No GPAs at Brown

Friday, March 6, 2009

To the Editor:

I read with interest Jared Lafer’s ’11 column (“Fearing the NC,” Feb. 24) in which Lafer argues that getting a C in a course is somehow less desirable than an NC because an NC does not appear on one’s external transcript while a C does. Lafer goes on the argue that a C “is a GPA killer as its grade-point value of 2 is sometimes enough to ruin one’s post-college dreams.”

Frankly, I’m astounded that Lafer could go through almost two years of Brown and still have such a fundamental misunderstanding of the Brown curriculum. His statement about GPAs is intellectually nonsensical, as Brown does not calculate GPAs.

Brown does this for one very simple and intellectually honest reason: GPAs are a fiction that cannot be calculated. Every student reading this letter knows full well that A’s are much harder to obtain in some courses than in others. And even if all A’s were created equal, it would also be nonsensical to numerically compare (with the precision that GPAs portend) one student’s transcript to another’s, unless they have taken an identical set of courses at the same time with the same professors, and the same educational background prior to college. In short, using GPAs to rank or compare students is not like comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing carbon dioxide to dining chairs or sadness to salt.

As far as a C dashing your “post-college dreams” is concerned: Employers and graduate schools have no business asking for Brown students’ GPAs. And Brown should ensure they know better. If for some reason a rogue employer or graduate program asks what your GPA is at Brown, you can give them one of two answers, both of which worked just fine for me.

I applied – and was successfully admitted – post-Brown to both Wharton for my MBA and Penn for a master’s program in engineering, even though as a Poli Sci concentrator I took nary an undergraduate engineering course and not a single Brown math course. On the application forms for both programs in the little space where they ask applicants for their GPAs, I simply wrote: “Brown University does not calculate GPAs.”

Separately, I was interviewed for a job by an older Brown graduate. He asked me for my GPA at Brown and I simply said, “Come on, Jim, you know Brown doesn’t have GPAs.” He sent me on to the next round of the interview.

Dave Morris ’88March 4

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