Grades and GPA's in graduate education
Those folks reading this who are from industry or have past work experience in a technical field can back me up here: companies do not care what your GPA or grades were in grad school. They care about your ability to perform in the real world.
Between 2004 and 2023, I have held 12 jobs (some simultaneously), and never once in all of those 12 jobs was I ever asked what my MS, MBA, PhD or GPAs were. Not once. By 2005, I had totally forgotten what any of those GPA's were. I still cannot remember.
This is because in graduate school, GPA's and grades do not matter. What matters is whether or not you can think and figure things out, and whether or not you are conscientious. Can you achieve what you say you will achieve? Can you be where you say you will be? Can you get done what you promise to get done? Can you take criticism and be held accountable? These are the things that matter.
There's an old joke that goes something like this: What do they call the person who graduates last in their medical school class? Answer: Doctor
I will make another provocative statement here: Your ability to get good grades says little or nothing about your ability to perform in the real world. In fact, some of the people with the worst grades make the best workers because they are thinking about things and trying to think outside the box. Granted, there are plenty of people with straight A's who do awesome in industry too. It's just not a correlation. I have had students sitting on opposite sides of the room write the same exact answers to a test question, because they memorized the text book. They got A's on the exam. There's not enough money in the world that would make me hire either of them to work for me. They got the A, but they didn't think at all. They parroted. That's a good skill if you want to work in a profession where you have to memorize a lot of things, but medical device development is not one of those places, nor is pharma, nor is biotech.
It's nice to get good grades, but don't get lost in the grades. Think about the lessons you are learning and how that will enable you to step up your game in a job someday. Think about how the lesson upgrades your critical thinking and what you may have learned about yourself in the process.
There's another old saying: Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want, but it's the most valuable thing you have to offer.
You want the grade? You didn't get the grade? That's ok. You got the experience and that's more valuable. This teaching philosophy perhaps differs from the average academic, but it is a crucial philosophy to understand if one wants to work in industry.
How do your views on grades vs experience differ? On a scale of 1 to 10 how important do you think grades are, if what I'm describing here is a solid "1"?
I believe that one of the biggest takeaways from just school and education in general is what translatable skills and experiences can you apply elsewhere. Grades, a numerical assessment of your understanding in the course, is not how real life works. From my personal experience, almost never have I been put in a situation where my comprehension of studied material gets put into a graded based examination, nor have I been given a number based on my performance or skills. What I have experienced, is the application of specific parts of school based experiences compiled onto the ability to adapt to the work situation. In general sense, its whether you have the technical competency to work in industry, not necessarily whether or not you are a good test taker. School, although invaluable, puts you through a predetermined course that has clearly defined workloads and skills needed (you can consider the syllabus to almost be like the road map to this). Some individuals may excel at navigating this, other may not. But in industry, besides production/research objectives, almost how you get to that point or what occurs in between is not pre-planned, nor is it something that can be outlined. Industry experience is much more flexible, sometimes high pressured albeit, in terms of what can happen, which allows different people with niche skillsets to excel rather than a standardized course.
This ties back to what the author said about thinking outside the box and not being a parrot that just spews out information. Your ability to be an individualized thinker and to provide a different perspective and flexibility in mannerism is what many in industry prefer. What I will add is that although grades, in practice, don't necessarily matter in the day to day work life, it is still significant enough to be used as a filter for prospective employees because it is one of the few metrics used to determine competency. That begs the question, how should academic grades, if any, be used in an employers decision making throughout the hiring process?
Most industry jobs require a bachelor's degree, and in some cases, a higher degree would open more doors. At the same time, when recruiters screen through the applicants, they consider the GPA to be one of the deciding factors in whether to hire one person or another. When most people with entry-level skills apply, recruiters usually ask the question, "What was your GPA?" because they realize that a better GPA would mean you had higher requirements for yourself, and that would translate into your work ethic when working for a company. I have encountered situations in some areas where recruiters wouldn't ask about my GPA due to the fact that I had work experience as well as pursuing my master's. There was one recruiter who was impressed and proceeded to tell me that I was an overachiever in trying to get higher degrees. Through my industry experience, I was tasked with multiple different things that I wasn't taught about during my bachelor's, which surprised me how little I knew. I was given tasks with little knowledge of how to do them and was often told to "figure it out," and that skill has bettered me as an individual. When confronted with the unknown at work, I learned the important skill of applying the skills that I learned during my BS. Often, there would be an unknown problem in school, and with a little tinkering, I would be able to figure out problems that I didn't know I could solve. In industry, it is no longer about preparing for an exam but rather, Can I figure out this problem that a manager has given me so much that I've become an expert and would be the only person at work who knew how to do this thing? In my experience, I would rate the disparity between grades and experience as a 5 because, while knowing that grades wouldn't necessarily get me the job, coupled with experience, this provides a valuable foundation for many different jobs.
The importance of one's GPA soley relies on where you are in your career. At the start of one's career, they are likely going to need a relatively high GPA coupled with some relevant experience. Most companies throw out resumes of recent graduates whose GPAs do not fall above a certain threshold. Although not reflecting a person's true abilities, one's GPA can somewhat show their dedication to their major, which is probably why that practice is still in place for people starting out their careers. The reality is that if a company has applicants with a relatively similar background with the only significant difference being their GPAs, they will most likely interview the candidates with higher GPAs. To even be considered for a job, a GPA is quite vital.
However, once the "foot is in the door," GPAs have little to no relevance in the face of one's performance in their job. It is vital to think critically about the job you are doing and how you are going about doing it. Questions to ask can be "How can I perform my job effectively?", "What can I do to better stand out from my peers?", and "What are my strengths and what can I improve upon?". Consistently asking and answering these queries effectively and putting them into action will transform into great strides in one's career. At this point, experience will become much, much more relevant than school for advancing one's career.
One parallel I draw is how relevant one's SAT score is for college (although I believe the SAT is optional now, the point still stands for the people it was mandatory for) and how little it matters afterward. In order to go to the college you want, you have to get a certain SAT score. You work hard, complete SAT practice books and do multiple attempts on the SAT to even be considered for your chosen colleges. However, once you get that acceptance letter, all that work put into the SAT will not help you in the slightest in college. But that does not diminish the work put into the SAT since that is what helped you get into college in the first place. If you did not get the score that you got, you might not have been accepted into the college of your choice, and your career might have taken a whole different direction. I don't even remember my SAT score, but I acknowledge that it helped me get to where I want to be in terms of college, financial aid, and more.
All of this is to justify me giving two scores on how important grades are in one's career. In the beginning of one's career, I would give one's GPA an importance of 8 (on a scale of 1-10). After one has started working in their first job, I would give the the GPA an importance of 2. After one gets their first job, one's GPA is inconsequential and truly important factors include their projects, achievements, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities.
I 100% agree that grades don't define a person's ability to work in the industry. Although I wish I could rate it a 1 I think I will go with a solid 6. Although grades do not matter I think a passing grade is important. If you're not able to pass your classes and meet the GPA requirement of your university you will not obtain your degree. My motto is did I pass? yes, okay cool. Am I in good academic standings? yes, okay great! I stopped beating myself up over the B+ over the A years ago but I know I can't truly stop caring about grades because that's the thin line between a graduate and student.
While I agree that grades may not necessarily reflect the ability of one to perform a job to completion, grades still do appear to reflect the amount of effort one is willing to place upon a project. For this reason, as I am sure you can agree, it appears that grades may give students whose degrees did not involve a significant amount of practical job-related experience (i.e. non-thesis masters degrees, MBA's without practical experience, JD's without internships, etc.) a slight advantage over other students with their same amount of work experience. Yet, your point that real-world work experience still, to a certain extent, trumps grades. After all, if grades trumped all, any organizational system would eventually conform to Max Weber's "ideal" bureacracy, where all relationships between coworkers in the workplace become impersonal, and eventually conform to a rigid hierarchy. As a result, promotions would only be based on "merit", meaning that anyone who got a 4.0 GPA in college when they were 22 would be repeatedly promoted over another employee who got a 3.8 GPA in college when they were also 22 (assuming neither employee pursued a graduate degree) at every possible opportunity until both employees were 70. As a result, neither employee would have any significant motivation to gain new skills valuable to the workplace to contribute to the company, as the 4.0 employee would be given an ascribed status similar to royalty, meaning they would not have to do any real work for the company to maintain their levels of promotion, while the 3.8 GPA employee would not be given any opportunity to rise up. Consequently, the company would not be able to function at an optimal level. For these reasons, a deemphasis on grades in industry works in the best interest of everyone involved.
@jj52 Although I agree with your premise, I must slightly disagree with one specific point you made. Most of your premise is built around the assumption that after people with "C's get degrees", their grades will never again matter in their life. While I do agree that the completion of a degree is more important that the minor differences in grades, the amount of work one puts into their schoolwork does seem to be an important indication in the hirability of an individual. This amount of work can be reflected either in terms of grades of real-life practical experience. For this reason, it is more important for people without experience to focus on their grades in order to achieve immediate progression. Progression can refer to an advanced degree or a full-time career. Progression to an advanced degree is usually helpful in a person's career as it can provide either practical experience or further exploratory academic experiences, as the original author mentioned. For this reason, because these advanced degrees are often completed under the assumption that they help a student achieve more than they would in the same amount of time in industry, hiring committees often do not care about what a student's grades were at this point, as the ultimate degree is then more important than minor differences in letter grades. To further this argument, most companies, most notably those under the leadership of Elon Musk, have started to create different strata in their requirements, in the sense that those with more advanced degrees are not expected to have as much experience as those applying with less advanced degrees. As a result, it has with time become common industry standard to equate advanced degrees with industry, and as there are no specific grades given in industry (maybe at best a letter of recommendation from an employer), an applicant who went the degree-route cannot be adequately compared to applicant who went the experience-route on the basis of grades. For these reasons, while grades may serve as an initial stepping stone towards immediate progression, in the long-term, they cannot function as adequate indicators of one's comparative ability to function in an improved capacity in the real-world.
Although I agree that grades do not directly correlate with success in industry, I think this is more of a reflection on how courses are run and grades are determined rather than whether grades or important or not. In the current way courses are often run, grades are more or less a result of a student's ability to memorize information. Because of this, grades do not correlate to success in industry. To succeed in industry one needs a plethora of skills, such as problem-solving, creativity, compassion, determination, and the ability to perform well in teams.
If courses were adjusted to help students develop the aforementioned skills and grades were based on these skills, then grades would be a better indicator of success in industry. While there are some courses that are organized like this, a vast majority aren't, and this is why there is a seeming disconnect between graduate school grades and industry success.
So, if I had to rate the importance of grades, I'd give it a 7 for a Bachelor's Degree and a 5 for a Graduate School Degree. I would NOT rate it as low as a 1 because the ability to get good grades displays the determination of a student and their ability to adapt in order to perform well. I also gave grades for a Bachelor's Degree a higher level of importance because graduate schools do take into account GPA when accepting students.
I also agree with the fact that your GPA does not really matter when going into industry but it can definitely distinguish you from other candidates who are applying for the same job. I know that the only reason I got my co-op position is because I had a higher GPA compared to the other candidates and that effort reflects the fact that you are more hardworking than other people. People with higher GPAs(that is above 3.8) are known to be more critical thinkers, problem solvers, and can adapt to stressful situations which make them great candidates for industry. But all this depends on the specific context and type of job they are going for. If it is an internship/co-op type position, GPA would be a big factor in the process but when going into more of entry level and engineering type jobs, experience is the number one factor that affects if a person can get that job or not.
Back in the good old days, grades used to hold the coveted position of being the ultimate litmus test to gauge one's knowledge. I mean, they were the real deal, the one and only yardstick to determine whether you were in the know or simply floundering in the sea of ignorance. But fast forward to today, and you'll find that while grades still have their place in the grand scheme of things, they're not exactly the be-all and end-all they once were.
Thanks to the marvels of the internet, anyone with an internet connection and a penchant for learning can just hop on YouTube. You won't believe what you can find there – professors and experts from all walks of life, breaking down complex topics and making them as clear as a crystal-clear mountain stream on a sunny day. It's like having a front-row seat to a lecture from the world's most engaging professor, and you didn't even have to change out of your pajamas.
Now, I'm not saying every online session is a gem, but the fact that you can stumble upon these knowledge nuggets online does put a bit of a dent in the old grade system. After all, why obsess over grades when you can get real-world insights and practical know-how right from the comfort of your own home? Experience, my friend, that's where the true value lies these days.
Grades, well, they're all about showing up to class, pretending to be interested (or not), and acing tests – even if the course is as far removed from the real world as a fantasy novel. When you've got hands-on experience, you're not just reciting facts from a textbook; you're applying knowledge in a way that makes it stick. It's like the difference between reading a recipe and actually cooking a meal.
So, in the grand scheme of things, you might find yourself pondering whether those grades are really worth the late-night study sessions and the stress-induced hair-pulling. Experience, my friend, it's the currency of the present and the future. Grades? Well, they might just be losing their shine.
As a student currently pursuing an MS in biomedical engineering, I would like to think that the effort that I (and others) put into getting higher scores on exams, projects, and discussions have some sort of merit towards the work-place. However, I do agree that this drive towards performing well academically does not apply towards an actual "work experience" background. I think being able to market yourself in an interview is much more crucial to receiving any work outcome... The GPA on your resume (which shows your competence) is your entry ticket and the interview is where you are able to prove that you have actually paid attention during at least some of your 4 years of your degree and that you are able to apply what you've learned towards the job you are applying to. I think nepotism is also a prevalent part of many different job acquisitions that some haven't talked about (another factor where GPA is not necessarily relevant). Once again, this is due to someone being socially aware(or at least their parents were) and they are able to prove that they are a competent enough person to be in that specific work environment. This doesn't take away from their accomplishments in working towards a degree and completing one, but showing that you know someone, or are able to work well with others in an environment that you can at least pretend you are familiar with, is far more applicable to job acquisition.