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I am a Master's student in Italy, and I'm applying for a thesis internship in a lab in the US. To this end, I'm required to send my Master's transcript as well as my Bachelor's; however, in the case of the latter i have a problem with grade conversion.

My institute offers a supplement that is meant to convert grades to their ECTS equivalent (A to E scale, similar to the American one with one additional step); however, they do so by grading on a curve even when the original courses weren't. As I followed a program with an unusual concentration of high-achievers, my (not distinguished, but acceptable) grades average is strongly shifted downwards according to this system (think a hard C instead of B+), yet in Italian grades it's higher than the institute-wise average for Bachelor's degrees (26.0/30 vs 24.3/30).

The absurdity of this system is evidenced by the fact that, for the same exact course and exam , the ECTS grade calculated with this system widely varies according to the different program overall averages, resulting in Italian grades lower than mine translating for other programs in ECTS grades higher than mine.

Regarding my application, I believe this leaves me with a few options:

  • Not doing anything, and expecting the person in charge of scrutinizing the transcripts to understand that a system translating a 30/30 score as a B is far from perfect

  • Attaching a note to the transcript explaining what i explained here

  • Supplying my own transcript with only Italian grades and letting them figure that out; maybe also attach a reasonable suggestion for conversion, like the ones evidenced in the answers to this question

Does anyone have suggestions on the best course of action?

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    It sounds like a horrendous system, if I’m understanding you right that its translation of grades for students within a single course/exam can depend on the student’s path (=other courses?). I would suggest supplying just the Italian transcript — however the recipients choose to interpret it, it can hardly be worse (either for accuracy or for your resulting grade) than the “official” conversion. (Comment not an answer since this is mostly speculation, I have little relevant experience.) – PLL Sep 13 '16 at 9:29
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    ECTS grades used to be literally defined in terms of a "curve". Grade A: top 10% of the class, grade B: next 25%, etc. Even today it is defined in terms of statistical distributions, even though it's more refined apparently. If you want ECTS grades you can't really do anything about that. It's not an arbitrary whim of your university. – user9646 Sep 13 '16 at 9:34
  • @NajibIdrissi that's precisely the point: I believe the ECTS algorithm doesn't reflect accurately the reality of my situation, and my question is what should i do to give an American professor a better idea of what my grades are "in the wide(r) picture". – kramerfreenow Sep 13 '16 at 10:24
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    If ECTS standard is to reflect percentiles then your university seems to be doing the right thing. How else do you think they should convert the grades? – Cape Code Sep 13 '16 at 11:55
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    If the reason for your low grades is because you took unusually difficult courses at an especially competitive school, it seems likely an admissions committee will spot that, given they've been doing this for a while. But as Cape Code points out, it will still matter how you did relative to your peers. Like it or not, a lot of life is graded on the curve. – Nicole Hamilton Sep 13 '16 at 15:37
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As someone who spent several years working in university admissions in the UK, I would suggest that you supply just your Italian transcript to the US university and let them figure out the grade conversions on their own. The US institution should have access to international grade conversion guidelines so it's likely that they'll convert your grades more reasonably than your own university has.

You might want to consider attaching an official English translation from a professional translation company so they can read the course titles etc. in English. Where I worked, we always asked for official translations in English but never for ECTS equivalents.

You can supply them with the supplement (and an explanation) later if they ask specifically for that.

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