Grades aren’t as important as once thought when determining future success, UW experts say

'In general, good grades won’t hurt, but they are far from the only factor,' UW associate vice provost says

· Dec 7, 2021 Tweet

Haley Winckler/The Badger Herald

Choosing to attend college can be an easy or hard decision depending on the student. Attending college helps determine one’s future and overall can lead one to their desired career path. But there are many expectations for how students become successful post-undergrad and in the workforce.

One common expectation or belief is that college students need to maintain a high GPA to become successful later in life. Getting good grades and achieving in academics is one of the most important parts of college to many college students, including students at the University of Wisconsin.

While achieving good grades is a common desire for college students, recent research has shown making good grades is not the only factor determining one’s success after college.

According to a research study conducted in 2016, personality predicts success more accurately than almost all other factors. While grades can be a good indicator of a student’s perseverance and self-discipline, they fail to measure emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, leadership skills or comfortability with risk.

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Director of the UW Career Exploration Center Jonathon Ferguson said employers look at multiple different aspects when choosing students to hire. In an interview with The Badger Herald, Ferguson said employers often look at students’ leadership experience, general work experience, internship experience, involvement in student organizations and other factors other than grade point averages.

In fact, the number of employers screening applicants by grade point average is at an all-time low,” Ferguson said.

While other aspects of student success are being evaluated more than ever right now, grade point averages are still a crucial determining factor employers assess when choosing who they want to hire. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Job Outlook, 73% of potential employers have screened job candidates by GPA.

Forbes also claims students with higher grade point averages could be more likely to land certain job interviews or prove their qualifications more than students with lower GPAs. Students with lower GPAs often have to restrict their job searches to smaller companies who offer lower salaries.

Based on Ferguson’s experience with advising, maintaining a good GPA goes hand-in-hand with showing employers students’ interests in their fields of study.

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“In my experience working with students, strength of grade point average is directly connected to the student’s level of interest in their program of study and how well the student’s academic talents align with the program of study,” Ferguson said. “I recommend students consider these factors as they make decisions about their program of study as it will support them in achieving a grade point average they desire.”

It is a common misconception that getting good grades determines everything about a student’s post-undergrad career, though. According to Forbes, there is no substantial link between getting good grades in college and earning a high income.

Paige Tait, a sophomore at UW, said the pressure to maintain a high GPA causes her high amounts of stress when thinking about her future.

“I worry about my grades 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Tait said. “It has gotten to the point where I don’t care as much about learning the material as I do about getting a good grade in a class.”

Wren Singer, associate vice provost at UW, agreed with this idea.

“In certain careers that require admission to competitive programs, grades are crucial in determining a student’s future career success,” Singer said. “In general, good grades won’t hurt but they are far from the only factor. Once a student is past the first job out of college, grades diminish in importance.” 

A study conducted by the American Sociological Association found college students’ grades are not as important as the college those students attended. The study found graduates of more competitive universities earn 19% more than graduates who attended less competitive universities or colleges.

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UW Director of Career Services at the School of Human Ecology Alicia Hazen said employers focus more on the experience a student has gained during college rather than the grades they have earned.

“Students should perhaps be more concerned with how they demonstrate that they have these essential career readiness competencies more so than a high GPA,” she said. “Experience in a student’s desired field of interest may weigh more heavily when a recruiter is evaluating candidates for a position than GPA, particularly if the student can clearly articulate the skills they learned and applied in each role as they relate to the position and demonstrate how they would add value to the organization.”

While there is some validity behind students’ stress over maintaining a high GPA throughout college, it should be noted this is not the only factor determining their future success. According to multiple studies and UW advisors, employers stress the importance of balance and experience rather than just evaluating one’s GPA.


This article was published Dec 7, 2021 at 1:13 pm and last updated Dec 4, 2021 at 9:22 pm


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