How Important are Grades?

Ask any college student what their biggest worry is, and most will answer that it’s getting a job after college. Not just any job though — we all would make great fry cooks at McDonalds — but a job they are proud to tell others about, a job that makes them feel fulfilled and important. Clearly though, those jobs are hard to come by. You hear that it’s necessary to have letters of recommendation, job experience, internships, connections, and of course, good grades. But how important are these grades, really? In high school, grades and test scores seemed to be all that mattered when applying to different schools, but will an employer really turn you away if you have a 3.5 versus a 3.7 GPA? Or would they take the student who has interned with them for the past two summers and gets along well with the staff, even though he or she has a 3.1?

According to a study at Southwestern University, students who completed at least one internship during their undergraduate years had a 13% higher chance of getting hired than those who did not, and this percentage increased the more internships a person had. Those with a higher number of internships also reported higher satisfaction with their jobs and more confidence in the workplace. Interestingly, grades had a negative impact in this study. Those with higher grades were not as prepared for career success as those with more internships. Job experience doesn’t come from just making Quizlets or rewriting notes.

That being said, having an internship will not guarantee your success unless you put meaningful time and effort into the experience. Beyond a nice perk to a resume, a worthwhile internship will give you connections, experience, and opportunities beyond what the classroom can offer. These personal connections and unique opportunities are now what will make you stand out among the myriad of applicants, not a GPA. In the words of a current Tulane senior, “The marginal benefit of grades in colleges decreases the higher GPA you get. The time and effort it would take to get from a 3.7 to a 4.0 isn’t worth it when that time could be spent building your network.” However, he admitted that “you don’t want an employer to have to defend your GPA. You still want an acceptable number.”

That “acceptable number” certainly varies based on your career aspirations. For instance, creative fields such as acting and writing do not look at GPAs as closely as business or research centered jobs do. According to a report on hiring by the “Big 4” Accounting Firms, the average minimum GPA of employees was between a 3.5 and 3.7 depending on the level of difficulty known at your school; but, lower GPAs may be accepted. In other fields, a 3.5 (or A- average) is usually very impressive, but the acceptable level settles at around 3.0 to 3.3.

Moreover, all of these studies conclude that GPA is never a deal breaker. Yes, a lower GPA will require that you have some more impressive experience and connections to boost your hireability, but your main focus shouldn’t necessarily be on getting a 4.0. Find a way to tell stories through your experiences, not your endless hours in the library making flashcards.

Cover Photo: Hannah Leibovich

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