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My university had a quite strange rule that set an upper limit 78 on the average grades for each course. To be more specific, even if you're the number one student in your school, your GPA will still be lower than many other applicants who are applying for grad schools.

My question is "Should I address this problem in my Statement of Purpose?"

P.S. the official transcript does mention this rule, but I'm afraid that admission offices will overlook these tiny tiny texts.

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    Which discipline did you do your undergraduate studies in? It might just be me, but a 78% course/class average seems fairly reasonable, and I definitely wouldn't consider it unusually low (but my experience is with studying engineering in Canada). Does this rule make any requirements about the standard deviation or distribution of grades? If the class average is 78%, wouldn't at least a couple of the best students have a final grade >90%? This grading distribution really doesn't seem that atypical to me. – Undergraduate Student Aug 5 at 12:44
  • @RobertBahensky I studied Interaction Design. The particular rule was jettisoned roughly in my 3rd semester in college; since then, I started getting grades higher than 85. Unfortunately, my transcript wouldn't rank any student because of suicide problems in my country. Thus, the only way to evaluate students is probably through GPA, and it means that my first 3 semesters will drag me down a bit as I would never get an A in U.S. grading system (I suppose). – Brooks Garnett Aug 5 at 14:18
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    Have other students from your university gone on to grad schools in the US? If so, there are certainly some institutions that understand the grading system and know how to take it into account. – Jon Custer Aug 5 at 17:42
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I am assuming this is US. I want to suggest an alternative. Kindly ask your references to add the situation in their recommendations. I don't think Bill Nace's suggestion is exactly the right one, simple because of this answer. From questions regarding SOPs and from some personal experience I understand that at least some admission bodies in US universities do:

  1. only glance over SoPs
  2. Eliminate a significant (sometimes even more than half) of the applicants based on numbers (gpa, gre etc.) without even looking at anything in the application.

Now, nothing you can do right now that can help you in the second part except for scoring really high on your standardized tests. Even that won't be that useful as anonymous physicist points out in the comments. I heard people joking about getting someone to read your application as being the hardest part of an application (in US). You will need to somehow manage that. Probably good portion of your applications will end before a pair of eyes can lay on it. When, if, you get over that stage, 1 applies. They will read your recommendations more carefully than your SoP almost always.

Also, I would strongly suggest looking into graduate programs in other countries. I had much better experiences with European ones. They were always free and much easier to apply (in my case). Instead of dumping another 100 hours to a menial test, I reckon you can find and apply to 20-30 suitable master's programs in Europe.

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    "Now, nothing you can do right now that can help you in the second part except for scoring really high on your standardized tests." This research claims that is a myth. twitter.com/nickyoungper/status/1286049764535144449 – Anonymous Physicist Aug 6 at 1:23
  • @AnonymousPhysicist very good point. I was not trying to suggest this was a good course of action. I actually was trying to imply only possible course of action is not a very fruitful one. – Boaty Mcboatface Aug 6 at 7:08
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Yes, mention it, but don't make a big deal out of it. A single sentence like

"With regards to my transcript, please note that the lower averages in my first three semesters were due to the University's 78% rule, that is fully described elsewhere on the transcript."

Any more than that will look like you are whining or trying to make excuses.

But, this statement can be very helpful to those who have to read your application package.

Source: I've read many application packages.

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If your class rank is good (first?) but your GPA is low, simply highlight your class rank in your application. If your university does not disclose your class rank, then this won't work.

Admissions committees know that grading standards vary between institutions. Just give the committee context for your achievements. Compare your performance to the average.

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  • this also only applies if you are ranking good. I personally don't believe the rankings are a good measure. They can be wildly misleading (in my personal experience). If you have any departmental awards they may help too. – Boaty Mcboatface Aug 6 at 7:15
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Could you get a letter from your university that such a rule existed? I believe they should definitely give you that. You can attach this letter with your applications. And if it is possible for your teachers to evaluate your grades without that rule and write another letter for you independently, then it would be fantastic. I doubt though, that this is possible. You could always try.

And the other suggestions that you could ask your referees to write it in their letters will work too.

Do not worry too much about it. Grades is just one aspect which the admission committee considers. There are many other parameters which are considered.

By the way, the earlier rule was silly. I wonder who came up with it. I once had same problem in high school. I got angry and complained to the school principal. I was able to get it overturned as I lost the first rank in my class due to such a rule.

Best of luck!

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