Average GPAs At Top 50 B-Schools In U.S.

by John A. Byrne on

studyThank goodness for grade inflation.

Over the past five years, undergraduate grade point averages at the top 50 U.S. business schools have generally crept higher or stayed about the same. So the general inflation of grades has helped many MBA applicants to the best schools keep pace with admissions.

Along with a GMAT score, your undergraduate GPA is one of those vital statistics in MBA admissions that often determines whether you have a real chance at getting into a highly selective business school. If you’re well below a school’s average, you generally need to do slightly better on the GMAT. If your GMAT is below average, you generally need to have better grades on your undergraduate transcript.

A LOW GPA SCORE IS THE SECOND MOST LIKELY MBA APPLICATION KILLER

Of course, everyone knows that college admissions is more art than science and certainly an imperfect process. For MBA candidates, GMAT scores are more heavily weighed than GPAs but goofing off during your college years can really hurt your chances of landing in a prestige MBA program. Surveys of B-school admissions officers showed that a low GMAT or GRE score is the single biggest reason why business schools ding MBA applicants. The Kaplan Test Prep survey done in 2013 found that 51% said that a weak GMAT score is the biggest application killer. A low undergraduate GPA placed second at 28%.

At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the average GPA has now reached 3.73, a .07 rise from the average of 3.66 in 2009. The largest rises in GPA have occurred at the University of Virginia’s Darden School (up .13 to 3.51), Arizona State’s Carey School (also up .13 to 3.46), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (up .11 to 3.41), the UPenn’s Wharton School (up .10 to 3.60), and Michigan State’s Broad School (also up .10 to 3.30).

On the other hand, average GPAs of admits fell slightly at some very prominent business schools, including Northwestern University, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Texas at Austin.

All told, the Poets&Quants analysis of GPAs showed that they were up at 25 of the top 50 schools over the past five years and down at 19. So the general view that grade inflation has caused some of this creep upward has certainly helped things. One thing seems certain. If you went to an undergraduate school with inflated GPAs, it’s far more likely to help you than if you have a slightly lower GPA from a university with tough grading standards.

Thanks to grade inflation, the average GPA at a private college in the U.S. is now 3.30, up from 3.09 in the early 1990s (see chart below). Good grades are slightly harder to come by at public colleges where the average GPA is 3.01, up from 2.93 in the early 1990s.

ONE STUDY OF MBA ADMISSIONS SHOWS IT’S BETTER TO GO TO A COLLEGE WITH GRADE INFLATION

An academic study published in 2013 shows inflated GPAs are better for MBA admission, even if the undergraduate school is less rigorous in its grading policies. The authors of the study say that the bias toward higher GPAs occurs because admissions officers are not taking into full consideration the grading standards of the undergraduate institution.

                    Grade Inflation At American Colleges & Universities

Source: GradeInflation.com

Source: GradeInflation.com

The study found that applicants from schools with tougher grading policies had an acceptance rate of only 12%. Applicants from schools known for grade inflation experienced an acceptance rate of 72%–a very sizable difference of 60 percentage points. The analysis suggests that  “candidates who happen to graduate from schools with higher grading norms may actually have a better chance of being accepted to college or graduate school,” said the authors from Harvard Business School, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School, and CivicScience, a polling firm.

Business schools routinely report the 80 percentile middle range of GPA scores, excluding the bottom and top 10% of the scores from public disclosure. In that data set,  no top ten business school in the U.S. has a GPA range of below 3.0. The average GPA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is 3.7, while the average at Harvard is 3.66. The highest ranked school, which publishes its GPA range for admits, is Cornell which accepted a student with a grade point average below 3.0.

(See following page for average GPAs at the top 50 U.S. business schools and how they have changed over the past five years)

DON’T MISS: AVERAGE GMAT SCORES AT TOP 50 BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN THE U.S.

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  • Tom Foolery

    Let’s be frank. It is about the rankings. The schools play the rankings game, and we all know it. Whether that approach is principled or self-serving, I will leave to the reader.

  • DanPoston

    I am an MBA Program Director at one of the schools on the list above. Unfortunately, comparing these schools on GPA is undermined by the lack of a common and enforced standard on calculating GPAs. The variations are more likely from different methods of calculation or different priorities in admission. Several years ago, schools did reach agreement on a standard, but shortly afterward, the enforcement mechanism went away. I speak to colleagues about this issue frequently and find there is little common ground. Just last week an admissions staff member at a top 25 school called me doing a survey of how schools calculate GPA. She was hearing different approaches from different schools. With the turnover of admissions staff, memory is short and few people even know there ever was a standard. Surprising to many, the “standard” required us to exclude candidate’s grades from a school not using a 4.0 system. This means the GPA average at schools with large international populations could exclude the grades of up to half the class. However, some schools used various algorithms to make a conversion. The “standard” required that we use only the overall average of the degree granting school printed on a formal transcript so it could be audited. Of course this excludes transfer grades or graduate school grades that often increase the overall GPA. Some schools use only the last two years grades. Many schools run a calculation using their own methodology. My school only runs an overall class GPA average for US News. No other entity, including my university, seeks it. Further, while the GMAT figures into multiple rankings, the GPA figures only into US News at a small percentage. As we evaluate each candidate, the GPA is a very important factor, but as you mention in the article, it is weighed in combination with many factors. However, in the overall scheme, the aggregate GPA matters little and for the reasons above it doesn’t tell a candidate much either. Given variations in calculation, with the GPAs at all schools varying by only a couple tenths of a point it’s hard to decipher anything from the US News GPA numbers.

  • AT

    I do not understand this. A 3.3 in electrical engineering from a to 20 engineering schools is far far more robust than a 3.7 in communications and psychology from a top 10 school. How can a TOP business school just lower these standards to a mere number

  • JohnAByrne

    Dan,
    Thanks for weighing in with that valuable perspective. Because U.S. News uses the GPA number as a key metric to rank business schools, I’m surprised that schools are providing data that is not entirely comparable.

  • Duck

    Perhaps because an MBA graduate will eventually be called upon to lead peers and subordinates. A degree in communications or psychology is probably more relevant to being successful at that than electrical engineering.

    It isn’t just about how “hard” the undergraduate experience was, but what that experience entailed. (to confine it to your example)

    To be honest, if you had a 3.3 from a top 20 engineering school, how would you know you weren’t selected over someone with a 3.7 from a top 10 school in what you consider to be an easier degree path, and what would make you believe it was based solely on GPA? Top 10 is still top 10, not top 20.

    There’s really no way for you to know that.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    What about the difference between an Engineering GPA and a Sociology/English GPA?

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Math errors are a huge reason for termination. All the PR in the world won’t fix a huge financial loss.

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