Kellogg is definitely unlike any other academic pool I’ve played in; it is different in two main ways. First, I’ve never been in an environment with such a high density of really smart and talented people, and this is definitely beneficial in terms of intellectual stimulation. Second all exams at Kellogg are graded on a curve, with about 30 – 40% of the class getting an A, about 50 – 60% getting a B and then the bottom 10% end up with a C. This doesn’t seem so bad, until you consider the fact that your final grade is now dependent on the performance of your awesome classmates, and when you’re among a group of incredibly smart people, the difference between an A and a C might not be as large as you think.
Stealing a line from my consultant friends, “So what?”. Does all of this matter? Do grades matter? Being at a top business school already says a lot about your intellectual ability and potential. Unfortunately, you still might need good grades if you plan to recruit for certain industries like investment banking or management consulting. Of course this varies from company to company. I’ve heard of Kellogg folks who had a 3.0 GPA and got into McKinsey…
If your school has a grade non-disclosure policy (Kellogg doesn’t), you may worry less about grades, but is this really true? My current understanding is that schools with a non-disclosure policy still give students the right to disclose their grades to employers. So if an employer asks students of such schools about grades, I’m not sure how they would respond without looking like they’re hiding something.
I think getting good grades is something worth striving for. Most of us haven’t gotten this far by settling for less than stellar grades, and that habit might be hard to shake off in “old age”. Notwithstanding, I also think that in some cases the difference between an A and a B might be three to four times the required effort. In such situations, channeling all that effort into getting that A might mean missing out on business school activities that provide opportunities to grow personally and professionally, build new relationships and participate in transformational experiences. This is when focusing on good grades can be a mistake.