Grades are not the measure of a person, nor are they even the sole measure of academic accomplishment. They are only one imperfect reflection of how much you have learned in your various courses, say Deese and Deese in their book How to Study and Other Skills for Success in College.
“People can learn a great deal and acquire a good education without making high grades,” the authors say, “and some students who make straight A’s may concentrate so much on getting them that they really miss their education. But grades are one of the concrete and particular things society uses to judge what you are likely to accomplish in the future. They work, however imperfectly.”
Here are five reasons why grades matter:
Good grades boost confidence
A study at the University of Michigan found that 80 percent of students surveyed based their self-worth on academic performance, while family support and pride in them came in second place.
A study at King’s College showed adolescents with low self-esteem were more likely to have poor health, be involved in criminal behavior, and earn less than their peers. Since it’s overwhelmingly poor students who are prone to bad grades, it creates a self-reinforcing loop. Poverty leads to bad grades and low self-esteem, which leads to more poverty and social dysfunction.
Good grades open the door to college and university
High school grades matter most if you have hopes of going to college. The grade point average (GPA) is one factor that colleges may consider when deciding to accept or deny a student.
If you want to continue to graduate or professional school, your college grades are even more important. The competition among applicants for law school, medical school, veterinary school, graduate business school, and most programs in graduate arts and sciences is formidable. Your college grades will probably be the most important factor in determining whether you are admitted or not.
Experienced admissions officers know that grades predict success in advanced work better than test scores. Of course, a few people with the right connections or with a great record of achievement in extracurricular affairs will be admitted despite mediocre grades — but that happens less often than you think. The best graduate and professional schools have two to ten times as many applicants as they have spaces. They can afford to take only the best. In many fields, no one with less than a B average is even considered, and some schools seldom admit anyone with less than an A- average.
Good grades can lead to more scholarships
Getting accepted is one thing; receiving a scholarship is another matter. Colleges also look at grades when deciding whether to award funding to students.
Student debt can negatively impact a person’s future, well into their thirties. Better grades, higher test scores, and involvement in a variety of activities can help a student get more money for college.
Grades can also be a factor for consideration into an honor society in college. Students find that involvement in an honor society or other club makes them eligible for special funding and opens the door for incredible opportunities. You can travel abroad, become a campus leader, and get to know faculty when you are part of a scholarly organization.
Unfortunately, many college graduates can’t accept their dream jobs because they can’t afford to do so. Instead, they have to take jobs that will help them afford their monthly college loan bills.
Employers care about grades
Students shouldn’t think that just because they’ve mounted the admissions hurdle, they can slack off in class. Many small employers won’t expect to see a GPA on a résumé, but most large companies will. According to a survey of more than 200 employers conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 67 percent of companies said they screened candidates by their GPA.
Susan Adams of Forbes’ Entrepreneurs team interviewed Dan Black, the director of recruiting for the Americas at professional services giant Ernst & Young. He said he expects to see a GPA on a résumé: “Grades certainly do matter when we’re recruiting students. It’s really one of the only indications we have of a student’s technical ability or competence to do the job.”
If a student comes to an employer with solid grades, typically this translates into the individual being able to successfully tackle certain daily tasks with a quick turnaround, coupled with less of a need for close supervision. After all, the student was able to do this successfully in college. Why couldn’t they bring that work ethic to the company, free up management to do its job, and produce results with less training?
Good grades heavily influence lifetime earnings
If your parents paid you for good grades when you were a child (or if you’ve doled out cash to encourage academic achievement), you know what good grades are worth. But, it turns out that people who make good grades in school tend to make more money in their careers (when adjusted for education level and field of study). So, even if you go no further than high school, you’re financially better off for having made A’s and B’s, says Greg Emmerich, the researcher who crunched the numbers.
The differences grow with associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, and even doctorates (within the same field of study). But in every case, the median salary is higher for someone with more education, and higher grades appear to be a predictor of earning thousands of dollars more per year in salary.
So, if you plan to go on to advanced studies, you can’t afford to dismiss grades as unimportant, even if you have reservations about them, as many of us do.