A friend who works with the alumni association at my alma mater asked an interesting question on Twitter.
“Listening to students worry about their GPA, does it really matter what it is? Is that an accurate summary of how you’ll be as an employee” – @timbograkos
The tweets poured in, and the overwhelming sentiment was that college GPA matters very little in professional success.
Grades are the determining factor for performance in school. But in the professional world, that’s not how it works. Your bosses won’t tell you which questions will be on the test.
Your college GPA is a combination of several factors but isn’t really the best indicator of how you’ll perform in the working world. We all know that person with perfect grades who struggles socially or that person who couldn’t care less about school but seems to have no trouble making great things happen in their life. Book smarts and street smarts are very different things.
Take your classes seriously. Do the work. Show up and learn something. Meet your professors. But I’m here to tell you, the GPA you achieve in college doesn’t matter.
Here’s what does:
Knowing how you learn
Spend time during college determining how you best learn and retain information. Some people need to see it, some need to hear it, some need to write it, and some need to practice it before it sticks. As an employee, you’ll need to learn new things as you go, remember them, and prove you’ve absorbed the information.
Applying theory to real-life situations
It’s one thing to recite the 4 P’s of marketing or learn how the purchase decision funnel looks on paper, but things won’t always happen in the marketplace the way they do in your textbooks. Learn how to take fundamental information and proven best practices and apply them in new situations or projects. The real world will always throw new variables at you, so knowing how to adapt theory to practice is crucial.
Learn how much time you need to research and write a paper, get to your classes and jobs on time, fit a workout in your day, and still have something of a social life. Time management is a vital skill. In your professional life, you’ll need to know how to manage your time to meet deadlines, tackle to-do lists, and avoid banging your head against the wall in the process.
Relevant professional experience
Jobs, internships, student organizations, and volunteer projects in your industry will prepare you best for the working world. Do as much as you can to work in your field during college and learn about what you want to do (or in same cases, what you don’t want to do). Your future employer will take your experience as the absolute best indicator for your potential in a new position.
A portfolio proving you can produce work
Keep samples of your best work from classes and internships. Many employers will want to see your work before hiring you. If you’re not building a portfolio through things you’re required to do before you graduate, then produce these things on your own time. Practice writing articles, press releases, pitches, designing publications, compiling clip reports, research summaries, or anything else you might be hired to do. Practice is important.
The ability to give and receive feedback
Learning to accept praise and criticism is incredibly important. You’ll participate in employee reviews with your boss someday, so the ability to hear different types of feedback, internalize it, and adjust accordingly will matter to your job performance.
It’s also important to learn to how to give feedback to others. When you collaborate with colleagues, you’ll have to offer positive and negative comments on others’ work.
Offer to be the speaker on behalf of your group in your classes, and learn how to present your projects as an intern. The ability to convey ideas clearly, speak confidently with your bosses, and discuss your experience in interviews will be an important part of your professional life.
It’s sad how many students leave college lacking solid writing ability. Focus on developing this skill, because it will matter in everything from reports to pitches to emails. You don’t have to become a blogger, but finding places to practice writing content and have it edited will really help improve your skills.
You’ve heard it many times: “Who you know is more important than what you know.” It’s true. (It’s what you need and who you know.) Start building your network right away. Get in the habit of meeting new people, nourishing your relationships, and helping others by making introductions. You are most likely to find job opportunities through your network. Build it!
What else matters more for students than GPA? Or am I wrong? Is GPA more important than I’ve made it out to be?
A version of this story first appeared on Becky Johns’s blog.