The currency of a Queen’s grade

The Journal looks at how a Queen’s mark matches up to other Canadian Universities

Assistant Dean of Students at Queen’s Law Jane Emrich said Queen’s students had a higher rate acceptance to Ontario Law Schools than other schools surveyed.
Assistant Dean of Students at Queen’s Law Jane Emrich said Queen’s students had a higher rate acceptance to Ontario Law Schools than other schools surveyed.

Haley Wilson gets 80s at Guelph University but after conversations with friends, she said she’s unsure she’d fare as well at Queen’s.

“I get the impression that the University of Guelph grades pretty averagely,” the third-year undergraduate said. “It seems that Queen’s caps it off at a far lower level.”

Wilson said she’s heard rumours that 82 per cent is considered a “good mark” in the Queen’s history department. She said she usually receives about 85 per cent in her history and anthropology classes at Guelph.

“It is possible to get 90s, but you have to work your ass off,” Wilson said. “[Professors] are a little better with [giving] lower As.”

Wilson, who plans to apply to graduate studies programs in History, said she’s curious whether admissions departments consider where the applicant completed their undergraduate degree.

“I began wondering how Queen’s marks are interpreted,” she said.

According to grading information collected about Queen’s Arts and Sciences courses over the last two academic years, 18.39 per cent of students in the faculty received final ‘A’ grades, which mean a mark of an 80 per cent or above. Arts students in the faculty received fewer ‘A’ grades than science students.

Queen’s Associate Professor of Political Studies, Jonathan Rose, said professors mark to the standards of a grading culture.

“The grading culture in political studies is very different than, for example the grading culture in psychology,” Rose said. “In sciences, it’s not uncommon to give out 90s. It’s less common in arts.”

Rose said the University is working towards a switch from a 4.0 grading model to a 4.3 model, like most other North American universities have. In order to do so, departments have had to re-evaluate their grading practices.

“As a department we are having a broad conversation about how to translate our grades, but also to rethink our grading culture,” Rose said. “What we’re trying to do is determine what an ‘A’ student really means and whether or not our assessment matches what we think of our students.”

Nonetheless, Rose said students need to take grades with a grain of salt and remember that they’re meant to act as a feedback mechanism to tell students what a professor thinks of their work compared to the other work they’ve seen.

“Through the years, I’ve heard people say, ‘my friend at University X is getting ‘A’s and I’m just getting ‘B’s and I’m just as good as that person’,” he said. “But it misunderstands that grading exists in a culture that may not be the same as another university’s culture.” Rose said there’s a misconception that grades can have negative effects on students’ academic futures.

“Our students regularly do get placed,” he said. “The grades aren’t hurting them, they might actually be the reason why they are getting in.”

Paul Bowman, manager of Career Education and Counseling at Queens’ Career Services, advises students about what to do after finishing an undergraduate degree. About 40 per cent of the students he sees are fourth years and about half of those students are interested in pursuing some form of graduate studies.

Bowman said students’ academic aspirations following undergraduate studies are dependent on their marks.

“Queen’s is a tough place to get an 80,” Bowman said. “Certain doors will be opened or closed depending on academic performance. When advising students, I can suggest different options for a student who has a 70 average compared to an 85 average.”

Bowman said Queen’s tough academic standards are caused by professor’s varying views on the purpose of a university education.

“If the philosophy is about inquiry and engagement with an academic discipline, that’s a whole different mindset in the professor than university just being a stepping-stone to professional life,” he said.

Although student’s marks aren’t the only thing admissions officers look at, they do remain a significant component of an application to a postgraduate program.

“This probably means that Queen’s students are having to work harder to get into those programs,” Bowman said.

Michele Dextras, interim manager of admissions at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, said she’s never seen any empirical data comparing one institution’s academic averages to another.

“All programs are looked at equally,” Dextras said. “Providing a student attends a recognized institution, it doesn’t matter where students went to for their undergraduate degrees.

She said that while a student’s transcript isn’t evaluated based on which school it comes from, it is heavily evaluated.

“A student’s academic performance is the best predictor of how they will do in law school,” Dextras said.

Michel Dansereau, senior admissions officer at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine, said admissions staff don’t weigh the name of an applicant’s undergraduate university. However differing expectations could effect admission into a program.

“If an institution awards a student with a mark of 85 the grade of ‘A’, while another institution awards a student with a mark of 80 an ‘A’, they are both considered as ‘A’ students,” Dansereau said.

“We don’t alter grade point averages, however we do note the context in which the GPA was earned,” he said. “For example, we would not treat the student who has a 3.90 GPA earned from largely introductory courses the same way as the student who has a 3.90 GPA from courses that include very challenging ones ... numbers are only part of the story.”

Jane Emrich, Assistant Dean of Students at Queens’ Faculty of Law said that although the undergraduate institution doesn’t play a large role in graduate admissions, on the whole, Queen’s students tend to do fairly well for themselves.

Emrich said the Ontario Law Schools Admissions Service (OLSAS) prepares a statistical summary of applicants to Ontario law schools from different undergraduate universities at the end of each admission cycle.

After crunching a few numbers, Emrich was able to establish that Queen’s undergraduates applying to Ontario law schools receive higher percentage of admission offers than students at other universities.

Using data on the number of students who applied to Ontario Law Schools and the number who were accepted, Emrich developed acceptance rates for the 2010 cycle. Out of the four universities she surveyed, Queen’s fared the best with 47.8 per cent of applicants receiving offers of admission. The University of Western Ontario was second with 47.6 per cent followed by the University of Guelph with 46.5 per cent and 45.7 per cent for the University of Toronto.

Prior to making acceptance decisions, admissions officials may choose to consult the Ontario Law School Application Service’s 2011grade conversion table. On this table, Queen’s is the only university listed as a category five institution. As such, Queen’s students need a 94 per cent to a 100 per cent average to achieve at 4.0 GPA. Category three schools, like Guelph, Brock, U of T and Western, need between 90 per cent and 100 per cent for a 4.0 rating.

OLSAS was unable to provide a representative for comment to the Journal.

Emrich said the results from her study suggest that Queen’s students aren’t at a disadvantage despite the OLSAS categorization.

“Grading is always relative,” she said. “That’s why there’s an attempt to provide some uniformity to provide some kind of fair process.

“If you look at the results from the cycle it doesn’t seem to have borne out [to disadvantage Queen’s students].”

Emrich said she’s heard from other law programs that being an undergrad from Queen’s doesn’t hurt an applicants chances.

“I know that from talking to colleagues, Queen’s students are highly regarded,” she said, adding that despite the University’s reputation, the school the applicant hails from isn’t a major push or pull.

“That would be a gross oversimplification,” she said. “It would be difficult to say that the name of the university is a deciding factor.” According to Emrich, other factors in addition to marks are considered when judging an application.

“Because the competition is so fierce, transcripts and LSAT scores are definitely important,” she said. “[But] the grades are just one factor … You have to read the whole file. Were the courses of high academic rigour at high levels or is it filled with electives at lower levels?”

Emily Christie, ArtSci ’04, said Queens’ high academic standards didn’t hamper her postgraduate interests. Christie graduated from Life Sciences and is now completing her final year of medical school at the University of Calgary.

“I’ve never heard of a student who seemed to be at an acceptable level that didn’t get in [to postgraduate studies],” she said. “Most universities must be understanding that Queen’s students generally will have lower grades. I’ve never heard of the standards actually hindering anyone.”

Christie said her Queen’s degree even gave her an advantage in some regards.

“In as far as succeeding in a postgraduate program, the skills learned at Queen’s are very important,” she said. “Medical schools look at more than just your grades. Extracurricular involvement is such a big part of Queen’s, is a big part of applying to any graduate or professional program.”

With files from Jake Edmiston

Creating Equality?

Undergraduate Grading Conversion
Ontario Law School Application Service

4.0 GPA = 94 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 87 per cent to 93 per cent

4.0 GPA = 90 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 85 per cent to 89 per cent

U of T
4.0 GPA = 90 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 85 per cent to 90 per cent

Undergraduate Grading Conversion
Ontario Medical School Application Service

4.0 GPA = 90 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 85 per cent to 90 per cent

4.0 GPA = 90 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 85 per cent to 90 per cent

U of T
4.0 GPA = 93 per cent to 100 per cent
3.90 GPA = 84 per cent to 92 per cent

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