s intelligence. It’s the grades earned in academic courses — and the purported rigor of those courses — that are the most important factors in evaluating a candidate for admission.
Of course, once a person gets accepted into college, the standard changes. Most employers care less about GPAs than they do about relevant work experience. (Makes us wonder why we pay for all this grade deflation.) But this is not to say that college grades are good for nothing. Applicant individuality is always something to consider, but there needs to be a way to determine which job applicant is “best.”