The Meaning Of Grades for a PhD Student

As an undergrad, especially when talking to people applying to professional schools, you may have been accustomed to seeing fine distinctions made between students getting a 3.8 or a 3.7 GPA. Grad school doesn't work that way at all. Grades do still matter for clearing certain formal hurdles in the program; and beyond that, they may convey information to you about your professors' idea of how you are progressing and what your prospects, judging from your performance in a course.


Your future transcript

Really, after you finish grad school, nobody will pay much attention to your grades. They have better indicators: your written work, and detailed letters of recommendation.

If you're selling yourself as a methods or formal theory specialist, there might be a need to explain a B in those fields. If you take a 500-level course in Economics or Computer Science, even a C might not raise concern.


WU GSAS rules

Passing grades are C and above; below that there's only fail / no credit. Continuation of financial aid etc. requires you to "maintain satisfactory academic progress." Among other things, this means you must maintain a GPA of 3.0 on the following scale:


In particular, then, each C must be balanced off by an A, and each B- by B+. That is to say, in the eyes of the Dean of Graduate Studies, a grade of B- or C is suspect.


PhD program requirements

Core courses in the PhD program, including PS 5052, must be completed with a grade of B or better. (To be counted toward the MA degree, as wel, a course must be completed with a grade of B or better.) The WU Political Science PhD program requires you to complete two fields, defined in terms of a collection of courses completed. In all of those courses you must receive a grade of B+ or better. Notice then: a professor who gives you a B means to prohibit you from using that course toward your field requirements.


The further meaning of grades in PS 5052 Math Modeling

In Math Modeling I am prepared to assign the whole gamut of grades, from A+ to B, for students successfully completing the course. Note, however, that Math Modeling is not listed among the required courses for any field—it's just required for the program as a whole.

A+ indicates a really superior performance; I don't feel constrained to give that grade in any given year. I don't necessarily give an A+ to a student who came into the course already having mastered math skills at this level.

A indicates a strong performance, creating every expectation that you have the tools to do the mathematics required for your next course. A- falls a little short of that, but is fine. I am willing to give every student an A; indeed, that's my goal, but they have to earn it. That said, getting a lower grade than A does not indicate a character flaw!

B+ indicates that there were a few rough spots, but you did OK and, with continued hard work, should have no big problem in your future required courses due to math deficiencies. If you were considering doing one of the technical fields (methods or formal theory), you should reconsider this choice; but the right answer might still be Yes.

B indicates you completed the course with a level of proficiency, that, in my judgment, JUST clears the bar for entering our future required courses. Do not choose a field in methods or formal theory.

B- indicates there are still serious gaps in your skills. By assigning that grade, I would be single-handedly requiring you to take the course again in order to prepare for other required courses.

C indicates serious concern that you are cut out for this kind of work, although you would still be eligible to try by re-taking the course.