for University grads

I expect a higher proportion of educated people here versus many other places on the internet;)…

My daughter has completed year one at a US midwest university, legitimate accredited and certified school, etc. Full course load and participating in athletics as well. First year gpa was 3.3.

I have a theory that year one is graded and evaluated in such a way that they cut you some slack for being in year one, and to hopefully encourage you to return for year two and beyond as a confident student. Our daughter counters this with year one is the toughest because you are in a new setting with different standards and expectations from high school, and that years two and further will be easier.

As a guy who has no post-secondary education, I would say that 3.3 is a good start. Not giving my kid any guff over this, this seems like a fine accomplishment. Just two differering opinions at the dinner table.
Thanks in advance to all who offer their experience.

The only factual answer is that it varies by institution, program and professor.

I can only give a factual answer via anecdotes.

I was a college freshman in 1989 at the University of Wisconsin. I wasn’t an athlete but I was in the band. The classes were tough but in no way was there any slack given for being a freshman, be it in physics, english, history, or psychology. Other subjects may vary.

Today I am a professor at a different midwestern university. I don’t give pity points to first year students, nor do I think that would be appropriate.

You will probably get as varying set of opinions as there are contributors. Speaking as someone who wrote exams, and participated in the usual rounds of markers meetings and mark moderation, I never gave such things a moment’s thought. Not at the level of individual subjects.

However, that said, there are lots of external pressures, some of which may come into play, depending upon the institution. There needs to be some way to moderate marks across disciplines. There is always pressure to have mark profiles meet some form of expected distribution. Marks are tweaked and scaled to fit these. The most extreme version simply means that each year exactly the same number of people get the same marks. You simply rank the students from best to worst and then start assigning GPAs from the distribution. This isn’t going to happen overtly, but the pressures from administrations to maintain consistency can yield the same effect. The final effect is that GPA simply provides a metric of rank within the cohort. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does presuppose a large enough cohort to make it justifiable. In a sense the final result is not that far away from your viewpoint. But the manner in which it is reached is rather different.

The actual process by which the final number is arrived at has often become highly regularised. In a modern litigious world, most institutions are very wary of doing anything in the least subjective or arguable.

I side with your daughter.
Obviously, some of the coursework freshmen year is going to be easier than the higher-level classes she’ll take as an upperclassmen, but it should hardly be surprising that PHYS 110: Intro to Physics is an easier class than PHYS 370: Quantum Electrodynamics. But it’s not because the teachers are going easy on the poor freshmen, it’s because you can’t learn about quantum electrodynamics without the basics. Crawl before you walk.

However, even as a freshman most of my classes were a mixture of freshmen and sophomores, with one or two upperclassmen thrown in. I am 100% certain that in these classes the professors weren’t going easy on the freshmen.

On the other hand, some freshmen classes are specifically designed to be more difficult than they have to be. I was a biology major, and our biology program was very challenging. Quite a few of the students in my major were there not because of any aptitude or strong interest in biology, but rather because they figured it would make the best pre-med major. It was openly admitted by the department that freshman bio lecture and lab was purposefully difficult to weed out these less dedicated students. The goal wasn’t for them to flunk out of school, but rather encourage them to switch to more suitable majors (bio wasn’t the only pre-med major at my school).

On the other hand, the challenge of being in a totally new environment with little oversight is considerable for freshmen. I didn’t know of anyone who had a low GPA freshman year because “the classes were too hard.” It was always related to their inability to deal with some aspect of college life outside the classroom. Some partied too hard/often. Some lacked the time-management or self-control skills to get assignments done or study effectively and basically procrastinated their way to 2.0 GPAs. Many (mostly female) got entangled in incredible webs of social drama, which turned out to be so stressful that it more or less dominated their life. Etc etc. That first year is really a sink-or-swim test, where you are expected to figure out how to live in an unstructured world away from your parents, to get along with people who may be very different from you, to make new friends, etc. It’s more difficult from a social perspective than a purely academic one.

MIT began using freshman pass-fail in the late 60’s (I think 1968-9) because freshman year was quite a hard adjustment for many incoming students. I believe they have since switched to Pass/No record – the latter meaning it’s not recorded you even attempted the class.

Other schools that I know have or had Freshman or first term pass-fail, include Cal Tech, Olin, Brown, John Hopkins, and Swarthmore.

My university experience is from a real long time ago and may no longer be relevant to contemporary education, but here goes:

Most of the introductory “100 level” courses were taught by professors talking in front of a large lecture hall with one to two hundred students. Then once or twice a week, there would be a “discussion section” where the class was split into small groups that met with a graduate teaching assistant (TA) to ask questions and turn in or receive back assignments. (This wasn’t true in all disciplines.) Unless your name was in the headlines of the sports section, there is no way the professor would know you were an athlete. In fact, except for a small cohort that hung around during his office hours, he would be very unlikely to know who most of his students were.

As to being a freshman, introductory courses had a good mixture of people from all four years. Freshmen might be a majority, but there were sophomores and juniors who couldn’t decide on a major and stick to it, and an introductory science course might even have senior humanities majors who were finally getting around to completing their science requirement (or vice versa). Even though the class list had your year on it, it made no difference.

In fact, it wasn’t even unusual for freshmen to be in a more advanced course. For example, if you had four years of the same foreign language in high school, you could take a placement test and find yourself in the junior-level class. And they gave a placement test to see if math students could start in pre-algebra, introductory algebra, introductory calculus, or skip those altogether.

Professors at my college just didn’t care about those things. They gave the top grades to the top students and the low grades to the poorer students. They were happy to encourage students who did well or were trying and happy to discourage students who didn’t try or clearly had no aptitude for the subject.

As a graduate student, I spent a couple of years as a TA in introductory courses (that I never took myself). It was a great experience. Each professor decided his grading scheme on his own, but all of the professors I worked for used pretty much the scheme: Add up the test scores and set a cutoff level for A, B, C, etc.
If a student was within a few points of a higher grade, ask the TA if they had any input and sometimes make an exception.

F— 'em Bucky! Finals week of fall term was a damn cold introduction to Wisconsin winters.

My profs wouldn’t have had any idea what year I was in. I was just one of 200+ students in a crowded lecture hall.

I suspect the same would be true of many larger universities.

UW class of '93

3.3 as a freshman is fine in most cases. Tell your daughter she’s doing OK, and don’t worry.

That said, I don’t think most Universities “go easy” on freshman. There’s a UW-Madison poster in this thread, I’m also an alumnus - graduated 2004. I never got any slack for being a freshman.

Probably the most profound advice ever given to me by my dad was this:

“Your grades in college only matter until you get your first job”

…should add, “or at least into you get into the graduate program you want”

Now, a 3.3 ain’t anything to be ashamed of. The only reason college grades ever matter is getting into certain programs or grad school tracks. For example, I went into Chemical Engineering. That program you had to apply to after a year or so in college; high demand meant you needed about a 3.5 in your undergrad courses (science and math heavy) or they’d reject you. But this was one of the most selective undergrad programs.

Don’t know what your daughter wants to go into, but a 3.3 isn’t bad. Just tell her to figure out what she wants to do, and know the required GPA from there. For many paths, a 3.3 is just fine.

I have a BS. 3.3 is ok. It isn’t excellent, but then it isn’t bad performance either. Go easy on her. She has plenty of time to pull it up to a 3.5 or wherever she wants it to be.

Here at the small Northeastern liberal arts college I teach at, there’s no consideration given for class year in terms of the grades assigned (at least not in my classes.) However, the college-wide standards for remaining in “good academic standing” are different for first-year students than for everyone else; a non-first-year student has to have such-and-such average grade and no grades below a “C-” to avoid academic probation, while a first-year student can get away with a lower average grade and is allowed one grade below “C-”.

The other interesting data point is that to combat grade inflation, the Dean’s office has placed voluntary “target GPAs” for each class. While these aren’t done by class year, the “target GPAs” for 100-level classes are lower than those for 400-level courses. This is supposedly to reflect the fact that students taking upper-level courses in their major are presumably motivated and interested in the topic they’re learning about, and so the average grade in such a course will be higher. A corollary of this, of course, is that first-year students taking nothing but introductory courses aren’t expected to do quite as well.

So, all in all, at my institution it seems to be an accepted part of the natural order that students have lower GPAs in their first year and higher GPAs later on. However, this isn’t because first-year students are graded more harshly; it’s just because the students learn “how to attend college” as they go along.

You don’t say whether this midwest university is a state school or a private school and that alone may make a huge difference.

I was told, when I spent a grad year at a large midwest state university, that in most midwest states the law required all colleges in the state system to accept anyone who graduated high school in that state. Many of these people were not truly qualified for college and the college didn’t want to have them. (And this was before remedial English became common in colleges.) So what they did was to set the huge introductory courses so hard that approximately one-third of the class flunked out or got discouraged and quit. The non-freshman dorms couldn’t hold a freshman class’ worth of people.

Allowing all graduates to matriculate is still the rule, but I’m not sure how the courses are handled. However, I’ve never heard of any college anywhere that cut some slack for frosh. Your daughter is undoubtedly right. It gets easier later for several reasons: you have more experience with the expectations and how to meet them; College studying and writing is different from high school studying and writing; your possibly inadequate high school education is less of a drag; you probably have adjusted your major or course load to meet your needs and interests; you got over the shock of being free to party and waste your time; grade inflation means that the average grade for higher level courses can be an A.

Your daughter’s doing OK. Be proud.

When I went to college, in the baby-boom years, the goal of the administration was to make it as hard as possible for freshmen, hoping at least half would drop out before the 2nd year. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be any room for them to continue.

Thanks folks. For the record, the school is not a State school, and has a small student body (750) so everyone knows everyone. That’s a topic for another day!
I agree that 3.3 is a good start. The Graduate program she will be pursuing after year four has a minimum prerequisite of 3.0 to apply, and I’m sure it’s competetive enough that 3.0 wouldn’t be good enough.

Generally, no, but a graduate program that uses a single number like that is a lousy one.

Graduate admissions committees will, for the most part, also look at the school and undergraduate coursework. A 3.5 student from Engineering U with courses in Advanced Thermonuclear War will look better than a 3.8 student from Party U with courses in Underwater Basketweaving. If the school is known for strength in a certain field, undergraduates with majors in that field do get a leg up.

And at that level, recommendations from faculty become invaluable. A good recommendation from a well-regarded professor trump scores (as long as you do better than minimum cutoffs). Big names carry weight, even in the academic world. It works in the other direction, too. The best scores in the world aren’t going to save you from a half-hearted or just plain bad recommendation letter.

Freshmen are also often taking required low-level coursework that are not often directly related to a major. Not that they should aim for C’s or anything, but it’s just not a huge deal if a physics graduate student candidate once got a B- in Introductory Spanish their freshman year.

I agree with the rough consensus on grades: It’s very very rare that a professor considers directly whether a student is a freshman or not in assigning a grade, but introductory classes tend to require less work than more advanced classes (though sometimes grading harder in order to weed out weaker students). And transitioning in the first year is difficult enough that on average she should expect to work about as hard (or slightly harder if she’s already well organized) next years.

Anyway, my main point is that
a) for grad school, a really good professor recommendation is better than a high overall GPA. So by junior year it’s better to really impress the professor in a couple classes while getting only mediocre grades in others, than it is to get decent but not spectacular grades across the board. Of course, the impressive courses should be the ones related to the graduate program.
b) You can learn a lot about what you like during college, so I wouldn’t set her graduate program in stone quite yet. Freshman and sophmore years should be about studying a range of things.

Class of '93 here as well; go Badgers! As a smart kid who was used to a lot of coasting in high school, I learned damned quick my freshman year that I really had to buckle down and study. There was no special dispensation given for being a freshman - if you were in a class, you had to live up to the standards expected of any student in that class. They always had to turn prospective students away anyway, so why should a random professor conspire with the university administration to keep freshmen in for another year?

Other than the fact that you were six years behind me at Madison, I could have written every word of that. :slight_smile: (What’s with all these Badgers in this thread?)

Within my first few weeks at college, I realized that I needed to approach college very differently than I did high school. I dedicated myself, got a 3.88 that semester, made Dean’s List…and then never did quite that well again. :wink:

Correct about MIT. I’m class of '73, and the juniors my freshman year were pissed off that we had it so easy.

I TAed for several classes at Illinois, and was involved in grading for some, and the student’s year was never a factor - I’m not sure we even had it in the records we used for grading. I’d also suspect many professors would be very unhappy with such a policy. The professor who taught my Calc recitation section was not happy with pass/fail, and gave us grades in our reports. They didn’t count, of course.

Freshman courses were generally easier. They were introductory of course. Still 3.3 is perfectly respectable and once she specializes, she is likely to take courses that, while more advanced, are also more on her wavelength. Once I was taking most of my courses in my major, I had little more to do than go to class, listen, and learn and I collected my As.