Students At Desk Showing A+ Grades on Papers

Is It Always All About the Grades?

You know how we say that in college grades come first? Well, should that be the case? I mean, students attend college for any number of reasons: to become more empathic individuals, broader thinkers, deeper thinkers, more valuable citizens, more authentic human beings, better networkers, more career savvy, to learn how to reap the big job from the small internship, and to learn to love learning for learning’s sake.  All of these are reasonable things to expect from a college education. All of these may also require a great deal of soul searching, extra-curricular involvement, internships, study abroad experiences, extra hours at work helping to pay for the privilege of this education, and time to simply soak up the idea of being away from home—on the journey to adulthood, and in this wonderful place of self-discovery. Should the push for a top grade in a college course mean more than the bravery involved in taking the course?

Doesn’t it show tremendous character and curiosity to sign up for rigorous courses with fascinating titles that you might normally steer clear of because you’re afraid of a C? Doesn’t it show grit to take those coding classes that you had all but given up on because the students in them are mostly engineers and you’re an English major?  Does a continuation of the top grades that got you into college mean more than experiencing the wideness of this new academic and social world, if your GPA drops while you’re on the adventure? Does it mean that you say NO  to broader learning experiences in leadership, or to a semester’s work with a start-up, or to a spring internship that helps you discover what fascinates you professionally (something we can’t always figure out in a lecture hall or seminar), or  to time-intensive research at the lab on a project you believe in? It’s true that life is all about the balance, but it’s also about the ride; and your college years will never return. It’s also true that there are many students who can juggle these extra life experiences and win As in their college courses, but many cannot. Do they eschew doing one in favor of the other?

The answer to these questions is not an easy one; yet they are questions my students ask all the time. Look, will the recruiter at the big company you’re eyeing after graduation pass over you because your GPA is not above a 3.5? Maybe. But I bet your life experience will be richer, sweeter, and more interesting than many of the resumes that come across those desks; and just maybe those companies will be interested in intelligent explorers who cast a wide net during one of the most exciting periods of their lives; adored and did battle with courses safe and scary; and have come out the other side with remarkable stories and the life experience to meet a challenge with finesse.

So, for my mathematics students who dream of finally having the freedom to study Beowulf, my language-shy students who are thrilled with the prospect of studying Chinese for their futures in international business, and my English students who are ready to challenge C ++ to a battle of the wits…I applaud you. I say “Go to it!” And I assure you that there is more to education than the “standardized” and “document-based” inelegant learning that you have just experienced in high school. There are books that will blow your minds, languages that will open worlds, and entrepreneurship and tech courses that will change the way you think about the course of your careers. Take them all. Don’t be afraid of the grades. You’ve been banging on that can for four years to get to this place. Now, learning has to be about something else.  🙂

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