Grade Inflation and the Uselessness of Transcripts More Generally

I've decided that I need to be posting more of the discussions I have (largely by email) over the course of the day. I yak all day long about things that might be of interest to readers of the Ivey Files, and I need to get over the fact that reproducing things I've written in an email will by necessity offer up writing that is less than polished (although Lord knows that's true for blog postings as well).

So, just today, I was chatting with some people who were commenting on the habit of finance employers to ask job applicants for their SAT scores (as well as LSAT or GMAT scores, as the case may be). On the one hand, we laughed our butts off -- we're in our mid-thirties and can't imagine that a test we took back in, oh, 1989 (!!) could possibly say anything meaningful about us. Can SAT scores say anything meaningful about someone who just graduated from college? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some argued that SAT scores do say something about raw horsepower under the hood, while others argued that good SAT scores just prove you're good at taking the SATs. Either way, to people who aren't routinely dealing with recruiting practices in the the finance world, it seems weird to ask for the scores.

However, if employers are asking for the scores, then employers obviously see some value in that information, and I'm very curious where that value comes from.

From one of my emails:

This is, I suspect, also a reflection of the fact that college grades, and college transcripts  as a whole, don't really mean squat [to the interviewer].

Unless you have very inside-baseball *and* recent knowledge of a school's grading practices, as well as knowledge of the grading practices and substantive difficulty of individual courses and professors, transcripts really mean nothing. When I look at a transcript, I have no idea whether PHYS 325 is string theory or "Physics for Poets" (as the gut physics class was called at Columbia in my day). And when I was still on the job market, I was bummed that my law school transcript didn't say who taught my Financial Accounting class at the business school -- it was Roman Weil, and that actually means something to some people, but I never got the benefit of that on my transcript.

The uselessness of transcripts also leads to over-reliance on the name brand of the school to signal something about the applicant.

We went on to discuss grade inflation more generally, and I recalled a Boston Globe article from the early 2000's about the fact that 91% of Harvard undergraduates had graduated with honors that year. (The rest of the ivies are pretty inflationary too, so I'm not just picking on Harvard, although it has seemed to be the worst offender.)

So I throw that out there, because transcripts are so unhelpful not just in the job hiring process, but also in the graduate school admissions process.  When applicants complain about the seeming over-reliance on standardized test scores, understand that most transcript are in fact very, very hard to interpret in any meaningful way.