As Yale talks grade deflation, Princeton pulls back

While Yale’s ad hoc committee on grading examines grading policies, Princeton is reassessing its own experiment with grade deflation — a move Princeton’s new president attributes in part to concerns about a faltering admissions yield, according to the Daily Princetonian.

Last spring, Yale’s ad hoc committee on grading found that 62 percent of Yale College grades between 2010 and 2012 were in the A-range. Though the committee’s proposal to combat grade inflation by switching to a numerical grading system and setting distribution guidelines was dropped this fall, the committee is still mulling alternative policies. Meanwhile, Princeton, a school known for its grade deflation policies, announced a review of its grading policies last month, referencing the way that the policy has adversely affected Princeton’s image to prospective students. Most Yale undergraduates and third-party college admissions experts interviewed said that while grade deflation was not a decisive factor in causing students to choose Yale over Princeton, grade deflation does reinforce the perception that Princeton has a more competitive and less collaborative academic culture than Yale.

“It’s in the nature of Yale and the people applying there to not have the same competitive feel that both Harvard and Princeton have,” said Adam Yunus, a high school senior from Pittsburgh who applied early action to Yale this year. “At Yale you’re trying to embrace the intellect of [your] peers and you’re not trying to combat that.”

Since implementing grade deflation policies in 2004, Princeton’s yield has dropped from 73.1 percent for the class of 2007 — the last class to be admitted before Princeton’s grading changes were announced — to 68.7 percent for the class of 2017.

Yale College Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said in an email to the News that though he has never heard a student cite grading policies as a factor in choosing Yale during his more than 10 years of admissions work, the Admissions Office actively discusses Yale’s “collaborative academic environment” with prospective students as it is one of the University’s major attributes.

Still, Frederic Nicholas ’17 and Aaron Berman ’16 said that Princeton’s grade deflation policy was a factor in their choosing Yale over Princeton.

“The feeling I got after visiting Princeton was that the grade deflation put too much pressure on students and made students feel as if they were competing for grades,” Berman said, adding that he thinks stricter grading policies at Yale “wouldn’t be conducive to a healthy social and academic environment.”

Of students who were admitted to both Princeton and Yale for the class of 2017, 74 percent chose Yale over Princeton, according to Parchment, an educational website that calculates cross-admit rates between colleges in America. Richard Avitabile, a former admissions officer at New York University and a private college counselor at Steinbrecher and Partners, said while Yale has traditionally held an advantage over Princeton, he does not recall the gap ever being as large as it is now.

Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College and a former admissions officer at Harvard, said that Princeton’s decade-long decline in yield can be attributed in part to the university’s stricter grading policies. Hughes added that although students will still choose Princeton over most schools, many of his clients have chosen Stanford, Harvard and Yale over Princeton, citing the difference in grading policies between the schools being one major factor.

“These kids don’t want to be the ones explaining to med school or graduate school why they have lower grades than kids from Yale and Harvard who also have very high MCAT scores and extracurriculars,” Hughes said.

Princeton University administrators have repeatedly said that grade deflation does not harm the job prospects of graduating seniors. Even after commissioning a committee to reevaluate grade deflation this fall, Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber was quoted in the Daily Princeton as saying, “I have not seen evidence that shows [that the grading policy hurts Princeton seniors].”

But a study published in July in the scientific journal PLOS One demonstrated that grade inflation helps students find jobs and be more competitive graduate school applicants. Samuel Swift, postdoctoral fellow at the Haas Business School at the University of California, Berkeley and the lead author of the study, said that when businesses and graduate schools consider applicants, they do not consider the grade distribution at the school from which the student is applying.

Swift added that his research showed that two students with the same GPA from both Princeton and Yale would be considered equally by graduate schools and private employers even if the average GPA at Princeton was significantly lower than that at Yale.

Michael Liao, a freshman at Princeton, said he does not mind Princeton’s deflationary policies, citing a sense of solidarity and strong work ethic among students. Still, he said he does not think professors should be barred from giving grades they feel their students deserve.

“Hard work should never go unrecognized regardless if one is at the top of their class or not,” he said.

According to Princeton’s grading policy, no more than 35 percent of grades in any department should be A’s.

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