Lately I’ve been thinking about college grades. In particular, I’ve been intrigued by the thinking amongst some people that they don’t matter. And, okay, I’ll give it to you: in the “real world,” you won’t be judged by your grade on that final project or senior thesis. Even during that first post-grad job search, employers may look at your courses and major, but they’re likely much more interested in the experiences you’ve amassed through internships, co-ops, volunteering, extracurriculars, and other activities. (Although some employers do consider your final transcript, and they may have a GPA cutoff for candidates they consider.)
So, why worry about doing well in your college classes?
Though grades may seem superfluous sometimes, they can have real-world consequences. One concrete example? Scholarships. Schools and other awarding organizations can and do halt scholarship funding because of poor grades. If you need to maintain a certain GPA to keep your scholarship(s), then it is in your best interest to keep that GPA!
Keep in mind too, your grades can either help or haunt you if you’re thinking about graduate school (including applying for financial aid). Graduate schools care about recommendations too—and if you didn’t make time to do your absolute best in your classes, your professors probably won’t have the best impression to rely on for a recommendation. And while employers may not care as much about your grades, they do care about references, leadership, work experience, and the depth of your campus involvement.
Finally, don’t forget that each class probably costs several hundred dollars, money that you and your family are shelling out with the hope that you’ll leave those hallowed academic halls with the skills to do well in your career. You want to get your money’s worth!
But what if you’re putting in the effort and your grades don’t seem to show it? Try visiting your campus academic advising or tutoring center and/or talking to your professors during office hours or asking questions via e-mail. I remember one upper-level required course at my alma mater, Emerson College, that had me—and about 80% of the rest of the class—panicked. Our grades were based on two things: the midterm and the final. And let’s just say that after the midterm, we realized the professor was not kidding around. I made my way to his office a few weeks before the final, terrified but feeling like my studying wasn’t getting me anywhere. His first words? “What took you so long?” And from then on, he helped me identify my weaknesses in the midterm and how I might better prepare for the final. I followed his advice, and my grade improved significantly. My only regret was, truly, waiting so long to talk to him. (Believe it or not, professors are humans too. And they really want to see you succeed!)
By seeking out assistance, you may find tutoring or extra credit assignments from your professors, who will almost certainly appreciate your effort. (In these cases, just remember that you’re there to respectfully ask for help—not argue or beg for higher grades.) Or perhaps you’re finding there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done; in this case, it may be time to brush up on your time management skills.
This isn’t to say that if you don’t achieve perfect grades, your college career is somehow lacking. As we’ve said before, it’s all what you make of it! And graduating with or without honors will in no way define your life. But you’ll know—and your professors will know—that you actually tried. And in the end, that effort will shine through in person, not to mention on your résumé.