I was an A-student back in school. I worked very hard to get them. I knew that they were my ticket to something bigger and greater. At least that’s what I used to believe – until I realized that the only things bigger and greater were the ones I found on my own.
Don’t think that that’s true? Then how is it that you and your colleagues can all be so diverse in your backgrounds and academics, yet you all do the same job. You probably all get paid roughly about the same too. In some instances the people who did worse in school are the boss or actually make more than you do.
If that’s so, then do grades really matter? What’s the point of killing yourself for a 4.0 grade point average or going to a good college if you’re all going to make the same amount of money and end up in the same place anyways?
Aren’t all the best and highest paying jobs reserved for the smartest kids with the best grades?
You Want to Get Good Grades:
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll never not reinforce getting good grades with my kids. You’ll always want to shoot for good grades. Bad ones never accomplish anything.
- All throughout elementary all the way up through high school – good grades are what get you to the next level. If you did well in one class, you were invited to join the harder ones. If you managed to stick through those ones, then you could skip some of the more basic classes by the time you got to college.
- Getting good grades would literally make or break whether or not you got into a good college. Sometimes it was the basis as to whether you’d receive a scholarship.
- A lot of employers will base their tuition reimbursement on your good grades. Why should they pay for your grad-school classes if you’re just going to flunk?
- Even some car insurance companies will reward you for having all A’s.
If those are the rules of our society when it comes to getting good grades, then why should we even question it?
Because that’s what we’ve all been programmed to believe.
I remember being a small child and doing everything I could to make my parents proud. I would compete with the other kids in the class to win the attention and adoration of our teacher. As kids we’re taught that straight A’s are the ultimate prize and the very definition of a job well done.
As you get older this only becomes harder because your class sizes grow and your competition becomes greater. Class favorites from the other schools are soon integrated into your class and you are all trying your hardest to out-shine the others. Why? To get into a good college of course.
Once in college the ultimate treasure is to get that degree! Why? Because you NEED that degree to get a good job; a high-paying job! To some extent a degree has become the social equivalent of being prequalified for a credit card offer; the employer knows ahead of time if you’ve “got what it takes” because you’ve got the right degree and supposedly know your stuff.
And then it happens. You enter the void. That armor that used to be your good grades suddenly disappears. You’re naked in a strange world you don’t quite understand.
Getting Good Grades is Not How Real Life Works:
There is a slow invisible transition that takes place after you leave school and go to work. Grades no longer become what we hold so dear. Your GPA is forgotten. Your degree hangs quietly on the wall in a picture frame. The teachers and professors you worked so hard to impress are now distant memories. You are alone, and in your path stands the one true thing that will determine whether or not your career will move ahead or folly-up in reverse – the opinion of your superiors.
Your superiors are the ultimate grade that matters. They are the final exam. They are the judge and jury. Without them, expect no pay increases. Expect no bonuses. Expect no promotions. Expect to do all the crappy jobs that no one else wants to do.
This is the great equalizer. This is where a D student and an A student are suddenly in the same Roman arena with weapons they barely know how to wield. But now here you are – in a match to the death. Who will win?
Why is this? It’s because despite your grades employers want results. They want people who are going to add to their bottom line. They want employees they can control. And they don’t necessarily care how they do it.
You could be a thousand times better “on paper” than your colleagues. You could be doing everything correctly, and by the book! You have every reason in the world to succeed. But if the other guy is more likeable, adored, (fill in the reason) by the superiors, then forget it. You lose.
So When Do Grades Really Matter Then?
There is an interesting phenomena I’ve witnessed at work many times. Someone will come up with a great idea, they will institute a new process or procedure, and people will begin to follow it. But then over time it gets diluted. Years later people keep following the process, but they don’t know why. They just do it because they have to. They’ve lost the reason why.
To some degree that’s how I feel about school and getting good grades. Getting good grades really does matter – but you have to focus on the why instead of the result. Sharpen your talents. You have to train yourself in the art of problem solving and creativity so that you can be ready to handle those enemies in the arena. Getting good grades for the sake of having them is meaningless.
That is the only real value I can think of to earning good grades – developing your talents as a problem solver. That’s only true talent that anyone really values. And more importantly what happens as a result of it.
Your ability to accelerate in your career will be tied to what you can produce, and that will always be a function of what you know and who will help you. I’ve seen people with nothing more than a high school education master the second part (the who you know) to leverage more than they could ever think up or produce on their own. As “A” students, I think we sometimes forget about this half of the equation. We think that just because we know something that the reward belongs to us. In reality the reward belongs to whoever the king bestows it to. And if you’re not the one who gets there first, then shame on you.
Good grades are the key to the door. But it’s what YOU know how to do once you go inside that really counts. There are skills to master, talents to develop, and people to impress. You are always being judged and challenged. Be ready.
Readers – Where do you stand on this? Do grades really matter, or is your GPA just a number? As adults in the real working world, what have your observations and experiences been like?
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Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says
Grades define who we are and what we did in college. It really tells what kind of person we are. Based on experience, I got my job easily and felt I had an edge over the others because of my grades and also the school I attended. Thus, grades are definitely important and are helpful! It gives confidence.
Grades can definitely do all of that for us in the beginning of our careers; especially the confidence part! But over time I think you’ll see that experience and accomplishments start to become the things that open doors and garner respect.
Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says
I agree with you MMD. That’s why I am giving it my best at work because I can really see myself being one of the managers in the future. Thanks MMD!
How To Save Money says
I think good grades matter when you’re looking for your first job. From then on, it’s all about skills, experiences and what you can bring to the company.
Good grades did two very important things for me. When I was in high school, I was accepted to a summer program for the top students in the state. It was my first exposure to people who were not white, deeply religious in the Christian faith, and from a tiny small town. I always knew they were out there, but I think if I hadn’t gotten into that program, my whole outlook on life would have been different. The other thing grades did was give me a full scholarship so I could get out of my small town. I guess a third thing grades did was get me into optometry school. At that point, passing grades were all that was important. Most of the people who made straight A’s were the ones who had no life outside of academics. The ones who have the most money now were probably B and C students because you have to make connections and learn people skills to thrive in the real world. Burying your head in a book does not do that. I’ve never had any potential employer ask about grades. It’s skills and personality that get jobs and move you forward professionally.
So to answer your question, I 100% agree that grades can open the door, but you have to have more than a high GPA to be successful.
There’s no question about it – grades can be especially helpful in the formative years. But I love what you said about burying your face in a book. I think everyone remembers someone like that when they were growing up, and how socially awkward that person was. When someone goes that route, they’ve missed the point. Getting good grades isn’t going to solve the problem they have.
Paul Braatelien says
I think grades are a good start, but one thing I stress to my children is the importance of networking. You can start that in college and continue it through your career. In the tumultuous world of mergers, downsizing, and layoffs, I have found it invaluable when I need to change jobs or am looking to advance my career.
Great advice! I can think of so many examples where people who knew the right people moved from one high paying job to a better one – and they probably did worse than me in school! Networking is definitely an under-appreciated but extremely powerful art that young people would be smart to get better at.
S. B. says
While I actually agree with most of your points, I feel like maybe you are skewing things a little too much in one direction. You might have done this deliberately, as society is probably skewed a little bit too much in the other direction. So let me give a few counterpoints to the discussion.
While your GPA will eventually be forgotten as you work your way through your career, it does have a bearing at the beginning stages. For example, if you scrape by in high school with a 1.5 GPA, you can pretty much forget about getting into a 4-year college. Similarly, a 2.0 GPA in college is not going to get you into grad school. Now I hear people say all the time that “it doesn’t matter whether you go to college or go to grad school – only results matter.” But usually these people are assuming the field is something like sales, or analyst, or web designer, or first level manager. That may be true for those sorts of fields. However, try becoming a physicist or chemist or accountant without a degree. Generally, you’re not going to be taken seriously.
Many professional certifications require a 4-year degree as a prerequisite, and in some cases, you cannot effectively pursue that field without the certification. Also, if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to get into grad school. If you want to teach at the collegiate level, the same is also generally true. Many professional job positions that are posted require a degree. It’s true that capable people without a degree could probably do them, but you won’t get past the HR screener without it. Lastly, I would point out that if you expecting your employer to pay for your tuition, a B in each course is usually required. The bottom line is that without a degree, you are closing off many, many professional positions in the world. But yes, you can still make a good career with one of the other jobs. It’s just that the odds are more stacked against you.
I can’t disagree. For some jobs and professions there is simply no getting around having the right degree. And that of course means having the right grades to get into the right colleges, etc.
My mind was more in the field of what I’d classify as normal middle class type jobs when I wrote this post. Managers, bankers, engineers, teachers, accountants, businessmen, etc. I’m sure people from each of these professions can all think of someone they work with who has a lesser education that probably makes more money than them or even has a higher position with the same employer.
My opinion towards the end of the post is that grades do in fact matter, but only if you use them for what they were intended for: as a training ground to actually learn HOW to do something. People don’t value memorization. They value people who can figure stuff out for them. Why? Because that’s what you were hired to do – figure out problems (and ultimately makes the employer more money).
The smartest people are the ones who figure this out and do if for themselves successfully.
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says
Good grades in school are what you need to keep moving along in school. Out in the real world all that matters is you got the paper. We were actually told in school that the recruiters would prefer the B students who were involved to the A students who only studied all day.
Interesting advice from the recruiters. But I believe it. I remember the “B” crowd being a much more lively bunch than the A’s 🙂
If you are confident in what you want to create, school+grades+degrees are all useless. It’s not need to create your vision.
That stuff is important for the “traditional” way of finding work and advancing. For the “non-traditional” way, all you need are great ideas and a burning drive to bring them to reality.
You nailed it on the head. I think a lot of people who would otherwise go the non-traditional route become scared to because that’s not what we’re taught to believe is the right path. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, get that job. For the masses this works but it kills the spark of inspiration needed for people who think outside the box. Almost all the most successful people I can think of started out with their own business.
Kayla @ Femme Frugality says
I used to think grades were the be all end all, but once I graduated college and got my job (partially because of good grades, I’d like to think), I don’t think they matter at all. It’s actually kind of sad that after working hard for so many years they don’t matter at all now… 🙁 I should’ve partied more and studied less I guess, haha. (JK, mostly)
LOL! Sometimes I feel the same way.
EL @ Moneywatch101 says
Good grades matter as a gauge to see who captured the information that was taught. I agree in the real world they don’t really have a weight on how you do your job. How much of the information studied in school do people really remember? Grades matter when your in school, but once you graduate now that’s a different story.
Exactly. “Grades” transition to other measurables once you get into the real world (such as how much money you make). Unfortunately though they are not always earned the same way.
Young Millennial says
I think grades matter to some extent. Getting good grades in high school helped me get into a competitive engineering program with a scholarship which saved me money on school. Once in university I maintained the minimum grades required for me to remain in the program. I found engineering to be rather dull so it was a struggle.
In year 3, I chose electives which allowed me to put that boring knowledge into something practical, I no longer studied. I tried to solve real world problems. I no longer cared about grades because I was more interesting in solving problems. Surprisingly my grades shot up to over 90%. When I graduated, no one looked my grades, people were more interested in my research projects and real-life applications I worked on. It is the skills that got me hired, but it was the grades that allowed to acquire those skills.
That’s an amazing connection (and a positive spin) to this whole discussion = focusing on developing your passion and skills for things that really matter to you, and then letting the good grades come naturally. That’s the kind of stuff that makes an entrepreneur.
Rob @MoneyNomad says
After a bachelors degree, a masters, and part of a PhD, I can confidently agree with you. Grades don’t mean a thing. Discipline, hard work, and commitment mean everything. While school can help reveal who has these traits, it doesn’t guarantee it.
Most importantly, I’ve realized that you need passion. The smart guy who really doesn’t enjoy his work will lose out to the “dull” guy who loves what he does. Therefore, rather than worrying about making other people happy, we need to find what makes us passionate, and pursue that with all of our strength.