Rating System At HSE Through The Eyes Of Students
Rating. The word that not only every student of Higher School of Economics knows and cares about, but also yet another feature of HSE that makes it so different from other universities.
While it’s relatively easy to figure out how this whole system works and find all the details on what those ratings are and what they are made of on the official website of HSE Academic Handbook (click on the link to check it out: https://www.hse.ru/en/studyspravka/rate/), getting yourself used to this system and figuring out what to do with it might be a lot harder than one would imagine it to be.
What are the tips and tricks to quickly adapt to this new competitive environment? What HSE students themselves think about those ratings? And what would they want to let freshmen students know to help them both occupy a high rating position and still have some time for extra curriculum activities, their hobbies and personal life?
Those are the questions I decided to ask HSE students of various majors who managed to successfully reach the top of their studying program ratings by the end of their very first semester (two modules) at HSE.
1. Was it hard to get yourself used to the system in the very beginning? Did you already have a certain goal to reach in terms of the rating position when you just started studying at HSE?
The transition from school to university is definitely a big challenge and rating system is not the only thing that students have to get used to. As Victoria Shaparenko, a student majoring in History, mentions:
“To be quite honest, it wasn’t that hard to get used to the rating system. Wrapping your mind around the fact that now all of the assignments and seminars are strictly graded, and you can’t really re-take any of those or submit them after the deadline was a lot harder”.
As it turns out, just as studying at any other university is, studying at HSE has so many distinctive features about it and practices one has to find out about and learn how to deal with that quite often students simply don’t have enough time to think about the rating. Sometimes it might be better to just try to do one’s best here and now instead of thinking about something that is only going to happen in distant future. Just as Victoria states,
“Following advice that curators gave us, I decided to spend first half of the studying year getting myself used to all of the other aspects of studying at HSE”.
Darya Gorbacheva, studying Public Policy and Analytics, also shares this point of view:
“Frankly speaking, yes, it was really hard to figure out how important, in terms of the credits, each subject was and how grades we get for it would affect the rating position. But I wasn’t really trying that hard to understand that. I just kept studying at my normal pace, didn’t miss any classes and did all of the assigned projects”.
“I knew about the rating system and also had a clear understanding of a crucial role it plays in the studying process” – shares Polina Belekhova, a student of Asian and African studies program. “My only goal was to be as good of a student as I could be – not to get in TOP-5 or reach the highest rating position, which seemed to be nearly impossible to me at a time”.
Another factor that plays a huge role in this process of adaptation is that it’s quite hard to estimate how high one’s rating position will be: in most cases, students don’t know both how other students are doing and how good they themselves will do at a particular subject.
“When I just got accepted and found out about the rating, I didn’t really worry that much about it. It was practically impossible to get an estimation of my position in it” – says Ivan Serebrennikov, an HSE student majoring in Economics.
However, even though it is extremely hard to get used to studying at HSE and there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to one’s future rating position, it would be wrong to assume that there are no students who not only knew about the rating prior to their enrolment but were also prepared for it.
“I knew about the rating system even when I was still in high school and just started thinking about a university to apply to. My third cousin actually studies at HSE, so he told me most of the stuff I know about it. When I got my national state exam results I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to get a scholarship. So, I started analyzing my chances to still continue studying with a 70% discount that I got. I prepared myself to work hard for it even though I couldn’t even imagine that it would be possible to meet that goal of mine” – says Kirill Mukhin, a student studying Sociology and Social Informatics.
2. What are your thoughts on the rating system in general? Does it motivate you? Do you feel stressed because of it?
As we would expect, opinions regarding this question were divided. Some students mentioned negative consequences of having such a competitive environment in a university. As Polina Belekhova believes:
“Our system, without a doubt, causes a lot of stress especially when it comes to those students who can lose their tuition fee discounts and, of course, those students who are just used to working hard and doing their best. For those people this competitive environment or their own rating position which is lower than they would expect it to be can be extremely upsetting and create this shift in the mindset - make them think that they simply cannot reach some of their goals. In such case, rating system does not motivate them to keep pushing forward”.
“To make it clear, I am not an active proponent of our rating system. Yes, it does motivate both tuition-paying and tuition-free students to study (to avoid losing their tuition fee discounts and to be able to choose a minor of one’s interest), but there are also some side effects. Such a competitive environment can have a negative effect on inter-personal relationships: students might be jealous of each other, lose trust and become less open. Another side effect of the rating system is that pressure that comes with it. Ever since I saw my name there in the rating, I felt this constant pressure to keep up and this fear of losing my face if I get a lower rating position next time. I was so annoyed because it felt like I had to study not for myself but for the rating, but I couldn’t help it” – agrees Darya Gorbacheva.
“That’s what I think about this system: if one’s only goal is to get a high rating position or GPA, then, as any other similar system would, our rating system causes stress. Motivation that rating system gives is limited due to the fact that there are not that many ways to benefit from it. For instance, almost all of my classmates were able to choose and study the minor they wanted to because there were so many options. It gets trickier when we talk about the scholarships. I personally, was never able to get it because the criteria for choosing students to get an increased state academic scholarship for noteworthy academic achievements is the same for all studying programs. Of course, for some students majoring in different subjects it’s a lot easier to get the highest grade than it is for students studying Economics. Because of such factors, tuition-free students don’t really have a motivation to study that hard to go up from the 30th to 15th rating position. For tuition-paying students, however, it’s different: they, obviously, want to get a higher tuition fee discount and become tuition-free students” – says Ivan Serebrennikov.
Following Ivan’s idea, some other students, emphasize the importance of the rating system for tuition paying students. In general, it seems that they believe that advantages of this system definitely outweigh the stress it causes. Just as Victoria Shaparenko says:
“I personally find our rating system extremely beneficial for tuition-paying students: for them it’s a way to get a higher tuition fee discount or to even become a tuition-free student. Moreover, there are some bonuses even for tuition-free students. For instance, rating position was the determining factor in choosing students to go to a summer school in Bremen and a couple of students from our department actually went there. I don’t think that rating system is the only or the most important reason behind the stress that students have to deal with. I personally stress out because of the grades we get for the seminars and tests a lot more. When ratings are published at the very end of a semester, after the exam week, students just accept their position as it is: they look at it, turn off their laptops and go to rest a bit because they can finally sleep for more than 4 hours a day and be happy”.
Both Yaroslava Kalyanova , majoring in Philology, and Kirill Mukhin have a similar point of view:
“No, I would say rating is not as horrible as it might seem. It does motivate you (not to be better than someone else, but to study more to get a higher tuition fee discount or increase your chances to participate in an exchange program) and even though you have to work hard for it, this system is very effective and fair”. - Y.K.
“If we are talking about the effect the rating system has on HSE students, it both motivates them and causes stress. If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be working so hard on some of the projects, but I also wouldn’t be sleep deprived in such a case. In general, I think that the motivation our rating system gives us is more important than other side effects of it – it keeps me, as a tuition-free student, going and motivates me to work on those projects I don’t really want to. Such a competitive environment might cause some tension and conflicts among tuition-paying students. However, I believe that in such case personality of students would play a more important role”. - K.M.
Some students were not only ready to share their opinion on the system but also suggested some of the changes that could be made.
“More benefits for students that achieve high rating positions should be introduced in order to motivate them and increase their payoffs from being constantly stressed out and competing with others. Even if changes were made to the scholarship criteria that would already be more than enough. It is a lot easier to get scholarship for volunteering and participation in various events than it is to get scholarship for academic achievements that requires a lot more time and effort. The choice that students have to make in this case is between working really hard, stressing out and competing with students from HSE campuses all over the country to get a scholarship for academic achievements and getting a scholarship for volunteering. There is no in-between option: you have to work extremely hard otherwise you get nothing. It is a big problem” - Ivan Serebrennikov.
“If I would change anything about our rating system, I would introduce a special separate rating for tuition-free students. This would help to avoid those situations when a student who is ranked 5th among other tuition-paying students (which is extremely impressive!) can’t get a tuition fee discount because there are 10 tuition-free students with higher ranking positions” - Victoria Shaparenko.
3. What, in your opinion, was a key to your success? What did you do, in particular, to reach this high rating position?
One would expect students from the very top of the rating to have a well thought-through strategy they had to stick to in order to reach such high positions. However, as it turns out, quite often students admit that they themselves were surprised by such high rating positions.
“I couldn’t even imagine myself ever reaching the top. Now that I think about it, it were actually my parents who had this dream about me being at the very top of the rating and tried to push me to reach this goal (which is why the stress I had to deal with was even worse). Of course, it was nice to see my name there at the top and my parents were happy about it, but it was so clear that I won’t be able to keep such a high position… I changed my way of thinking and now I just try to focus on studying instead of focusing on my grades and rating position. However, I am well aware of the fact that rating will always be there, and I will always feel a bit stressed because of it”. - Polina Belekhova
“I had this minimal goal to reach – keep my tuition fee discount, and this big dream of becoming a tuition-free student. I didn’t really believe in myself, but I was still working as hard as I could and ended up at the top”. - Kirill Mukhin
“I didn’t have any particular goals in terms of my position in rating. I just knew that I had to push myself and work really hard on every project not to get a good grade but to gain new experience and knowledge, to learn more about those disciplines I might want to study or even to work in in the future. Being ranked 1st is a true miracle but staying at that position would be even more miraculous”. - Darya Gorbacheva
“I wasn’t expecting to get such a high rating position. Quite on the contrary, I thought that many students would get all the highest grades and get a higher position than me (who had 8 for Safe Living Basics). I personally believe that there is a clear correlation between one’s rating position and his/her ability to quickly grasp and learn what they are taught. However, there are also some classes where you can’t really be sure about the grade you will get because it does not depend on your skills or the time and effort you put into learning that subject. Which is why, yes, you do need to be lucky too”. - Ivan Serebrennikov
However, as we learn from Victoria Shaparenko, there is, in fact, a strategy by following which one can possibly get a high enough rating position – just doing what you like and working as hard as you can.
“I was, actually, ranked 9th in the current rating, but got to the top in the cumulative rating because of 6 additional credits I got for two elective courses. I have no regrets about taking those electives instead of focusing on those mandatory courses all of us had to take. I was a lot happier translating from Greek than I would have been reading those gothic novels I have no interest in. Sometimes you need to set clear priorities and do so not based on the grades you can get but on your own academic interests”.
4. Are there any lifehacks or tips and tricks you would like to give to freshmen students at HSE?
Interestingly enough, both students who mentioned how stressful studying is because of the rating system and those who emphasized advantages of such a system wanted to give freshmen students just one advice: not to make reaching a high rating position their priority.
“You can easily get good grades and a high rating position if you just study hard enough and do what professors ask you to. If you have this particular goal – go for it. In my opinion, however, it’s a lot better to prioritize various academic achievements such as writing an article to be published in a well-known scientific journal, participating in various conferences and expeditions”. - Victoria Shaparenko
“What I find the most important is to keep calm. All of those dramatic messages in group chats and the “don’t forget about the rating” mindset bring no good to you. Yes, you do have to study hard, be attentive and good at time management, but you also have to care about yourself and make sure to find a way to avoid the burnout”. - Yaroslava Kalyanova
“Don’t go “all in” to be at the very top of the rating. Instead of that, put yourself out there and do everything you want to take part in – do volunteering, join student clubs, become a part of HSE’s sport team. These years we spent as university students probably going to be the most memorable years of our lives and we simply can’t miss this chance to try something new. I would definitely prefer to have memories about taking part in different events and spending time with my friends than to only be able to recall how scared I was of being on the second place”. - Darya Gorbacheva
“When you just get in it might seem like this rating and competition are extremely important, but, in fact, what is really important is just to study hard and not to think about your future rating position. As someone who felt absolutely exhausted by the end of my first year of studying at HSE, I can finally admit that I regret worrying so much about something so short-term as rating position. Yes, if you need to get a higher tuition fee discount, the best way to do it would be to work extremely hard during the first year at HSE and then to finally slow down once the goal is reached. However, if you know that the chances of success are extremely low, it might be better to just focus on studying itself and not on the rating”. - Polina Belekhova
“You should first analyze those benefits that a high rating position would give you and the possible payoffs. You should study not to get a good grade, but to actually learn something. And if you do, your rating position will, for sure, be high enough. But if you just want to be in TOP-5 or TOP-3…That’s totally different. You need to start thinking about those skills and knowledge that you will actually use after the graduation as soon as possible. And make these your priority instead of focusing on your rating position”. - Ivan Serebrennikov
I would like to express my gratitude to all of the students who agreed to share their opinion on this topic with me and for their kindness, politeness and wisdom. I not only learnt a lot about what people from different studying programs think about the rating system but was also impressed by willingness of HSE students to help me bring this idea to life.
Special thanks to: Victoria Shaparenko, Yaroslava Kalyanova, Darya Gorbacheva, Kirill Mukhin, Polina Belekhova and Ivan Serebrennikov