GSB Grades: The elusive “H”

I certainly didn’t know this before starting at Stanford GSB, but we don’t have a “normal” 4-point grading system.

I don’t know the genesis of why this odd 6-point system was even necessary, given that GSB has a policy making final transcripts completely confidential. In the MSx program, we never even find out who our “valedictorian” is – and unlike the MBA program, which has an “Arjay Miller” recognition for the top 10% academic performers, the Sloans pretty much just graduate. Of course, it is possible to finish the program with a GPA too low to get the MS Management degree, but I’m pretty sure you still get to walk and get a pat on the back.

But in case you wanted to know, here’s how the GSB’s oddball grading system works (official explanation here):

  • 6-point grading system
    • U = Unsatisfactory = Fail / No Credit
    • LP = Low Pass = 1.5
    • P = Pass = 3.0
    • HP = High Pass = 4.0
    • H = Honors = 6.0
  • GPA is calculated on “Credits Attempted” – so failing is bad
  • Mandatory grade normal distribution curve – that is, for any given course section, the grades must be normally distributed (centered between P and HP – so if the professor elects to give an H to one student, he would have to give an LP to another student, or simply more P-grades than HP-grades – as far as I know, they can give 50% P and 50% HP and be fine, as long as no LP / H grades are given)
  • “Across-the-Street” classes are still graded on a 4.0 system (e.g. A through F) and do not count toward your GSB GPA, but can be used as elective credits if a passing grade is obtained

So, as you can see, it is detrimental to your GPA to get an LP and REALLY GOOD to get an H. The program graduation requirements are structured so if you get “P” grades for everything, you will have more than sufficient GPA to graduate. An H grade will easily offset a couple LP grades (on a per-credit hour basis) – so getting a couple H’s in the right classes will have you sitting pretty (e.g. an H in a 4 credit class will have a huge upward pull on your cumulative GPA).

Catching up on sleep - Getting H's is hard work!

Catching up on sleep – Getting H’s is hard work!

This can also help you prioritize your workload – if you are facing a time crunch and need to choose studying for one final exam or another, your first criteria for decision should be to avoid the LP. It’s not a huge challenge to get a P in every class, as long as your attendance and class participation are reasonable and you don’t shrug off assignments. But one or two LPs here and there won’t kill you either. Next, if you’re doing well in a class and have particularly good rapport with the professor, pushing to get an H will pay off in spades. If this is your aim, make sure your in-class comments are on-point, highly contributory and well-reasoned. I personally dislike students who choose to ass-kiss outside of class – but if you chose to do that, make sure it is meaningful, intelligent and be sure to have a complete understanding of what that professor has published recently. Going into office hours to BS is fine, but don’t look stupid because you didn’t take a few minutes to make yourself aware of what your professor is working on outside of class.

Which brings us to an interesting counter-point – unless you’re planning to get a PhD, go to law school / med school / or whatever, this is likely the last time you will be in a structured degree program. Don’t just focus on grades for the sake of grades – if you’re in the MSx program, you only have 1 year to make the most of the Stanford experience. Yes, you need to meet your obligations and in particular, don’t let your study groups down. But at the same time, if you don’t graduate with a 4.0, most likely no one will ever find out…

A good friend once told me a GPA joke: Do you know what they call the guy who graduated last in his class, from the worst medical school on the planet? He’s still called “Doctor”…

In your case, you’ll still have Stanford GSB on your diploma and a huge network of alumni at your fingertips.



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