Petrovich: Stop worrying about straight A’s, start worrying about involvement

Junior journalism major Nicole Heins reacts positively to a negative grade. (Photo illustration by Erik Petrovich)
Junior journalism major Nicole Heins reacts positively to a negative grade. (Photo illustration by Erik Petrovich)

Throughout high school and my freshman year of college, I put real effort into maintaining a perfect 4.0+ academic record. I stayed up late, made sure I got every assignment more-than-done and every project more-than-completed, and fretted that if I didn’t raise the B I had in pre-calculus, I would never be accepted into university. 

I ended up with a C in that class, and haven’t taken a higher-level math class since. As a journalism major, I have learned to accept the fact that I may never know how to calculate integrals and anti-derivatives… whatever those actually are. I’m still not sure. 

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Now two years into my time at CSU, I have more Cs than high-school me would have ever believed and am barely hanging onto a 3.0 GPA. But even on top of this, I feel fine.

It’s not that I have become comfortable with my now slightly-worse grades, at least that’s what I like to tell myself. I have become comfortable knowing that there is a lot more I can offer to employers and others than just my academic record. 

It’s a hotly contested topic among students and teachers alike — the question of whether grades or experience matters more can come down to major. For a liberal arts major, it is generally easier to graduate with lower grades, as you prove yourself more with soft skills, such as the ability to write, analyse and collaborate more than you do with your ability to correctly answer questions on a test. For research and math-based majors, great grades can show deep knowledge of a subject, as there is a clearer distinction between what is correct and what is not correct when it comes to those subjects. 

But ask yourself this, put yourself in the shoes of a potential employer – you are in charge of bringing on new talent at a major engineering firm, and you’re looking to CSU’s pool of potential hires. One of your two leading candidates is a 4.0 student who has never made less than an A, according to their transcript, but otherwise has made no notable achievements. The other candidate is a 3.5-average student whose projects have been featured in campus engineering events and has interned at a small company. 

Who would you hire? If you chose the latter, I would agree with you.

The reason is clear; grades show knowledge, but experience shows the ability to apply that knowledge. Even in math and science-based majors, a student with perfect grades cannot stand up to a student with great grades and a developed resume, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant their out-of-class experience may have been. It says that you have made mistakes in the industry and won’t make those mistakes at their company, and it shows that you are willing to reach for opportunities.

Even simply having a line about your involvement in a student organization helps you to stand out. When it comes down to it, if you can’t show an employer what you can do with your knowledge beyond winning the weekly trivia night, you will not be as well set up for post-graduation life as someone who can. 

So at the very least, go out and find a student organization to get involved in. Skip that 9 a.m. class if there is no quiz this week, and go find your major’s club, a research project that a grad student needs help on, a publication to write for, an internship with the city or, if you’re especially well-connected, a part-time job relating to your interests post-graduation.

Simply surviving in college isn’t enough, unless you subscribe to the belief that a bachelor’s degree will propel you onward in the job market. Because I don’t.

Before College, grades are everything. During college, and after, grades are just one part of a greater package that makes up who you are. Don’t define yourself by a perfect record, and don’t be afraid to let your academics take less precedence in your life if it means making time to get experience. 

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Collegian Columnist Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @EAPetrovich.