Johnson students vote to enact grade non-disclosure

By: Katelyn Godoy
Photo of a professor teaching at the front of a lecture hall
Stijn van Osselaer, associate dean for Academic Affairs, teaches a class

Johnson students have voted to enact a policy of grade non-disclosure, effective September 7, 2018. The student-driven policy applies to the school’s full-time students in its Two-Year, One-Year, and Johnson Cornell Tech MBA programs.

The change comes after a year-long strategic study of student academic experience, recruitment, and grade non-disclosure by a committee of faculty, staff, and students. The study was initiated by Johnson’s Student Council in the fall of 2017. With recruitment for MBA graduates starting earlier than ever before, there was a desire to evaluate the alignment of academics and recruiting. The committee conducted interviews, focus groups, and surveys with students, alumni, recruiters, and faculty, and studied many ideas for strengthening Johnson’s program, such as full or partial grade non-disclosure and alternative grading systems. The committee ultimately recommended that the question of grade non-disclosure be put to a student referendum and that Johnson’s letter-grade system remain in place.

Photo of Harrison and Symone smiling
Student Council co-chairs Harrison Jobe, MBA ’19, and Symone Williams, MBA ’19, after speaking at an event in early 2018

“We pride ourselves on our academic rigor and on graduating students who excel on multiple dimensions,” says Associate Dean for MBA Programs Vishal Gaur. “So we worked closely with students to find ways to balance Johnson’s learning goals with recruitment needs. We hope that grade non-disclosure will encourage students to take more academic risks and think holistically about their education, personal development, leadership, and the impact they want to have in the future.”

Asking recruiters to respect the student referendum

Under the terms of the referendum, students will not disclose their grades to recruiters until after a full-time, post-graduation job offer has been extended. The policy covers grade point averages (GPAs), grades in courses, and grades on assignments or exams. Exceptions include dual degree students who are pursuing non-MBA roles (e.g. JD/MBA candidates who needs to disclose their GPAs to law firm recruiters), Johnson Cornell Tech students applying to positions not restricted to MBAs at the Cornell Tech campus, and students applying for fellowships, public sector, international, and/or nonprofit positions.

“The exceptions are important.  For example, for some positions, such as in the federal government, students are required to share a GPA,” says David Capaldi, MBA ’95, and director of Johnson’s Career Management Center. “Where the policy applies, we are asking that recruiters respect the student referendum and refrain from asking Johnson students about their grades.”

Capaldi, who also leads advising for Johnson’s investment banking students, said he doesn’t think the change will significantly impact recruiting.

“Recruiters know how to ask the right technical and case questions to assess whether a student is ready for the job, and that kind of data is far more helpful to a firm than a GPA,” explains Capaldi, who worked on Wall Street for 20 years before returning to Johnson. “In investment banking, for example, our students have consistently shown their ability to perform in interviews and on the job. We continue to have a very high internship conversion rate for banking, and we are seeing similar trends in consulting and marketing this year as well. Ultimately, that kind of track record is what attracts firms to recruit at Johnson.”

Photo of faculty clapping in an auditorium after a presentation
Judges for the Two-Year MBA Integrative Case Competition react to a student presentation. Case competitions are just one of the ways students exhibit lessons learned in the classroom.

Aligning Johnson’s academic experiences with its values

Photo of students working on an activity outdoors with puzzle pieces
Students in the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program and One-Year MBA program work together on a team building and leadership activity

Victoria Wilmarth, MBA ’18, says she thinks the vote will strengthen the school’s collaborative community.

“Teamwork and a community focus are foundational to Johnson,” says Wilmarth, who served as faculty chair of the Johnson Student Council during her time at Johnson. She was also a member of the committee that studied the issue over the 2017–2018 academic year.

“This vote helps bring Johnson’s academic experiences into alignment with the school’s values. I think this will deepen students’ commitment to collaborative learning and support academic risk taking for professional and personal development.” Wilmarth is now the Deland Fellow in Hospital Administration at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“We hope that the policy will further a more holistic learning for MBAs and promote collaboration across all programs on campus. At Cornell Tech, MBAs work on teams and take graduate-level technical classes with their peers in engineering programs,” explains Marina Dadashev, MBA ’01, and the head of Career Management at Cornell Tech. “Additionally, every year a significant number of MBAs start their own ventures. The policy will support our students in stepping outside of their comfort zones.”


  1. Would it be possible to know what was the result of the vote? i.e. breakdown.
    Thank you.

  2. Hi Joao,

    Nearly 90 percent of the student body voted, with an overwhelming majority in favor.

  3. Is this what the “top 10” business schools in the country do?

  4. This is an interesting concept. I was thinking back on what was accomplished when I was on the SFC 1987-1989. We moved smokers out of Malott Hall, we did a competitive procurement of a new cafe vendor, we wrestled with the first of the US News & World Report surveys (not fun) and the first Business Week survey (fun), and we participated in the Dean Search meetings. I can see advantages and disadvantages of the move – the primary advantage is that it forces the recruiters to not be lazy and use grades as a proxy for quality. Of course it will hurt students who are less verbal and confident in interviews.

  5. “Under the terms of the referendum, students will not disclose their grades to recruiters until after a full-time, post-graduation job offer has been extended. The policy covers grade point averages (GPAs), grades in courses…”

    Interview snippet:
    Senior Interviewer at major bank: So your concentration was in Finance?
    Interviewee: Yes.
    Interviewer: What do you consider your most important course in Finance at Cornell?
    Interviewee: Capital Allocation
    Interviewer: How did you do in that class?
    Interviewee: Pretty well.
    Interviewer: Good, but I mean what grade did you get in this most important course?
    Interviewee: I can’t tell you.
    Interviewer: What?
    Interviewee: The student body and faculty decided that we don’t release grades until AFTER we get a firm offer.
    Senior interviewer: Really?!… Say, how do you like those Mets this year?
    (Effective end of interview)

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