Recruiters at big corporations usually focus on college students with high grade point averages (GPAs) as a way to reduce the number of applicants seeking internships and entry-level jobs.
Education advocates criticize such practice that automatically disqualifies many underrepresented students — especially low-income minorities — who may have the capability for the job but don’t meet the grade limit.
Strong grades have long been the key to success for college students aspiring for the best internships and career-starting opportunities. For many underrepresented students, earning a high GPA is the wall that prevents them from getting into companies with GPA preferences of at least a 3.0, or a B.
Data from the 2019 Job Outlook survey — completed from Aug. 1 through Oct. 8 by an association that describes itself as a “leading source on the employment of college students and hiring and job market trends”, shows that, beyond high GPAs, employers prioritize other factors among applicants as well, such as leadership positions on campus and extra-curricular activities prior to internships.
The GPA screening issue has attracted interest as advocates try to identify and address the hidden barriers that often block underserved students — some of whom may have scraped their way through college — from getting into a thriving job market.
Those advocates also point to other screening-out issues such as when recruiters search for talent only at selective or elite colleges or when applicants are interviewed on video platforms such as Skype or a recruiter’s software like HireVue that may be unfamiliar to underserved students.
According to some college career services officials at Bentley and Boston universities, they have long been asking companies to see the value in the “whole student” and not just a grade average. They also advise students not to put a GPA below 3.0 on their resumes so that the reader will focus their other relevant experiences.
Bunker Hill Community College examined its own “Learn and Earn” internship program and found that all the students who qualified for the internships — which include a travel allowance, wages and support — had the highest grade point averages, excluding many other students.
Bunker Hill revised its Learn and Earn program to improve internship opportunities for students. The program now includes small businesses and nonprofits along with major corporations in an effort to get a broader pool of applicants. Officials are also trying to find what employers want from Bunker Hill students and proactively inform the students.
Tufts University’s professor emeritus James Jennings said that some students get lower grades because of “what they had to deal with in life, where they live, where they went to high school, and the support mechanisms’’ they receive in college.”
Businesses are recognizing the need to look beyond grades after a series of “deep level” discussions on race and social justice. The Boston Chamber of Commerce President James Rooney said they will soon introduce an internship program for first-generation students and students of color.
Most everyone interviewed agreed that employers must find the best person for an open position but they also said that recruiters must look at other factors that can make a potential candidate successful.