Thursday, April 03, 2008

On Grade Non-Disclosure

I don't know where other programs stand on this nowadays but as you probably know the GSB has grade non-disclosure (GND). I love GND and you should too.

What is Grade Non-Disclosure?
Recruiters are not allowed to ask you about grades nor are you allowed to voluntarily disclose your grades, either in conversation or on your resume, during your first year. In your second year you can mention whether or not you made the Dean's List (3.5 GPA in the quarter with at least a B in all classes, along with some other requirements) but that's it. Post-GSB I imagine anything goes but really, who bloody cares at that point. (Oh, I guess you could indicate if you graduated with Honors or High Honors.) Each year the class can vote to revoke GND (I believe) but luckily no one was foolish enough to take such action during my time here.

Why Do I Love Grade Non-Disclosure?

  • Motivation: Contrary to uninformed opinion, GND does not turn students into a gaggle of slacking, beer swilling, buffoons. Sure we have a few of those, but all the grades in the world seem unlikely to cure the worst students. Unlike schools which force students to pay 50 grand to sit through one year of required 101 nonsense before allowing electives, the GSB gives students ownership over their experience which, I would argue, incentivizes students from the get go to give a damn about their work, minimizing the b.s.ness that plagues business education in general. Most of my classmates care a great deal about their work, not because of the grade but because they came here to get an education.
  • Grades Mean Nothing: Unlike my undergraduate experience in which I knew exactly where I stood in the class, grades at the GSB are a baffling guessing game. Professors are forbidden from exceeding a 3.3 average GPA for each class. While professors could award Cs and Bs a plenty, no matter how brilliant that particular group of students, there is a cap on the number of A's awarded. So you can not simply add up your scores on the assignments and tests and determine your score in a class because if there are "too many" As, some of them have to go. You are being judged against 120+ of your peers (typical class has 2 sections of ~60 students) and most of you are going to get Bs no matter how hard you work. If students' career fortunes could be made or broken by this baffling black box system - it could get nasty. GND avoids wasting valuable time sniping over our grades, especially for highly subjective classes ... such as Marketing ... ;)
  • All Students are Not Created Equally: while this is true to some extent in undergrad, in an MBA program you have accountants taking classes with doctors taking classes with military folk taking classes with poker champions. GND incentivizes students to take the courses appropriate for their background and eliminates the repercussions of stretching yourself by taking an especially advanced course (as you should). What's the point of coming to school to just do what you are already good at? But if up against someone with years of experience in a subject which is new to you, how is it fair to compare your B with her A? Once again, grades are meaningless. In addition, each student's recruiting cycle will vary tremendously by industry. Students with a prolonged, interview intensive recruiting cycle are likely to have more trouble keeping up their studies during this time. No point in kicking those poor souls while they're down.

The case for GND would vary by program characteristics, but I think it's the perfect match for the GSB and I'm really really happy the school does it this way.


Anonymous said...

Your posts are very engaging. Keep them coming. Extremely useful.

Kobi said...

"sit through one year of required 101 nonsense" - I'm a student at Kellogg and our core curriculum is far from being nonsense, in fact it is frightening to think of someone getting out of B-school without having these important toolkit of understanding Finance, Marketing, Strategy, Accounting etc. Whoever knows it from his undergrad can ask for a waiver.

MaybeMBA said...

Kobi - Good point. No one can make it through Booth w/o having this tool kit either. The distinction is that you don't have to take the 101 versions if you don't want to. That's great that Kellogg allows you to waive out but it's my understanding that for some schools that is not an option. And even if it is an option, it's nice not to have to ask permission but to just make your own decisions. The ideal is not to forego breadth but to avoid repeating what you already know. But the real point of this post was that grade non-disclosure reduces the incentive to repeat what you already know so that you can get an easy A. Enough people at Booth go for the easy A by repeating known subjects, I can only imagine how much higher that figure would be if grades were disclosed. I don't think this is healthy for any institution that wants to encourage expansive thinking and risk taking. And it seems that GND is the norm - so many top schools recognize this. Kellogg has GND too, no?

Kobi said...

Actually, we do not have GND at Kellogg. The interesting thing is that there is a connection between the two issues: since we have about 9 core classes, the grades in the first quarter or two are comparable. so if someone gets 4.0 on the fall quarter and another one has 3.0 on the same quarter, they probably had 3 out of 5 - same courses. once people pass the first year, the second year's grads don't matter much since most students either go back to their internship employer or find a job during the first quarter of the second year (when all they have is their first year's GPA to show, which includes same 8 core courses out of the 12 they took). Of course this years is a different in many ways. I can see how GND makes much more sense when you don't have core classes. We still have debates about this and if I'm not mistaken there should be a vote about it sometime soon.

MaybeMBA said...

Ah, interesting. Yes, it seems that some schools go back and forth actually. And technically Booth could revoke GND in any given year by a vote of the students.

Thanks for your thoughts.