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Dear SLN: Does My GPA Matter?

Written by Kevin McGovern
gpa grades matter

Our advice for students asking, “Does my GPA matter?” falls somewhere between “Yes, totally” and “No, not at all.”

Dear SLN is an advice column for students who are looking for no bullshit answers to tough questions.

This week’s question comes from Marina on Facebook.

“Does my GPA even matter in the long run?”

Peter McGovern, an SLN employee and part-time prof who, in a past life, was responsible for hiring over a thousand students, replies:

Hey Marina,

This is a great question. We ask students every day what concerns they face, and grades have always topped the list.

Students clearly spend a lot of time worrying about their grades, but should they?

As with all great questions, the answer is complicated, and it depends on who’s asking.

Let’s look at some specific situations.

If you’re applying to university, college, or a special program, your GPA will almost always be something you’re ranked on.

Some schools or programs have a minimum average you’ll need in order to even be considered. And while there are exceptions, they’re few and far between.

If you’re looking for scholarships, it’s always easier with a higher GPA. Again, you’ll run into many situations where there’s a minimum to even get in the running.

Most schools’ entrance scholarships work this way, and almost all of the big name awards are looking for some big time grades.

But not all scholarships require a high GPA. Many are more interested in your leadership ability, your community service, or your special talents.

That said, if you have leadership ability, community service, special talents AND and a high GPA you’ll always have a better shot. There aren’t many scholarships reserved exclusively for those with less-than-stellar grades.

So what about the “real world”?

Say you’ve done enough to get into your desired program, you’re not pursuing further programs, and you aren’t looking for scholarships. Do your grades still matter? Probably not.

While there are notable exceptions (medicine, law, management consulting, finance, and engineering for example), more and more it seems that recruiters genuinely don’t care about your grades.

They want you to have an education and a knowledge base, of course. But they know that a single number with a cute little decimal point doesn’t tell the whole story.

Decades ago, bank executives would walk into high schools, ask the principal for a list of the students with the top five GPAs, and make job offers on the spot. But times change, and as we’ve become more aware of the limitations of the education system, we’ve made considerable strides in recognizing the contributions of students beyond quantitative grades.

The focus is shifting away from grades as a primary recruiting tool; just ask Google (the company, not the search engine).

Google takes its hiring research seriously, and in many ways, they set the benchmark for company success. When they declared in 2013 that all of their data showed “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring … they don’t predict anything,” hiring managers took notice.

Unless you’re in a specialized field, it is now extremely unlikely an employer will ask for your GPA. It’s possible an employer will ask for your transcripts. But more often than not these days, this is done after a job offer to verify your credentials.

A high GPA will never hurt you in the job hunt.

But it’s not the magic bullet it once was.

If you’re highlighting strong grades on your resume, make sure you’re explaining what inherent qualities led to this success and how these same qualities will benefit your prospective employer. The number alone no longer speaks for itself.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a job and your grades are below average, consider where your time is best spent.

As long as you’re passing your courses and progressing at a steady pace, your focus might be better-used networking, working on your soft skills, or refining your unique strengths, rather than on squeezing those extra few percentage points out of your next exam.

Student Life Network

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.