Is grade inflation at target schools really a thing?

So I'm a senior at a relatively good public university that is a non-target for anything finance-related and I was looking into average GPAs per department and at my school the Economics department curves to a 2.7 (B-). I was talking to my other buddies who go to target schools and they tell me their business/finance/economics related classes generally curve anywhere between a 3.0 - 3.5 on average (B to A- range).

If this is the case, does that make people who go to schools that curve lower even worse off (generally non-target schools)? Never have I seen anywhere on an application where I can input the average curve or anything so this is generally not even taken into account.

I guess a counter-argument is that since these top target schools have so many smart kids, the curve is higher too to match that and the harder classes in general. I don't know too much about this but I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts!

WSO Elite Modeling Package

  • 6 courses to mastery: Excel, Financial Statement, LBO, M&A, Valuation and DCF
  • Elite instructors from top BB investment banks and private equity megafunds
  • Includes Company DB + Video Library Access (1 year)

Comments (81)

Aug 11, 2020 - 5:21pm

Target schools are harder tho, so it makes sense

non-target speaking

path less traveled

  • 3
  • 6
Aug 12, 2020 - 12:52pm

Are we sure about this? Cause I've compared my curriculum in a non-target university in Europe and I have plenty of overlap in the material, the resources etc. And from what I know/have seen, there is also a tendency for kids to also purchase solved homeworks / have tutors for a lot of it.

  • Intern in Other
Aug 16, 2020 - 1:30am

False. The kids from ivy leagues who are known to grade inflate in my SA class were probably the dumbest kids in our class. The Non-Targets/Wharton-esque kids were the real performers.

I also go to school down the street from one of the top ivies, besides a network, there's not much more to gain with there degree versus mine.

Learn More

300+ video lessons across 6 modeling courses taught by elite practitioners at the top investment banks and private equity funds -- Excel Modeling -- Financial Statement Modeling -- M&A Modeling -- LBO Modeling -- DCF and Valuation Modeling -- ALL INCLUDED + 2 Huge Bonuses.

Learn more
  • Intern in IB - Ind
Aug 17, 2020 - 1:49pm

Definitely disagree and you would have to be very smart to even get into Harvard compared to a random non-target

Aug 19, 2020 - 1:25pm

No they aren't. Education is so standardized throughout the United States that the course material is basically the same.

"Work ethic, work ethic" - Vince Vaughn

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 11, 2020 - 5:26pm

Definitely inflation, but like what you said, all your peers are incredibly intelligent so your competition is on another level

Aug 11, 2020 - 5:29pm

Yes and no; the better GPA does help people in undergraduate business schools (especially targets), but most recruiters know that the average GPAs in those programs should be higher as well. From my semitarget, you'll need around a 3.9 to be competitive in recruiting.

If you are doing econ at a HYP etc. or even a non-target that doesn't have a business program, you can get away with a lower GPA, but even here, higher is still better.

I think it is more dynamic than the target vs. nontarget debate, it really depends on what you're trying to do. If you're an econ major, they won't hold you to the same GPA standards that they hold a business major just because of how hard the programs are.

That said, you will need a higher GPA from a nontarget because you have to be at the top of your class, because the school is inevitably worse than the target.

  • 2
  • Intern in IB - Gen
Aug 11, 2020 - 6:26pm

a 3.9? that seems ridiculous for a target cutoff. Can you give a general idea of what type of school it is? I'm guessing brown/dartmouth, but could be like georgetown or notre dame or something too

Aug 11, 2020 - 8:10pm

Does your school's grading scale go above a 4.0? I know some schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt offer A+ grades that make the scale go up to 4.3, and MIT goes up to 5. Otherwise I can't believe you would need almost straight A's at a target

I’m a fun guy. Obviously I love the game of basketball. I mean there’s more questions you have to ask me in order for me to tell you about myself. I'm not just gonna give you a whole spill... I mean, I don't even know where you're sitting at
Aug 11, 2020 - 6:19pm

Been to both types of schools. Tbh both might be still 'hard' (material wise) but if you switched the populations and both took either ones classes a class with 5-10% A's would turn to like 70-80 for a target school and those top 5-10% A's would turn to like 1-2% would get an A in the target school version of the class (this means out of 100 kid lecture, 1 person would be able to get an A in the target school class. Someone who might have attended this university on scholarship but competitive for target schools; however, still questionable).

Additionally, you have curves in both schools still lol. And the tests will quiz with a much higher capacity in target schools e.g. stupid questions that pull from one sentence in one slide vs doing their best to make the test straightforward at a nontarget (but still the subject might be tough, so it's hard to judge unless you've sat in both environments).

TLDR not only are tests way easier the kids literally are in a different planet when it comes to work ethic, school smarts and habits, intelligence, etc. There is just such a small tangent of similarity. Also consider there are 10x the amount of students in non targets vs. small targets. This is if you control for major and class e.g. calculus at the community college vs MIT. But yeah even for those super tough majors like EE or CS it's tough anywhere usually, and a kid from target school would have to still study and learn but the expectations are just so much lower.

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Aug 11, 2020 - 7:22pm

Didn't even realize it was a TLDR because it's so long and covers something totally different instead of summarizing previous paragraphs

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 11, 2020 - 7:59pm

Yes, grade inflation is big at HYP, you gotta be a dumbass or take the worst possible class combo to get below a 3.0

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Aug 11, 2020 - 8:07pm

Do you go to one? If so, does that mean you need a higher GPA to standout among the crowd, or would you be fine with a 3.4 because fuck it it's yale/harvard. Apparently princeton is harder

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Aug 11, 2020 - 11:38pm

Harvard it's piss easy heard something like 3.7 is the average; they are notorious for dishing out As. Princeton is the opposite - depending on the major you'd be looking at 3.0 average or even 2.8 for CBE majors. I imagine Yale will be somewhere in between but closer to Harvard.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 10:17am

Harvard released then quickly pulled data that the most commonly issued grade was an A
Penn has A+'s that count as 4.3
I think Princeton inflates less

You're just talking out of your ass. No, A+ at Penn counts the same as an A (4.0)
Aug 11, 2020 - 10:37pm

I had friends that went to Boston University, not a target per se; however, they used to complain about grade deflation. Apparently there was a maximum amount of 4.0's a course could give for that specific section. I don't know if anyone else can confirm that.


  • 1
  • Incoming Analyst in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 12:31am

Fmr BU student, grade deflation is terrible in some departments and just bad in others. Average is generally 2.9-3.1. Chem, bio and math depts are notorious deflators.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 12:55am

Current BU student here, Questrom (Business) and Engineering school have the highest grade deflation. I think there were few ranking were BU was ranked #1 for grade deflation. The administration thinks it makes it more "rigorous" and "challenging" and wants BU grade to mean something but it really doesn't since it's non target af

Aug 12, 2020 - 1:14am

BU students love to complain but in reality their school is a joke. I transferred out with a 4.0 and know numerous successful alumni who graduated with 3.9+ GPAs. There's a widespread victim mentality at the school, if a BU student complains about grade deflation to you just know they are not a high achiever.

  • Analyst 1 in Consulting
Aug 12, 2020 - 10:36am

BU students love to complain but in reality their school is a joke. I transferred out with a 4.0 and know numerous successful alumni who graduated with 3.9+ GPAs. There's a widespread victim mentality at the school, if a BU student complains about grade deflation to you just know they are not a high achiever.

Agreed, transferred out and the school I transferred to (not known for grade deflation) was multitudes more difficult

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Aug 13, 2020 - 2:39pm

Victim mentality is widespread in Questrom, classes are easy as shit and students softer than baby shit...nowhere near as difficult--either in coursework, grading, or course hours--as, say, CAS Chem dept where there is a quota of F's to give out

ENG grade deflation isn't that bad, somewhere around a 2.8 - 2.9 avg but keep in mind it's not a top program so you're not competing against a bunch of geniuses

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Aug 12, 2020 - 9:01am

I went to Florida State and grade inflation and deflation occur. Our business school mandates a normal distribution for grades so you can either get bumped up or bumped down depending on how close you are to a grade letter classification on the bell curve. Example) I'd be sitting on a 92.9 about to get an A- and would be bumped down into a lower A- while someone else would be bumped into a higher A- from a B+.

I hate the US system of grading with letters. If you are a good student and have a 92.9 but the cutoff is a 93 for an A, you're getting lumped into a grade group with people who could have been on the lower side of the A- scale. IMO a pure number average is the best.

My high school used to do a system from 0 to 10 with 10 being the highest and just averaged your grade score over the difficulty of each class to weigh grades differently.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 9:11am

Using the exact number as a grade would create too much variability. Also, I dont agree with the idea of a weighted grade score based on difficulty. I had that back in HS, but it makes no sense in college when people in a university are in different schools, getting different degrees, and studying different majors

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Aug 12, 2020 - 9:55am

The "difficulty" weight was based off of hours of class a week. Harder classes were longer. For example, Algebra was lets say 6 hours a week vs Calculus of 9

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Aug 12, 2020 - 9:32am

Go to a state school and generally speaking classes are curved to a B-/B (2.7 - 3.0) median. I have personally had higher (A-) and lower (C) a few times but if you factor those in together it works out to the above. Grade deflation isn't a policy at my school, but I've had professors who ramp up the difficulty on the next exam to bring the averages down.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Aug 12, 2020 - 9:56am

Yeah that'w how it is at FSU also. Some teachers will see that everyone is getting a good grade so they will hit you with an extremely hard exam to bring the entire class average down.

Aug 12, 2020 - 10:04am

Just having this discussion about State Flagships especially in engineering. Easier to get into and hard as woodpecker lips to get out of. Flagship Econ and Finance professors have something to prove and purposefully make classes tougher. I have an Ivy League Econ type instructing Econ and the school has restrictions on A's, B+'s and B's. Like wise schools like G-Tech and your Technical schools like Rochester Poly can be like this as well.

"All men are alike in their dreams, and all men are alike in the promises they make. The difference is what they do."— Jean Baptiste Moliere
  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 10:35am

I go to a non target and literally every class I've had has been curved in some way. Also Ivy's are more difficult especially with the curve since you are competing against a smarter population. With minimal effort, no reason to have below a 3.3 at a non target

  • Intern in PE - Other
Aug 12, 2020 - 12:13pm

I went to a "top 10 school," whatever that even means aside from justifying tens of thousands on tuition per year. There was probably some grade inflation going on but that's not the most worthwhile thing to note when it comes to recruitment.

We knew that we would need very high GPAs to stand a chance in the recruitment process. As a result, upperclassmen communicated this to underclassmen and a lot of kids took the easiest course load possible for freshman/sophomore year. I'm talking two years without many major-specific classes and deferring acceptance of any special (read: more difficult) academic programs or hard majors.

It's not that hard to get a 3.95 when you've mostly taking general education courses.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Aug 12, 2020 - 12:20pm

Went to one of Dartmouth / Cornell / Brown / Duke and can confirm that finance recruiters care a lot about GPA and academic performance via oncampus recruiting. 3.8 will be hit or miss with ultra competitive places passing on you but a 3.9+ will pretty much guarantee you first rounds everywhere you apply.

  • VP in 
Aug 12, 2020 - 2:02pm

I went to a semi-target (top LAC) and always thought my school had some problematic grade inflation. Then I took a graduate-level mathematics course about pricing derivatives at a state school nearby one year. That course was the easiest course I took in college, by a long shot. Other students complained that the material was too difficult so our exams were just homework problems we'd already seen, but with different numbers (don't ask me how a graduate math course required calculation). One midterm, the student seated next to me was clearly cheating - his blackberry was on his desk, screen on with what looked like solutions on it. It vibrated at one point and I shot him a nasty look, to which he whispered "sorry, bro". This course was so easy that I was legitimately concerned that there wouldn't be enough differentiation between students such that making a minor calculation mistake on an exam would be enough to drop me to an A-.

I'm not concerned about any grade inflation at my school.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 12, 2020 - 2:28pm

Yeah I just switched out of an undergrad business school to a more liberal arts school, and the difference is pretty huge. The business school classes are so easy pretty much everyone gets a 90+ on every exam, so they have to curve down to a low 3 so everyone doesn't get 4.0. Taking econ classes this year, they curved the classes up to a 3.5, but man, did I have to work hard.

Aug 13, 2020 - 4:10pm

I transfered from a non-target to a target that curves to a 3.0 in the business school. The school I was at for my freshman year was a joke comparred to where I am now - the curve is definetly there to compensate for harder classes

Aug 14, 2020 - 9:52am

went to a non target, studied engineering. while competition wasn't great (although def not nonexistent) the professors/curriculum/testing/everything were all total fucking garbage. certainly made things much harder

Aug 14, 2020 - 10:18am

Went to a super non-target and our try hard professors are ALWAYS using curriculum from honors classes in harvard. ive been in 2 econ classes where ~70% of the students did NOT pass. hilarious. one of the professors was fired

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Aug 14, 2020 - 10:35am

lmao. They should've know you guys wouldnt be able to handle that. Tbf tho I went to W and we used cases from HBS, so sometimes may just be professors being lazy

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Aug 14, 2020 - 11:53am

Absolutely a real thing. Also real within schools, where undergrad business schools are curved to a higher grade than other colleges at the university.

This is not to say that targets are easier. Some just know that their standing will continue to be high if they take care of their students with good GPAs/placements.

Start Discussion

Total Avg Compensation

June 2021 Investment Banking

  • Director/MD (9) $911
  • Vice President (35) $364
  • Associates (202) $234
  • 2nd Year Analyst (114) $151
  • Intern/Summer Associate (97) $145
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (27) $145
  • 1st Year Analyst (419) $131
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (337) $82