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Do MBA Grades Matter? Inside Grade Non-Disclosure Policies

An MBA student writing an essay on grade non-disclosure policies

Do grades matter?

When you’re in your undergraduate program, there’s no doubt that your GPA is important, but what about in your MBA? The whole point of graduate business school is to care less about the grading system and more about the experience.

Right?

Well… it depends on your program’s Grade Non-Disclosure policies.

What Is Grade Non-Disclosure?

A Grade Non-Disclosure (GND) policy refers to how students in a particular program are able to discuss their grades and GPA with recruiters.

In some cases, MBA students are disallowed from sharing their grades until they have a full-time job offer. However, that’s the only area a GND policy touches. Students can still discuss their awards, honors, test scores, and undergraduate GPAs.

The truth is that you’ll typically only find Grade Non-Disclosure policies at elite business schools.

In fact, seven of the top ten MBA programs have a GND policy, but no schools ranked 20-50 have them. That’s because, at elite programs, the school name is enough to help students succeed, where as students in lower-ranked programs rely on grades to garner the same respect and job opportunities.

However, that doesn’t mean that GND polices are consistent. They can vary from year-to-year, and no GND policy is permanent.

At some schools—such as Wharton and Chicago Booth—it’s left up to the students to vote on the policy each year.

Why Do Grade Non-Disclosure Policies Exist?

GND policies don’t exist because MBA students want to kick back and slack off from work. There’s more to it than that.

Engagement

Grades can be a hindrance to experience. For some students, fear of getting poor grades can stop them from taking more engaging and demanding classes. Whereas if they don’t have to worry about their GPA, they can dive in and enjoy a more collaborative and less competitive atmosphere.

Recruiters

Recruiters don’t consider grades a high priority when finding candidates. According to a 2011 Survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, recruiters looked for initiative, professionalism, motivation, integrity, creativity, efficiency, goal orientation, and adaptability. GPA was far down on the list, if on it at all.

Networking

For many business students, networking and employment opportunities far outweigh grades for success. Articles from Wired and Business Insider reveal that networking is the secret to MBA success, not GPA. If students have to worry about their GPA more than their overall experience, they’ll miss out.

Competition

Most elite business schools grade on curves. There are quotas and maximum limits to the number of top grades that can be awarded. For example, at Yale, only 10% of each class can receive the highest grade, while 25% can receive the next highest grade. However, that means student compete and fight for the next 65% of the grades, which promotes bitter competition instead of collaboration, cooperation, and networking.

Grading Systems

The grading systems at elite business schools can vary widely.

For example, Harvard doesn’t give out standard A’s, B’s, and C’s. Instead, grades fall into categories such as I, II, III, and IV. Whereas, Stanford gives grades like “Honors,” “High Pass,” “Pass,” and “Low Pass,” while Wharton and Chicago Booth give traditional alphabet assessments. With so many different grading systems, it can be hard to compare students across programs.

However, just because there are quite a few good reasons for GND policies, it doesn’t mean there is no downside.

The Negatives of Grade Non-Disclosure Policies

While on the surface it might seem that GND policies would always be a good idea, the truth is a little more complicated. There are a few areas where GND policies fail.

Personal Achievement

MBAs are not known for being poor achievers, which means students want the opportunity to take personal stock of their classroom performance and share that performance with recruiters.

Job Placement

While GND policies can encourage recruiters not to ask for grades, it doesn’t stop it from happening. Many recruiters will still ask for grades, particularly during the internship recruitment process, and so grades can end up playing a role anyway.

Academic Commitment

Without grades as a way to gauge success, it can sometimes be difficult to encourage students to give their all in the classroom. Grades ensure that academic standards are maintained, and students take every class seriously. A 2011 Study by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that four years after Wharton instituted its GND policy, the time students spent on academics dropped by 22%.

Distinguished Students

Without grades, it can be difficult to distinguish between top MBA candidates and moderate MBA candidates during recruiting. For exceptional students, a GPA can help them stand out, even beyond their GMAT, work experience, and other achievements.

Accountability

Collaboration is a necessary and vital part of almost every MBA experience. Without grades, some students won’t be accountable to their classmates for assignments, projects, or other deliverables.

So What’s the Verdict? 

Your MBA program should be a transformative experience not just inside the classroom but outside of it as well. For many elite schools, GND policies allow their students to focus more on learning and their overall experience, rather than just their grade.

However, it’s not a perfect system, and without grades, some students don’t have the incentives needed to work hard.

At the end of the day, whether your school has a Grade Non-Disclosure policy or not, it shouldn’t effect how you spend your time in school. Top students take their academics seriously and strive to perform as best they can, no matter if every grade is counted or not.

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About the Author

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Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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