Your Grades Might Matter Less Than You Think

College Advice

In October, I discussed how to deal with a poor grade in college.  Even though college is supposed to be more difficult than high school and students theoretically expect working longer and harder, the grades they receive can still cause a bit of a shock.  Indeed, many students feel like giving up even when they receive a good grade such as a “B” or a “B+” simply because they’ve spent their entire lives receiving “A’s.”

However, while grades are important and you undoubtedly need to maintain a certain G.P.A. in order to apply to certain grad schools or academic programs, receive certain scholarships, remain in Greek life, or be accepted into various honor programs, in the long run, your grades may matter a whole lot less than you think.  It’s a difficult thing to accept when you’re in college and everyone is fixated on grades and the stakes of doing poorly are drilled into you.  And yet, plenty of people do not have 4.0 G.P.A.’s and go on to lead successful and fulfilling lives.  The reality of life is far different from what you might think.

Most Jobs Don’t Ask for a Transcript

The saying is that “C’s” make degrees and this is largely true.  Most jobs ask that you have some sort of B.A., but they do not ask what grades you received to earn this B.A.  You can include your G.P.A. on your resume if it’s high, but if it’s missing it’s not likely most employers will think too much about it.  Likewise, you can include your honors societies, but probably most employers don’t know what those letters stand for, anyway.

in reality, employers are likely to care much more about other things: the name of your school, your work experience, and your recommendations.  If you want to be cynical about your prospects, you can be bitter that many employers are still likely to higher an Ivy grad over another applicant even if the Ivy grad doesn’t know anything about the job, or to hire someone just because they recognize the name of the school.  And that does not necessarily mean that they know your school has a prestigious history department.  People who know your school because of the football team will probably accept that as valid name recognition. You can also be bitter that entry level jobs ask for 3-5 years of experience.  And you can be bitter that most people get jobs because they know someone.  But your G.P.A.?  No one cares about it if you can do the job they’re hiring for.  So your best bet for landing your job is internships and networking, not your G.P.A.

Many People Change Careers

It’s almost laughable that colleges ask students to know what they want to do in life when they are eighteen- or nineteen-years-old.  Most people don’t know what life holds for them.  Most people don’t even know at such a young age what the profession they might want looks like.  Years later, it suddenly becomes clear that they find coding boring or that the job they once wanted is not compatible with the lifestyle they want.

You don’t need to have it all figured out as a freshman and lay out a four-year plan for success.  Plans change.  Maybe you received a grade you didn’t like in your major.  You can decide to change majors–that’s okay!  Or you can also decide to try to stick it out.  If you ask the people around you what they majored it, a surprising number will likely hold degrees that have nothing to do with their current jobs.  For instance, I’ve heard of an artist who works in a public library, a religion major who is now a doctor, and a medievalist who taught Spanish.  I have also heard of a professor who initially failed out of his undergrad college.  Your life is not set in stone and a poor grade does not have to stop you from following your dreams, or finding new dreams.

Taking Risks May Be More Valuable Than the Grade

To maintain a certain G.P.A., you may also be tempted to stay in “safe” classes, the ones where you know the instructors grade easily or the ones you know you will do well in.  However, taking a course outside your comfort zone can be immensely valuable and you should free to explore that creative writing or ceramics class, or to learn about something you know nothing about like economics, music, or world religions.  You can’t quantify the kinds of value these experiences have or the impact they might have on your life down the road.  Even if the value you get out of them is learning that you aren’t really good at something, but you still have the strength to persevere.


Of course everyone wants to do well in school and to earn the types of grades that will leave as many doors open as possible.  However, receiving poor grades do not mean you are a failure.  They are simply a learning opportunity.  Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t yet where you want to be.  You can make it.  Plenty of people have failed before you and made it, too.  You are still strong and smart and valuable!

Krysta 64



6 thoughts on “Your Grades Might Matter Less Than You Think

  1. Briana says:

    Agreed. Things like grades and test scores matter, but in large increments. A professor at a top liberal arts school basically explained it to my friend this way: “There is no difference between someone who gets a 700 and someone who gets an 800 on the math section of the SAT. If they have below a 600,we start getting concerned they won’t make it here.”

    Same for grades. People think they need a perfect 4.0 to get into grad school, med school, vet school, etc. They don’t. If you have a 3.8 GPA and someone else has a 3.9, the school will not automatically pick the other applicant because of the higher GPA.Things like your personal statement matter. If the other person wrote something like “Uh, both my parents are doctors, so why not?” whereas you have a detailed, convincing reason you want to go to med school, it will help you over the GPA difference. Worry about the cut-offs (say, they don’t accept anyone with less than a 3.5) and not about getting one B on your transcript.


  2. TeacherofYA says:

    I managed to make the Dean’s List my last three semesters, but that is bc I needed specific grades for a certain GPA to get into grad school. Now I’m not going to worry about them so much!


    • Krysta says:

      As Briana pointed out, if your overall GPA is where you need it to be for grad school, you don’t have to stress over individual grades not being where you’d like. 😉


  3. Karl says:

    I’m about to graduate and I’m failing a class I don’t need for my master’s degree. I feel like I ruined my life because my GPA is 3.8 but now it’s going to tank to 3.4 or 3.3 and I can’t deal with the anger I’m feeling right now.


    • Krysta says:

      I think that’s a common reaction. However, many jobs don’t ask for your transcripts–they just want to see you hold a degree– and it’s not required that you put your GPA on your resume (though general Internet advice says you can put 3.0 and above on your resume– your GPA is still definitely considered high!). Work experience becomes more important than your education after you get your first job. And one lower grade is certainly not going to ruin your job prospects! However, if you’re still worried, keep in mind that your recommendations will be able to expand upon any areas you think might need to be explained, and you can expand, too, in your interviews.


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