Munier’s Grading Guide

29 07 2011

Let’s face it – the majority of students as Cornell are driven by their GPAs. For grad school, for their first job, or whatever their immediate postgraduate endeavor. Sure, they may not mean everything, but GPAs are important enough that many people are dedicated to getting as close to a 4.3 as possible.

However, as anyone who’s been at Cornell for a while can recognize, grades are not distributed evenly, especially between majors. Sure, you could work hard and maybe pull a B+ in a course where the average is a B, but few people would turn down the opportunity to pad their transcript with an easy A. Well, Cornell recognizes this, and has begun to print the median grades for that class, as well as the grades a student has in a course, on their transcript, starting with the class of 2012.

It helps to get an idea where certain median grades lie. For a while, Cornell printed median grades and posted them online. Well, that only fueled the culture of “easy A classes”, so they stopped. Enter Munier Salem ’10’s cleverly-done guide to median grades. Using the fall 2009 median grade report, Munier put together an interactive infographic describing the distribution of grades in a given department (ASTRO, ASIAN, PHYS, and so on).

Now, I could’ve summarized it, but Ivygate already did that. So, I’m going to try a different tack.

I’m a CALS alum. So my interest is in CALS departments (regardless of whether or not they’re shared between schools – I’m looking at you BIO). Using the infographic, I pulled the percentages for different grades in a given CALS department and assigned a value to the grade itself – a 10 is an A+, a 9 is an A, 8 is an A-, and so on. The results in the graphic are actually given in a bar graph, but this method will break it down to just one mean value for simplicity. In example, say EXMPL has four courses – one with an A average, one with an A- and two B’s. (.25 * 9) + (.25 * 8 ) + (.5 * 6) = 7.25, just above a B+ average. Note that this doesn’t take the number of credits a course is worth into account, and in the infographic only a few larger majors are broken down by the course number of the class. Lastly, the quality of students can vary somewhat between majors (the dairy science concentration in Animal Science comes to mind). In conclusion, my grade exercise is more for show than for anything of real value.

AEM: 8.08

ANSC (animal science): 7.83

BEE (bio engineering): 7.57

BIO (standard biology): 7.13

BSOC (bio & society): 7.01

COMM: 8.05

CSS (crop& soil sci): 7.33

DSOC (dev. sociology): 7.66

EAS (earth&atmos sci): 7.34

EDUC (which is being phased out): 7.54

ENTOM (entomology, i.e. bugs): 8.15

FDSC (food sci): 7.70

HORT (horticulture): 8.01

INFO (info sci): 7.72

LA (landscape architecture): 7.89

NS (nutri sci): 8.06

NTRES (natural resources, a.k.a. natty res): 7.88

PLPA (plant pathology): 7.34

Now, this doesn’t take different majors into account, who may take courses from a few different departments. But if we do place any value in this, it’s that it’s good to be an AEM or entomology major, and that you might want to avoid biology & society courses (refuting my own belief that using the word “society” in any course meant it was an easy class).

Course GPAs

26 10 2008

So, in my own personal experience at Cornell, I’ve had a number of classes that I’ve done well in, and a number of courses that proverbially bent me over and made me beg for sweet, sweet mercy. My own coursework bridges CALS and the College of Engineering, so personally I’ve often wondered about the average GPAs with regards to my own in a course, or major, or college. I’m not the best at differential equation by a long shot (A little part of me dies every time I see the C- on my transcript), but I’m rather addicted to stats.

Luckily for my stats cravings, course GPAs are readily accessible online. A resolution passed in the mid 1990s allowed for the readily accessible publications of grade reports in order to get an idea of the average GPA in a given class :

Sadly, the website has no information for the past school year- rather surprising and unfortunate for the curious souls who want to know the average grades for their course in the past year. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any worthwhile informmation to be gleaned from these reports.

On a whim, I decided to search out the course with the lowest average in the two above pdfs (grades back to 1997 can be accessed from the main website). The spring 2007 reveals two C+’s that tie fro the lowest course average:  MATH 191, the Calc I for engineers, had 41 students and an average of a C+, which is low even for our friends in the engineering school, and the second is HD 260, “Intro to Personality”, which had 57 registered students. It was cross-listed with the 141-student PSYCH 275, which averaged a B.

The fall list doesn’t even have any C+’s. Instead, the lowest grade is a B-, which was the average in the Bio G 101 (intro bio intended for weeding out some of the wanna-be pre-med’s), and M&AE 325, a course in “Analysis of Mechanics and Aerospace”, which sounds as difficult as it probably is. Physics 213, the second of the engineering physics courses, also pulled a B- average for its 401 students. Ironically, the sequence in my major is 207-208-214, not that it matters much anyway because my physics grade averages to a B-. I have a hair above a 3.0 as my cumulative GPA, and I’m not too proud to admit that. But then, my advisor has said the average GPA for the major is 3.1 at the end of sophomore year, so that adds a meager consolation to my efforts as a student.

Now, finding averages for the schools…not as easy. U.S. News and World Report says that the University average is about 3.4….too bad I can’t copy that here because I would have to buy access. I’ve heard in passing that grades for ILR and Hotel are the highest on average, at 3.8 and 3.7 respectively. Engineering is often reported as the lowest, ranging between 2.8 and 3.1 (the 3.1 stems from a 1996 report on university academics, and the 2.8 is a more recent figure). The rest are virtually shots in the dark between that range.

I think the best part about trying to find this information was a college confidential thread about aem transfer gpas, where they then proceed to whine about the CALS general biology requirement [1]. I s’pose I’m a little jaded from science and math, but really now, suck it up.  Bio G 109 and 110 aren’t [weren’t] even that hard, just tedious.

In conclusion, this entry has done nothing for my esteem but hopefully sheds a little light onto some of the grades at Cornell. I can look at the averages and realize I’m a below average student in almost all regards, which may doom my chances of grad school in my field. On the bright side, I’m having by far my most successful semester ever at Cornell right now, thanks to all my core reqs being done and out of the way, so I can focus on courses I want to take, like an advanced stats class.

Yes, I’m an information whore.