On your first day of school, someone probably told you to pay attention, do well in school, and get good grades. For me, this message came from my parents, and it was loud and clear. Although unknown, the fear of what might happen if I didn’t get good grades seemed to be the right amount of motivation I needed to stay in line. At least until I took a class called Integral Calculus, where I earned my very first C. I remember that day like it was the end of the world. I felt ashamed and disappointed, but most of all I was afraid. How would this affect my GPA? Does this mean I won’t graduate? Will I be able to get a good job? What will my family say?

Surprise! My C-rated experience with integral calculus wasn’t the end of the world. I did go on to complete a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and a PhD. I became more motivated to perform better and set higher standards for myself. Along the way I had to ask, does GPA matter really? And what does my GPA really mean?

Do Grades Matter in College?

My experience with calculus taught me that grades are not a true measure of how much I learned. Nor do your grades measure how far you could go. Much like your doctor measures your vital signs to monitor and detect health conditions, your teacher uses grades to evaluate your mastery of the course content. These data points may also serve to reinforce your own intuitive feelings about the material. For me, there was a funny feeling early on that integral calculus probably wasn’t going to be my favorite subject. But while I didn’t excel, at least I learned what I need to do when faced with calculus again. This type of learning is sometimes more important than mastering the content.

Your grades can help you plan for your future. In fact, you can use your GPA a lot like your GPS to determine where you are and where you are going. The more you know about your strengths and opportunities for improvement, the better you’ll know where you need to apply yourself more. Your work ethic and the skills you develop as you strive to maintain your GPA will serve you in your career. Think critically. Manage your time and your expectations. But most of all, listen to feedback and be resourceful!

Some people like to add their GPA to their resume, but it really doesn’t improve your job prospects or your salary range in most cases. Most employers don’t ask for your transcripts with your resume, but you should be able to highlight the skills you honed throughout your educational journey. Your ability to earn your degree speaks for itself, and what you learned along the way to improve and excel is what you need to share with others. Even though your GPA won’t guarantee you more money, it’s still a good source of pride. Take pride in getting to know yourself through a dedicated commitment to lifelong learning and growth.

Written by Laura Sliwinski, PhD, MHA
Dr. Sliwinski is the former Associate Dean of the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at the University of Arizona Global Campus.

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