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Imagine you want to apply for a stipend. Only the top 10% of ones class are eligible. The final grade distribution (German grades) is like this

  • 1.0 - 3%
  • 1.1 - 2.5%
  • 1.2 - 7% ...

The complete table comes as an official addendum to your transcript of records, which shows your own final grade.

Obviously the university screwed up the grading in the past years and gave out way too good grades, which led to a kind of inflation. In other fields at the same university it's more like

  • 1.0 - 0.1%
  • 1.1 - 0.3%
  • 1.2 - 2 % ...

Imagine now one has a 1.2. Can he just say he is top 10% based on this table? IMO one has to be opportunistic here and not think much about it: Less than 10% have a better grade than you -> you are top 10%. People will probably not even check the table, as 1.2 is usually much better than top 10%.

But my friend in question has a bad feeling about it and is "scared" it will be conceived as cheating. What's your opinion on this? Is there any authoritative legal information on this?

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  • Nuclear Wang is technically right. In practice international comparions are always fuzzy due to different grading and reporting systems. For example, a German scholarship would never be advertised with a Top-10% requirement, it would ask for a grade of 1.3 or better. If the international scholarship doesn't have country-specific requirements (like many university admssion system) I would contact them.
    – heuamoebe
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:11
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    In the US, the overwhelming expectation would be that there is no authoritative legal information on this, and every institution, or even every department or every person, will have their own interpretation - in part because it's their own rule they're interpreting. Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:12
  • @heuamoebe Actually it is a German one. Two different ones even. They try to appeal internationally. The most funny thing is that one of them is offered by the very university, where he did his bachelors and got his grades from.
    – user117200
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:13
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    Then I would just apply. Nobody knows if you are actually within the requirement and ultimately it is at the scholarship's discretion if they accept you in this situation. These things likely depend on many more factors anyways. One "maybe satisfied" minimum requirement like this won't make or break the application.
    – heuamoebe
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:16
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    @TheoreticalMinimum Oh I see. I agree with heuamoebe that your friend should just apply and let the people decide if the ambiguity is close enough - nothing would happen if they decide it's not good enough. Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:41

2 Answers 2

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Is there any authoritative legal information on this?

I am not aware of any jurisdiction in which applying for a stipend for which you are not eligible is illegal. For obvious reasons, eligibility is bindingly determined by the stipend giver, not by the applicants.

The rule "top 10%" does not seem to be stated clearly. If the students that got 1.2 in your class are included, then the statement

  • 12.5% of the students in the class are in the top 10%

would be true, which seems to be a contradiction. If, as Nuclear Wang proposes, the students with 1.2 are not included in the 10%, then the statement

  • Only 5.5% of the students in the class are in the top 10%

would be true, which also seems a contradiction. As both plausible interpretations lead to apparent contradictions, it is reasonable to have doubts about the actual meaning of the rule. So if the rule is not stated more clearly, just apply and let the stipend givers decide. That is their job, not yours (or your friend's).

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From the distribution given at the start of the question, 12.5% of the class got a score of 1.2 or better. Therefore, a score of 1.2 is not in the top 10% of the class. The score may be in the top 10% of scores nationally, but it is not in the top 10% of the class. The scholarship may purposefully use the "within class" measure in order to eliminate this school-specific effect - simply attending a school that inflates grades is not sufficient to be eligible, a student must outperform 90% of their peers in the same academic setting.

I'll also note that the notion that "if less than 10% of people have a better grade than you, you are in the top 10%" is not correct - if less than 10% of people have the same or better score than you, you are in the top 10%. Imagine a test with only 2 scores, 1 and 2, which are evenly split among the class. If you score a 1, there is nobody with a better score than you, but you are not in the top 0% of the class, you are in the top 50% of the class.

It would be disingenuous to describe this score as being in the top 10% of the class, even though it might have been in other years. While it's quite possible that no one will ever notice, the misrepresentation could be fairly easily spotted if the class' grade distribution is shown alongside an individual's score.

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    So even if he is within the 10% of his class, which may be true, he should not be eligible? Seems absurd. In this view only 5.5% of the students from this university (one of the big 5 in Germany) should be able to apply, but 10% from the other universities?
    – user117200
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 15:44
  • @TheoreticalMinimum He's not in the top 10%, he's in the top 12.5%. With this measure, 10% of every university's class is eligible. Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 15:46
  • This is not as well defined as you make it out to be. This gives an edge to other schools.
    – user117200
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 15:47
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    So if 12% of the students get 1.0, no one is eligible? I would just apply and see what happens. If the stipend givers want the students to decide by themselves whether they are eligible, they should post much clearer rules than just the two words "top 10%".
    – wimi
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:35
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    @NuclearWang "With this measure, 10% of every university's class is eligible" no, see my comment above. A class where 12% of students get 1.0 has 0% eligible students with your interpretation of the rule.
    – wimi
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:43

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