As students, we’re often told not to let our grades define us. Yet the cornerstone of our student lives hinges on a single number, one that we hold tight to our identity like a mirror to our intelligence. But just as a shining Facebook page filled with candid pictures and statuses doesn’t always reflect a truly happy life, a shining GPA does not automatically unlock the door to a successful career. This “must-have” 4.0 mindset conditions grade fanatics to believe that success lies within the number they achieve in their undergraduate career. Panic-stricken students, when the mantra “C’s get degrees” just isn’t enough, read this article and know you don’t need a 4.0 to rock it after you graduate.
1. The Real World isn’t a Classroom
When you’re a doctor, your patients won’t be asking you to regurgitate the anatomy of the heart onto a piece of paper—they’ll be asking you to fix theirs. When you’re a lawyer, you won’t be asked to type up a list of laws and submit them to your clients—you’ll be asked to win cases. When it comes down to it, it won’t matter what grades you achieved in your undergraduate years if it doesn’t reflect in your work outside of the classroom. It’s not surprising, then, that employers looking for interns don’t rely solely on GPA during the hiring process. “By itself, GPA is not necessarily a predictor of success. We value hard work, attention to detail, and a willingness to go the extra mile,” said Sachs Media Group senior account executive Courtney Davidson. “We use GPA as a guide, but not to determine whether an intern is hired.”
When you enter the real world, you’re just like everyone else, regardless of GPA. Brianna Shoaf recounted her first experience interning at the Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, Florida. Shoaf said, “Despite scoring well on tests and projects, I quickly learned I knew nothing about public relations. I could recite important mass media theories, spit off facts about the industry’s history, but I had no idea how the industry actually worked.” Relying on your textbook knowledge can help you work successfully, but it’s not a guarantee.
2. Grades May Not Accurately Reflect Knowledge
Grades quantify achievement, but in many cases, that achievement is objective. Every professor creates a different grading rubric that translates to her own version of “fair” grading. This especially comes into play when dealing with arts classes. If you’re an aspiring author and keep getting B’s on your “Fiction Technique” submission, don’t lose heart. Many well-known authors’ pieces weren’t appreciated until years after they were written. Those of us who freeze during tests may not freeze during a job interview or workforce task. “We have seen interns with less-than-stellar GPAs excel at our firm,” Davidson said.
Additionally, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some of those weaknesses may be tailored to the structured formats of school testing, but our strengths may enable us to progress in the real world. “There are a number of students who have studied in Italy in immersion settings who are able to communicate fluently, yet in my class there are errors in their written production so they may score a little lower on their written exams,” said Katy Prantil, head of the Foreign Language Department at Florida State University. Even if you perform poorly on exams, you can effectively function in your field like a pro.
3. Failure Teaches its Own Lessons
Failure is intrinsic to the recognition of success. It’s not that every student must fail a class to succeed after graduation, but let’s be real: No one is perfect, and that “B” in “Dinosaurs and Disasters” might just be a personal failure, not a setback to your dream career. “I believe that college is the great incubator for success, where students are free to try and fail, expand their thinking or even learn to approach something in a whole new way. Students are able to do this under the protective wing of the university without the harsh penalties of failure in the real world,” said Florida State University communications professor Larry Bodkin.
Whatever the case, the ability to use failure as an opportunity for motivation to continue in a field or reasonably decide on an alternative major is a necessary quality for success in the workforce. Failure prompts us to think creatively to solve problems and explore interests we would’ve never otherwise explored. An immaculate GPA is a good indication you belong in your field of choice, but be careful—sometimes it might be hindering you from maturing into a successful adult. Besides, your future boss won’t care about your 4.0 when you screw up a major report at work.
4. Interpersonal Skills Don’t Come from Textbooks
If you spend every second of your free time at the library, when will you network? “Extracurricular and special activities help round out our students as well,” said Bodkin. Spend too much time worrying about your GPA and you’ll waste your time and your employer’s or future grad school’s by having no experience. Additionally, clubs and other groups help hone necessary interpersonal skills, something much needed during interviews and in the workforce. Someone with a perfect GPA and no interpersonal skills will have a hard time competing with someone with a 3.5 GPA and experience on the debate team. “Many students who don’t take advantage of these opportunities are missing out on an important part of their non-graded education,” said Bodkin.
While a perfect GPA shows merit, it’s two dimensional to assume it will carry us to success. It’s time to stop defining ourselves by our failures, and start admitting that grades aren’t the key to our success after college—we are.