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.


Super Round! Blessing or curse?

About halfway through the Summer quarter, MSx students register for Autumn classes and choose up to two classes for Super Round. Super Round is only applicable for Winter / Spring quarter classes since the MBAs have already registered for Autumn Quarter.

The Super Round is a priority registration that allows each student to push a list of classes to the top of the heap — the MBAs also have a priority selection process, but from what I understand, it works very differently than the MSx Super Round process. If I remember correctly, these Super Round electives are assigned BEFORE the MBA students get to register for Winter / Spring quarters – so it can be a truly valuable tool.

The MSx list is processed like this:

  • Everyone in the cohort is given a random number from 1 to n (n = number of students in cohort)
  • Super Round pass #1 starts with student #1 (ascending order)
    • Student #1 gets first available class on their own Super Round list (e.g. they get their first choice it if is available, second choice if first isn’t available, third if first and second aren’t available, etc…) until one class is assigned
    • Student #2 gets same selection process until one class is assigned
    • Student #n gets same selection process until one class is assigned
  • Super Round pass #2 starts with student #n (descending order)
    • Student #n gets the next available class on their Super Round list (e.g. it could be as high as their #2 Super Round choice or could be much lower depending on what is available)
    • Student #n-1 …
    • Student #1…
  • Remember, Super Round does not work for “across-the-street” classes – only for GSB classes

Use some strategy to maximize the value of your Super Round picks:

  1. Only use Super Round for those classes that are either “personal must take” or “otherwise impossible to get in” classes – for example, OB 374: Interpersonal Dynamics (a.k.a. Touchy Feely), OB 377: Paths to Power, STRAMGT 355: Managing Growing Enterprises, etc.
  2. If you have a “must take” class with multiple available sections, put ALL sections in your Super Round list. Your core classes and will deconflict as much as possible to make your Super Round selections work – but make sure that the selections are workable (e.g. don’t bother Super Rounding a class that is an impossible fit). You might prefer a different section / instructor, but it is easier to “body-to-body switch” from one section to another than it is to get into a class with a lengthy wait list.
  3. If you have 2 Super Round selections in the same quarter, make sure you can actually take both classes (e.g. deconflict your other less urgent course selections BEFORE Super Round)
  4. The MSx program office will give you a list of classes taken by former MSx/Sloan cohorts and also a list of classes that have historically filled early (and in which registration round they closed) – use this list carefully to understand which classes are likely to fill early. If a class closes in the 3rd round of regular registration, chances are you do not need to Super Round that class unless it is truly a “must have” class for you.
  5. Consider the worst case scenarios – what if you don’t get your first or second Super Round choices? Make sure your Super Round preference list is long enough that you at least get something that you really want to take, even if you don’t get your first or second choice.
  6. Plan plan plan… I’ve mentioned this many times before – make sure you plan out your entire academic year and all the classes you think you might want to take. I can almost guarantee that it won’t be right the first time and is very likely to change, but I can also guarantee that you will regret missing key classes if you don’t take the time to plan ahead. But also remain flexible!

Most important: Don’t be afraid to change your mind just because you Super Rounded a class! I had to drop one of my Winter Quarter Super Round selections: OB 377: Paths to Power. This was so I could deconflict ME 318: CAD/CAM Product Creation – as much as I would have loved to take Paths to Power, I would have been really disappointed to not take ME 318 – for me, truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My remaining Super Round course was STRAMGT 355.3: MGE in Spring Quarter. Fantastic class, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting. I also think this class is more valuable for the younger students (and I would consider it a must-take for the twenty-something MBA students). I’ll write more about this class in a separate post, but in short, this class teaches you how to make difficult decisions and how to have difficult conversations. Imagine you hired your best friend as VP of Sales and he isn’t meeting expectations – or your business took on an A-round from a VC firm and you’re getting ready to give bad news to the board of directors. These are the kinds of subjects that you will naturally run into with age and a little responsibility – but sitting in this class can help build “the right way” decision patterns into the young manager’s mind (or if you’re like me, an old dog trying to learn new tricks).

What other “must have” or “high demand” courses have you run into? Share your experiences for future cohorts.