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I took a class with graduate students as an undergraduate student. The grading was on a curve and combined (as in graduate students were graded along with undergraduate students).

Is this normal in US universities as well? Won't the undergraduate students have a disadvantage competing against graduate students (pursuing 2nd year of Masters/PhD) for a good grade.

What ended up was:

1 A Grade

12 B Grades (7 of which went to graduate Students and 5 to undergraduate students)

20 C Grades

10 D Grades

3 E Grades

For a class of 25 graduate students and 21 undergraduate students.

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I was graded in a common pool that included both graduate and undergraduate students several times including some cases where I was on both side of the line. It happens. –  dmckee Dec 1 '12 at 5:44
Won't the undergraduate students have a disadvantage competing against graduate students — Given the grade distribution you describe, apparently not! –  JeffE Dec 1 '12 at 18:47
I do know one thing: the one guy with the A grade is a jerk. Would it have killed him to get a couple wrong for the good of everyone else's GPA? –  corsiKa Dec 1 '12 at 19:47
On a more serious note, what year were the undergrads? Most fourth year students I knew when I was in my fourth year were significantly more able than the masters students. Not to stereotype, but many of the masters students simply weren't able to get a job upon graduation, so continued schooling to avoid paying student loans. The difference between 4 and 6 years of schooling is significantly less than the difference between, say, 0 and 2 or 1 and 3. 2 years is not just 2 years. –  corsiKa Dec 1 '12 at 19:50
The undergrads were in their fourth year first semester. The Masters students were in their 2nd year first semester. The masters students were coming from industry sponsored programs for further education. They had absolutely no problems going back to their jobs. Their industrial experience in my perspective gave them a significant advantage because they had applied all the concepts in that course except adaptive filtering even before they entered their masters program. –  Naresh Dec 2 '12 at 2:39

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In the past, I've graded the pool together, and have also graded grads and undergrads separately. Ultimately this is a decision made by the instructor, who probably spelt this out in their syllabus before the class started.

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Professor: Why would you grade undergraduate students with obviously 'lesser' background with graduate students? Won't this be skewing their grades negatively? Hope this does not come off as offensive... –  Naresh Dec 1 '12 at 7:04
why "lesser" ? advanced undergraduates and entering grads are closer than you think, and it's not uncommon for the UGs to be better. –  Suresh Dec 1 '12 at 10:00
I don't quite know about the US scenario, however, in India, most Masters students who enter university come with a year or two of Industrial experience in a relevant field. At least, that was the case in my class. –  Naresh Dec 1 '12 at 10:45
That really depends on the department. There are departments where advanced undergrad classes are harder than grad classes, because the advanced undergraduates are stronger than the graduate students. Also, depending on the class in question, "a year or two of industrial experience" may be a serious disadvantage. –  JeffE Dec 1 '12 at 18:45
@Naresh The flip side of your question is: why would undergrads be taking (what appears to be a) primarily graduate course if they were not at the level of grad students? –  Alex Becker Aug 1 '13 at 14:20

There is no uniform set of regulations; every college (and perhaps even every department within a college, or even every instructor) might have its own regulations.

However, the existence of classes open to both undergraduates and graduate students is in fact quite common, and I know I certainly took several graduate classes as an undergraduate.

In general, the difference comes in when the class is really a graduate-level class that is also open to advanced undergraduates, or when the course is truly designed to be open to both undergraduates and graduates. When the class is really a graduate-level class, undergraduates are generally not treated with "kid gloves," and are expected to compete head-to-head with the graduate students. For a truly mixed class, the options are more varied.

With respect to the specific distribution of grades, I can't really comment on that, as those choices are specific to your course.

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In math graduate programs in the U.S., it is typical (although not universal) to be quite lenient about grading. The philosophy, for better or worse, is that it should be the student's privilege to decide how important the class is.

I have never seen such a strict distribution of grades in any class with math graduate students in it.

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Actually, you'll have an advantage in your grades if you are taking course with graduate students(assuming that you are someone who puts a moderate effort on your courses). Most graduate students measure their success by their published papers rather than by grades. To this end, they don't give much attention to course work and they study it for a day or two before the exam. This was the case with many of the grad students in my school and the undergraduates put every effort to be part of the courses as they spent most of their time in course work and chasing the "A" letter.

The only exception is that when the course is related to the research area of the graduate students. In that case, the grad students might know better than you. But graduate class professors mostly have labs and are busy advisors. Which means that they repeat the same exam questions year after year and you only need to solve these problems to get A+ (at least at my university). The drawback of this is, you won't learn much out of the course as the grades come easily. That is one of the reasons I don't understand why courses are given in the first place at graduate level.

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In the US, unless a class is strictly made as a undergrad/graduate mix class, graduate classes are made mostly for graduate students. Some universities require the instructors consent to enroll and you won't be able to enroll independently online, other will only let you enroll if there are seats left after graduate enrollment. Since in these cases it is up to the instructor or student discretion to take a course, then there is really no special treatment.

In my opinion seniors are more or less on the same level as master's students when starting a class, as usually both wouldn't not have any advanced knowledge of graduate level content. So the gap is not as wide as it might seem.

As far as the grading, that is highly subjective, and can change a lot. I know some instructors even have separate assignments.

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seniors are more or less on the same level as master's students — Again, this really depends on the department. –  JeffE Dec 1 '12 at 18:46
@JeffE Agreed. In my field, that's likely not at all true, and seniors, even promising seniors, would be at a staggering disadvantage. –  Fomite Dec 3 '12 at 23:44
What is the difference between a senior at his last semester and a first year master student? –  user4050 Dec 3 '12 at 23:49
The Masters student might have worked on and finished a Bachelor's thesis in a relevant subject. Or could have formally worked in an industrial job in that field. It all depends on how the Masters student utilized the time between his senior year and entering a Masters Program. –  Naresh Dec 4 '12 at 11:02
@user4050 Most undergrads are neither interested in nor qualified for graduate school, and so do not become first year master's students. The undergrads that do become first year master's students tend to be more interested in the material, academically stronger, more intellectually mature, etc. At least, I think that's true in general; the distinction varies significantly among departments. –  JeffE Dec 4 '12 at 18:26

As an undergrad i took a computer architecture class in my spring junior year that is recommended to be taken during spring senior year. That really had no affect though, just putting it out there. The class had 22 students, of which, 8 were grad students. The grad students got B's and C's and the majority of the undergrads got A's.

What the teacher told me after the class when I was talking with him ( i had made some off handed comment about the undergrads beating the grad students) was that most of the grad students were doing research or working in industry. As long as they kept a C and understood the foundation of what he was lecturing on they would be fine.

It was more important for the grad students to work on their research. They did not need to Ace the classes.

In your case the class specifically required instructor consent for you to enter. They were allowing you the privilege of being able to take a class that is normally denied to you. If you feel the instructor erred and you were not proficient enough to be able to undertake the class then it is the instructors fault. If you did not study hard enough or go into it knowing that this class was on another level then it yours.

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In the US there tend to be to models by which undergraduates take graduate level classes. The first are jointly listed classes where the undergraduate class might be 401 and the graduate class would then be 501. In these cases the graduate level class usually includes extra assignments or different examinations and the students are graded separately. For the undergraduate student the undergraduate class is listed on the transcript.

The second way is a single class (e.g., 502) with the same work and same grading for everyone. In this system the graduate level class is listed on the transcript. Sure, the undergraduate might be at a disadvantage, but it comes with the advantage of having a graduate level class on your transcript. It would be very misleading to see a graduate level class on a transcript for a class that was tailored and graded to undergraduate standards. If you don't want to compete with the "big boys" stick with the little kid classes.

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