What are the incentives and disincentives for an American college to give its students high GPAs?

For example, when undergraduate students apply for jobs or graduate programs, their GPA presumably matters. I have been told that many American colleges have cut-off GPAs for their first round, so students need high GPAs to survive there. Hence giving a GPA would help colleges to place their students in graduate programs, which in turn might improve the colleges ranking.


1 Answer 1


Actually, reputation matters. If a college were to give out uniformly high grades then they would pretty soon not be trusted. And organizations that do "ranking" would be pretty savvy about such things.

It would also be pretty hard for a university to manage such a thing, since grades are given by individual professors with individual preferences to individual students with individual skills.

Some places, however, attract very able students. So, a 3.4/4 earned at one place might be better than a 3.6 earned elsewhere where there is a lower standard.

If the firm "cut-off" really happens, I assume that it is pretty low and that other factors might provide exceptions. Such a cut-off might not be disqualifying, but only result in a "sorting" of applications so that the more promising ones can be handled first.

Employers, on the other hand, are looking for skills, not grades. But they, too, want to spend the effort in hiring on promising candidates. Grades are only a part of that.

  • "Employers are looking for skills, not grades". This is nonsense pushed by certain academics, most of the places I have talked to will trash anyone sub 3.5. Apr 9, 2021 at 18:34
  • Hmmm, @FourierFlux, do we conclude everyone with a 4.0 gets an automatic hire?
    – Buffy
    Apr 9, 2021 at 18:48
  • No of course not, you need to interview well - but GPA is a definite filter and colleges which believe in relative grades vs absolute do a huge disservice to their students. But I will say in my field, basically. There aren't enough Americans with relevant technical expertise. Apr 9, 2021 at 18:53

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