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grade disclosure

While the discussion may be less heated than in recent years, grade disclosure and the associated policies are relevant to MBA students. The debate consists of the following arguments for and against grade disclosure:

- Grade non-disclosure policies (GND) enhance student collaboration and promote extra curricular activities which in turn promote networking opportunities
- Grade disclosure policies (GD) promote rigorous academics. When grades “do not matter,” students may become lazy and the atmosphere may become less competitive

In most circumstances, the supporters of GND are the student bodies, and the supporters of GD are the professors and administrators. The majority of America’s top B-schools seem to have either a GD or voluntary GD policy, where students may share grades with potential employers voluntarily. Now, let’s look at the four schools’ policies and the debate surrounding them:

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

Wharton, a member of the top three B-schools on many lists, seems to house the most heated grade policy debate. Prior to 1998, the school had a GD, but the student body overwhelmingly supported a GND. The logic behind those opinions follows pretty closely the logic above. Amazingly, during a 2006 vote to amend the school’s policy, students voted in favor of GND by 94%, with 84% participation.

Wharton has adopted a voluntary disclosure policy, where students are free to share their grades, but are not required to.


Harvard’s grade disclosure policy is especially interesting due to their somewhat unorthodox grading system. As of 2005, students are free to discuss grades in job interviews or other circumstances with potential employers. The administrators have stated that this policy makes them consistent with other business schools and undergraduate programs, as well as the rest of Harvard University. As stated earlier, grade disclosure is designed to promote high quality academics. According to an article in the Harvard Crimson, a school official stated that disclosing grades is also consistent with being a successful business leader: businesses are constantly trying to quantify progress, development and develop ways to measure their performance.

Harvard’s grading system may also necessitate GD being implemented. Harvard’s grading system works by using three categories, rather than an A-F scale. Approximately 75% of HBS students occupy category II status, with the rest occupying category 1 (top tier) and 3 (bottom of the class). The combination of “grades not mattering” and Harvard’s grading system could be deadly to academic morale: the likelihood of being in category 1 is so slim that students may as well just stick with category 2. On the other hand, it is unlikely that they will fail out, which means many MBA students can squeeze by.


Stanford’s administration does not have a particular policy, but the student body policy is non-disclosure. There is an astonishing 99% compliance rate among students.

Both sides of the grade disclosure debate have sound arguments and valid points. It also seems that the only possible compromise is the one that some schools have already put into effect: a policy of voluntary disclosure. The students who feel that it is within their right to withhold grades from employers are free to do so. If the employer demands such information (which they may) the student will have a difficult choice to make, one that very closely reflects many decisions – operational, managerial, and ethical – made in the business world: How do I optimize the result with minimal compromise?

Final Thoughts

On one hand, grades are an important indicator of one’s personal achievement. However, on the other hand, how you translate your learning into behaviors and actions in real life is a better indicator of both achievement and character.

Maybe grade disclosure should carry more importance in college than graduate schools. Different majors should put different level of emphasis on grade disclosure as well. The grade disclosure policy could vary depending on course types, i.e., cores vs. electives.

Graduate business schools focus on practical knowledge and skills, not pure arts or science. A student’s integral ability should have a higher correlation to his/her future success. Certain qualities can not be quantified by grades, in particular, managerial talents such as decision-making abilities, sound judgment, ability to outperform in face of adversity and leadership. Nonetheless, analytical abilities can certainly be tested out and measured by grades.

Posted on March 11, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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Today we are going to discuss grade disclosure policy.

In a 1997 experiment, Cornell’s College of Arts and Science decided to post the median grades for courses on the Internet. According to an article on BusinessWeek.com, this was intended to “give context” to grades, in that students would see that if a certain class had a lower median grade, say a B-, an A in that course could be more meaningful. Cornell also had plans to publish the median course grades in student transcripts so potential employers could see the “big picture.”

This experiment had interesting results – results the opposite of what was expected. Instead of students choosing the course in which it would be more challenging to get a higher grade, the students chose the courses where professors tended to give out higher grades. The study that found these results also found that students with lower SAT scores were the ones choosing the “easier” courses. The experiment, in turn, has lead to grade inflation.

Perhaps because of these unintended results, Cornell has not yet followed through on putting the median grades on student transcripts. We, at Manhattan Review, believe that the fact that more students chose an easier course is due to a lack of their confidence in their ability to earn above-median grade in a challenging course and the negative ramification of a lower grade even if the median is even lower.

The grade situation at Cornell could reflect a larger ethical dilemma, one that has always been present at business school. Should students do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if it does not reflect their intellectual prowess or managerial talent? Is the “cunning” and quick decision making those students may use to get higher grades really relevant to their future business? Many professors would say no, ethical behavior is as important in an academic community as it is in the business world, but some students may say that their ability to get ahead will end up supporting them in the future.

Even if a less-capable person can get ahead here and there, it is highly unlikely the winning streak will continue without any hiccups. Unethical behavior or simply unwise decision will, sooner or later, have a consequence in a person’s personal or professional life.

Posted on March 6, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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