School Exchanges by GPA

Maastricht University requires most business and economics students to spend one of their six semesters at another university. Students choose from more than 100 schools covering six continents (no exchanges with Antarctica!). The number of slots available varies across schools; unsurprisingly, some schools are over- and others under-subscribed.

How to solve these problems of shortage and surplus? Simple: the University rations by student GPA, with positions in the queue for each university allocated on the basis of GPA. This year, the greatest excess demand was for Sciences Po in Paris-the three slots were filled by students in the top 20% of their class. Other cases of excess demand this year were Simon Fraser University in British Columbia (post-Olympic publicity?) and, as in every year, the University of California campuses. Is rationing by GPA sensible? To me, it seems both fair and incentive-compatible; it gives students an incentive to perform well here, and the more desirable campuses get the better students. But is there a fairer and more efficient system?


Do you think GPA fairly represents all of a students talents?
If so then yes basing it on GPA is fair. If not then no.

GPA measures ability to perform in school not in life or work. The two don't necessarily correlate. Limiting exposure due to the one limits the other.

Shaun G

In college, I had a choice between getting a great GPA by devoting all my time to studying or getting an acceptable GPA by devoting less time to studying but more time to student activities that were relevant to my major, such as working for the school newspaper.

I certainly don't regret that I chose the latter. Those student activities opened up more job possibilities for me than a half-a-point higher GPA would have.

Granted, if an amazing study-abroad experience hinged on my GPA, that might have factored into my choice ... but would it really have been in my long-term self interest?

Mike B.

You'd have to take into consideration GPA inflation. Some universities (and even departments within universities) inflate grades, giving an unfair advantage to those students who go to those universities.


I'm so tired of people who "could have done better on the SATs," "could have gotten better grades," "could have founded Google," etc., but "chose" not to...


The real news here is that these Dutch students are required to study elsewhere for a semester, and that most apparently choose to study abroad. Sadly, only a small percentage of American college and university students study abroad. According to the latest statistics published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a total of 262,416 U.S. students studied abroad in the 2007-2008 academic year. (See link: While this represents an increase over previous years, it's still a small percentage of all U.S. students.

Dan Depends on the field. In more technical and academic fields, GPA is typically a pretty good measure of ability in your future job. A lot of important skills are built into GPA as well, like organization and ability to hit deadlines.

But how do you objectively compare an art student to a computer programming student? What if the school they are requesting to go to has a world famous art program?

Ultimately I think the best method would be for students should pick there first couple of choices and also list a reason for each school next to it and review the selections by I hand.

But if you don't want to go through the effort of manual evaluations? You could do a lot worse than the proposed GPA system. I can't really think of any better perfectly objective method. Plus, as noted, it could lead to students trying harder in lower years if there is a specific school they are trying to go to.


Larry L. Johnson, Jr.

What about offering a GPA boost for students who choose to attend the underserved universities. So if you select one of the underserved universities you get a .5 point GPA boost to all courses you take during the semester you are there. "Better" students who are more focused on GPA may choose to get the bonus and thus go to schools who would not otherwise get those types of students. Students who are not excelling as much GPA wise may then get exposure to "better" schools they would not otherwise experience


I think this is pretty fair, since there's also limitations. It takes a lot of time and resources to review every student in depth and their CV's or Resumes, and GPA will give a reasonable relative standing between students. Also I don't think grade inflation is that big of an issue if they're all competing from the same department. They codl compromise I guess and have in depth interviews etc for the top 2 or 3 universities and have the rest just be on a first come first serve basis, but I doubt that it would make too much of a difference, the people getting into the better exchange programs would have relatively high GPA's no matter what.

Eric Hamilton

Where are the less desirable schools located?


How can GPA be a fair measure of anything? There are enough examples of the following (and it can be proven with data):

(i) same course, same campus, different profs --> not only learning quality is different, even grade curve and GPA earned is different

(ii) similar course, differnet campus --> all bets are off of mapping a GPA of student to the students real knowledge or capabilities.

(iii) Letter grades are given by mapping numerical scores to grades. Why is 89.9 a B+ but 90.1 becomes A-. But the bigger unfairness is that while numerical scores are only 0.002% apart , B+ and A- are 10% apart.

makes no sense


GPA is lousy way of evaluating students when used alone, sort of like pitcher wins in baseball, since it depends on so many external factors: major, workload, average GPA of the class, other project / group member etc. If an EE major taking 8 classes lost his top choice to a history major who is taking 4 classes only because one particular unforgiving class had a term long project that weights 50%, and one of his team member dropped out 3 weeks into the class, it hardly seem fair.


As a college student in the field of engineering I believe that while some students may be able to maintain a high GPA and have an active presence in campus organizations many cannot. I think a valid way to measure performance would be to award points to students holding leadership positions on campus in clubs and organizations. A leadership position should ensure meaningful participation and the extra points would increase the GPA score to promote these activities.

Experience outside of the classroom is immensely important yet many students miss out due to obsessions over grades


The Erasmus grant programme allows many european students to study abroad for a year/semester within the EU. Similarly to the Ducht programme (although this one is not compulsory) there are many of people wanting to get in the few places available in the best universities.
The system chosen in my country (Spain) is a weighted average grade based on GPA, a language test (a different one depending on the destination: english, french, german, portuguese...) and a personal interview.

PS. I'm actually going to Maastricht University as an exchange student for the next year on an Erasmus grant.


@Matt (#5),

I hear what you're saying, but "I could've founded Google" and "I could've gotten better grades" are completely different statements. The former is little more than an empty statement made by people with active fantasy lives. The latter, however, is straight from Econ 101. Time is a limited resource for any student, and there is an opportunity cost to earning a 4.0 GPA.

I'm a few courses away from finishing graduate school, and I faced a decision last semester: I could devote all of my study time to schoolwork and maintain my 4.0 GPA, or I could maintain passing grades and devote my study time to helping my family deal with an unexpected crisis.

It was a very simple decision, and it fits within the fundamental principles of economics.

Robert Echevarria

Everyone has made some great points. To add to them, some students *have* to work while in school. This will most likely have a diminishing effect on the GPA. If none of the students at Maastricht University have to work, then this is a none issue, but if some do, that should also be taken into account.


Granting any favors by GPA only drives students into wishy-washy majors like those of our SCOTUS justices, who needed high grades to get into law school. So we end up with a bunch of English and History majors too dumb to master science and math controlling a large part of our lives--a control exacerbated by the fact that POTUS and COTUS are hardly any different.

Use of a GPA weighted by difficulty of courses taken would be more justifiable, but, as in the problem of organ recipients, there will be misallocation of scarce resources unless the matter is settled by auction in a free market. GPA alone, weighted or not, does not measure, among other things, the degree of desire and eagerness of a person to attend an "elite" institution.

Eileen Wyatt

A sense of proportion is useful: GPA is not being used to hire students, award honors, or decide which are best prepared for life. It is being used to sort a presumably large number of students into their visiting semesters at other universities.

An A student at Maastricht should be better prepared than a B student to do well at a highly selective "other" university. Grade inflation at Maastricht would mean that a lot of students would cluster in the A-B range, but within a single department, it would not substantially change the relative rankings of the students. (And it's unlikely that Student X could do an entire degree only with easy graders while Student Y got only hard graders.) The very top A students are not affected by grade inflation -- they'd have A's anyway.

And using GPA means a quick computer sort on criteria everyone understands in advance, with no additional fuss.



"Sadly, only a small percentage of American college and university students study abroad."

I didn't study abroad...because I couldn't afford it. Don't assume U.S. students stay home because they want to--American universities are not cheap.


I once had a roomate from Maastricht who was spending her semester at George Washington University in DC. She seemed like a fairly intelligent person which I assumed were to compensate for her other severe personality flaws.
Even though I think the degree of selectivity should reflect the importance of the task at hand (in this case, low), it makes me wonder where else my ex-roomate could have ended up if they took into consideration her other "qualities."