Ever since I was young, my parents and teachers stressed the importance of high grades – and I believed them. I graduated high school with no failing grades. And then I got into a good university, studied well, and earned the highest GPA I could get and ended up graduating with honors.
Fast forward to my first job interview, only to find my potential supervisor wasn’t interested in asking about my grades. Then, on my next job a few years later, my employer was more interested in my work experience than my grades. And it led me to wonder: do grades matter? High school and college graduates may have also experienced something similar and are wondering the same thing, and I’ve found that while they do matter, they don’t always matter as much as you think.
High School Grades for College Admissions Matter
Most high school teachers will tell you that a part of the college admission application includes a certain grade to get into a degree program. While there are plenty of colleges and universities that admit students with average grades (usually a 2.0 to 3.0 minimum for most institutions), popular universities with plenty of applicants can afford to be picky and choose students with higher grades. There are also some universities with a limited number of slots available for their freshmen class for certain programs, and a good way to stand out among other applicants is to have above-average GPAs.
Harvard University, for example, only accepts the best of the best for their freshman class. The average high school GPA of a freshman class there is 4.0, which means they do take high school grades seriously. So, if you’re aiming for Harvard, any of the Ivy Leagues, or a school that usually takes exceptional students, then your high school grades do matter.
If it’s already college application season and it’s too late or impossible to increase your GPA to the highest possible 4.0, there are certain exceptions where your GPA doesn’t really matter during college admissions. However, the caveat here is that you have to be exceptional somewhere else that a college or university will want you for a different reason.
For example, if you have average or below-average grades, a prestigious university may reach out to you if you do something noteworthy no or very few other students can say they’ve done. This includes being a gifted athlete, winning a robotics or science competition, or gain fame for starting a business or becoming a popular artist at a young age.
College Grades for Degree Programs Could Matter
So, let’s say you got into college and have entered the degree program of your choice. Will your college grades matter? In some cases, it could, especially if your degree program has a strict policy on GPAs.
Back in my degree program, there was a hard rule on the GPA my fellow majors had to practice. We had to spend the first year of the university taking general courses, followed by a qualifying exam into the program at the beginning of the second year. If we passed the qualifying exam and interview, we spent the next two semesters taking major courses for that program. During those semesters, we could not fail any of our major courses. We also had to maintain a GPA of at least a 2.5 (at least 85%, in my school’s standards). During my stay, I witnessed several of my fellow majors leave the program due to that grade requirement.
While this may not apply to all undergraduate programs, expect that competitive programs that accept only the best of the best might have something like this. Also, some universities may have minimum GPA requirements for all their students regardless of the degree program.
College Grades for Scholarships & Grants Could Matter
If you’re attending university or college on an academic scholarship, grant, or any other type of financial aid, chances are your grades will definitely matter. Most academic scholarships will stipulate either a no-failure policy or a minimum GPA you need to maintain. If you do not meet these criteria, your scholarship can be taken away.
Freshmen in particular need to be conscious about their grades if they are receiving federal financial aid. Colleges need to provide academic progress, and this must contain information on students completing their classes (read: not failing) to continue receiving aid.
College Grades for Graduation Honors Matter
Graduating with Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) have criteria that can vary between schools. However, one hard criterion all universities and colleges have to include your grades. To reach any of the three levels of graduation honors, you need to have achieved a certain cumulative GPA during your stay. Some universities also have a no-failure policy for anyone who wants to run for honors. This means that if your grade meets the criteria for one of the graduation honors but there is a failed course in your transcript, you still do not qualify for graduation honors.
College Grades for Future Employment Might Matter
Some future employers prefer the best of the best when it comes to hiring college graduates. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example, used to personally interview every job applicant looking to enter his company, and his interview questions supposedly always touched on one’s SATs and GPA. In certain jobs and industries, some of the top companies also look for the top graduates to add to their company. In research done by one of the editors at Forbes’ education coverage, four popular post-secondary education institutions found that large companies expect to see a GPA on resumes. This is usually a 3.0 for most large companies and corporations, but it can be as high as a 3.5 for some.
However, that’s not to say that all job positions and employers care about college grades. Smaller companies are more interested in one’s potential to contribute to the company. Other companies (both big and small) recognize that grades do not fully determine one’s capability to perform. And some employers are more interested in one’s overall performance in college, including their extra-curricular activities and what they learned and can bring to the table.
In other cases (and this applies especially to those who are no longer fresh graduates), a person’s work experience will trump their average-level GPA. In some industries, some companies may not even care about your college educational experience altogether and may be more interested in what you have to offer.
College Grades for Future Success Does Not Matter
Does having high grades in college ensure that you’re destined for success? Not necessarily. While having high grades can mean that you’ve understood and performed well in your courses when applying it to real life. If you feel like your grades will hinder you from achieving success, don’t let it get to you.
Did you know that some of the biggest names in business and Hollywood dropped out of college but ended up extremely successful? Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, but based on their massive wealth now, it was clear they didn’t need their GPAs to get ahead in life.
So, while your high school and college grades can matter for certain things, it’s not totally going to define your future and how successful you can be later in life.