The Importance of Grades

After teaching for almost 30 years, I have come to accept that not every student will earn a good grade in my courses—to me a good grade is an A or a B. This was a bit tough for me to deal with when I first started teaching, because I had naively assumed that everyone wanted to get a good grade. I had always “gone for the A” in college (even with a busy work schedule), why wouldn’t my students too. Some students may be in a real bind as far as good grades because their ability to devote time and effort into my courses is limited by job responsibilities, military service, or by personal difficulties (including mental issues). However, there are a number of students whose lack of motivation and willingness to give their maximum effort in my classes is driven by a view that grades are simply unimportant. This latter group of students includes those who think about “Cs for degrees” or may even feel that getting a D and just passing one of my courses is OK.

In my world, what is a bummer about the students who choose not to strive for high grades is that they probably can get good grades, but something is standing in their way. If these students think that grades are simply unimportant, are they correct? It is my opinion that these students, for the most part, are incorrect and that earning good grades in college is worth pursuing. Let me add that in taking this position I am not saying that having a higher GPA means you are a smarter person. Of course, many factors will impact your GPA over and above your intelligence.

good grades-booksLet me offer 4 points in support of my thinking that good grades matter:

1) If you want to pursue a doctoral or professional (MD, DDS, Nursing, PA, PT, or OT) degree good grades are critical. As I have talked about in other places (careersinpsych.com and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/careers-in-psych), these programs are only taking the best of the best. Thus, your college grade point average (GPA) carries a lot of weight. It is possible to have a relatively low GPA offset by high scores on your entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, GMAT). However, selection committees (fair or not) will typically view a relatively low GPA in a negative light.

2) For certain jobs, especially high-paying jobs, good grades can be a “tie-breaker”. That is, if you have a 3.7 GPA and another job applicant has a 2.7 GPA, all things being equal, you will likely get selected for the job. Now I can hear some of you saying that “all things being equal” hurts my point because no job candidates are exactly the same. I agree. Nonetheless, grades are likely to be a part of the job selection equation, along with other characteristics like job skills, leadership qualities, ability to work with others, creativity and experience. My point is simply that grades can make the difference between candidates, and that it is better to have good grades than not. I will add one other point about certain jobs. Your GPA may be critical when you are looking for your first job out of college, but the value of your GPA may diminish over time–work experience may then carry the day.

3) If you get good grades in what are perceived as tough courses, this can work to your advantage. This does not mean that everyone should be taking a lot of difficult science and math courses in college. You just need to be aware that selection committees for graduate and professional school (possibly even certain jobs) will look at your transcript. Therefore, it won’t hurt that you took some science and math courses and did well in these courses. Keep in mind that those individuals making a decision about your future want to be sure that you were not taking a bunch of “bunny” courses to inflate your GPA.

goodgrades-arrows4) High grades can open up various opportunities for you in college. Let me give three quick examples. First, there are a number of scholarships that open up while you are in college. As you can imagine, these scholarships are not going to students with low GPAs. Second, it is typically the case that faculty will choose students with the highest grades to work in their lab or conduct other research. I am one of these faculty members. I look for the brightest and most motivated students to join my lab; high grades help me determine which students to select. Is it possible that I have missed a “diamond in the rough”—a student with high potential but low grades? Of course, but I feel over the years high grades have been a good indicator of productive research assistants. Finally, when it comes times to securing letters of recommendation you will probably have a better chance of having a faculty member write you a letter if you have done well in school. Moreover, the stronger your academic record, the better your letter.

In closing, I want to reiterate that grades are not everything. You may have qualities (e.g., leadership skills, creativity) that can overcome poor grades. In addition, I do not want to discount the importance of networking or experience in helping you move forward with your career. Finally, good grades require a lot of time and effort. The cost of high grades may be a loss of some sleep and social time. Still, in the end I feel the benefits of good grades outweigh the cost. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.