Adopted from an article by Philip Guo
Grades do not necessarily reflect effort
Of course, better grades are often correlated with greater student effort, but effort alone does not determine one’s grade. It is dangerous to have a sense of entitlement that “If I work X hours, then I deserve a grade of Y” or “Z got an A last semester and put in W amount of work, so if I put in at least W amount of work, then I should also get an A”. Often times, there is simply no such thing as an “A for effort”.
Grades do not necessarily reflect aptitude
Although employers might look at grades as a first-pass filtering step, what they really care about (or, rather, should care about) is real abilities and work ethic. If I were interviewing for a software engineering position, I would ask the candidate about technical concepts and his work experiences. If he were able to explain himself clearly with competence and enthusiasm, that would more than make up for a lack of an A grade. Conversely, if I interviewed a candidate who received an A in the class but didn’t seem to be able to speak competently about his technical experiences, then I wouldn’t care about his A grade — I would hands-down prefer the B candidate who actually knew what he was talking about.
Grades only reflect how you perform what is required for a class
So if grades do not necessarily reflect effort or aptitude, then what do they reflect? They simply reflect how well a student has performed what is required for a class.
Why you shouldn’t get arrogant only because you have good grades
You should never be arrogant or overly proud simply because you received good grades in your classes, unless you think that satisfying artificial requirements set by your instructors is a highly valuable accomplishment in itself.
How important are grades?
From the tone of my observations so far, it seems like you shouldn’t care about grades at all, but most of the time, the contrary is actually true. When people ask me how important grades are in college, I will respond with my own question: “What do you want to do after you graduate?”
Your post-graduation plans (not parents, not peer pressure, not personal ego) should be the most important factor in determining how much grades matter to you.
If you are applying to medical school, you probably need a pretty high GPA (grade point average) so grades probably matter a lot. If you are applying for Ph.D. programs, you should be much more concerned about gaining research experience instead of simply getting good grades. If you want to begin full-time work, you should focus on internships and professional networking in addition to your academics. If you are going to inherit your parents’ billion-dollar fortune after you graduate, you shouldn’t care about your grades at all, as long as you pass your classes. For almost everyone (except for the uber-wealthy heirs), grades will somehow matter, but it’s up to you to determine how much you want to stress about them.
Required classes that you don’t care about at all
Throughout your undergraduate career, you will invariably need to take many required classes that you don’t really care about at all, and you have a choice to either not worry about your grades or to ‘eat your peas’ and work hard in them to try to get good grades even though you have little to no interest in the class material. Your choice of what to do about these classes depends largely on how important your GPA will be in determining what you want to do after you graduate. There is nothing wrong with doing the answer sniping (legally without cheating) or exam cramming thing just to get high grades without really understanding the class material if you simply need to boost your GPA, but if you ever need to demonstrate to somebody that you’ve mastered the material for some class, you better be prepared to actually learn it.
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