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What's the Point in Getting Good Grades in Your Undergrad?

  1. Dec 24, 2012 #1

    I'm currently a student in college earning their Bachelor's. From what I here from other people, graduate school isn't really a good economic decision for middle class people. The argument is very persuasive and I believe it to be true. Earning a bachelor's itself is within itself a financially questionable decision for a middle class person.

    The only way I can afford going to college currently is by working 30-40 hours a week while going to school full time. I simply don't have enough time in a week to try and get straight A's in all of my classes.

    I understand that a Bachelor's is basically the high school diploma of 40 years ago. Everyone has one. You need one to support yourself. It dosen't really matter what it's in, as long as you can say you have one. If you don't have one than you'll be working at a gas station the rest of your life living off minimum wage and on food stamps.

    I actually currently work at a gas station. I understand why people who knew that there was no way that they could afford going to college really didn't care about their grades in high school. As long as they graduated it wouldn't make one bit of a difference to their future. I certainly didn't need to take calculus in high school or all of those other AP courses to be working at a gas station the rest of my life. I could of failed US History or got an A in US History in high school and still be able to work at a gas station, along with pretty much every other class I took in high school.

    I hear left and right from people that no one really cares about your GPA if the highest level of education you have is a Bachelor's. It will be rarely asked for, most cases never. As long as you can say you have a Bachelor's, that's all it apparently matters. This is the impression I'm under from what I hear from others.

    So then what's the point in getting good grades in college if your like myself, a middle class person who graduate school dosen't make much of a financially wise decision. I understand that money isn't everything. But to me it would make much more sense to risk making financially unwise decisions to satisfy my desires of knowledge and curiosity once I'm able to support myself financially and able to pay for graduate school as well. I'll probably end up like everyone else though. By the time I meet this criteria there may not be that many years left in my career before retirement, thereby making graduate questionable at best. There is a very high probability that I may never go to graduate school.

    So I really don't see what's the point of getting good grades in college for someone like me. I can get straight A's or straight D-'s and I don't think it would make much of a difference on my future financial well being. Certainly D-'s aren't the goal, but I don't see why straight A's should by my goal either. As long as I graduate and earn my degree, that would seem to be all that matters. Certainly getting good grades will satisfy my passions for knowledge and curiosity of subject matters that I have interests in. I however think it will make minimal differences in my financial well being. It's not like if I get straight A's I'll make 200k a year and if I get D's I'll make 40k a year if I was lucky enough to get a degree related job. It's probably the difference of only a couple thousand if any thing at all really, as I'm most likely not going to go to graduate school.

    Certainly I can make the argument that that I could of gotten straight D-'s or straight A+'s in high school and still work minimum wage jobs. So I don't see what's the difference with college. As long as I graduate.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 24, 2012 #2
    The point of college is to learn something. To learn a way of thinking and to learn how to deal with information.

    The only goal of a university is to get a degree. But if you only care about the degree, then that's pretty sad. You should not focus on getting a degree or good grades, you should focus on learning something.
  4. Dec 24, 2012 #3
    I've actually heard opposite - that once you get a PhD or start a PhD program, grades don't matter as much anymore, whereas if you plan to get a job with a bachelor's it does matter somewhat. I imagine keeping it above 3.0 should generally suffice, though a higher one will help distinguish you and a lower one might work against you.

    Of course, that also depends on where you're studying. If you're going to an Ivy then the name of your institution generally speaks for itself, even if you didn't do that hot in terms of your undergraduate grades. If on the other hand you go to a very large state school and plan to compete in the job market with undergrads from the same institution, then grades may play a bigger role.
  5. Dec 24, 2012 #4


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    You're right, if all you want in life is to tell people you have a degree then, that isn't hard. However, if you want to work in field xyz and field xyz requires abc degree, then you your goal should be to learn as much as you can while obtaining the abc degree so that you may be someone of value in the xyz field.

    The simple fact of the matter is, your goal shouldn't be grade per se, but if you understand a subject well, you should be able to get good grades. Don't give me that bullcrap about working full time and not being a straight A student. I worked full time, with a family and kid, while going to treatment for PTSD. I pulled it off. Never make excuses. I'm not the smartest guy in any room, but I do work hard and consistently at most things I encounter in life. The key factor is this though, no excuses. Make a goal, and achieve it, that's the end of it.
  6. Dec 24, 2012 #5
    Your school also probably offers scholarships where a high GPA is a minimum. Instead of working as much, you can kill two birds with one stone by studying in school, and getting paid to do so.
  7. Dec 24, 2012 #6
    how many credits did you take while working full time?
    I took 17 and 40 hours a week it was to much for me to handle and get good grades.

    The semester before I took 19 credits and 34 hours a week, I did surprisingly well. I think that's my limit though.
  8. Dec 24, 2012 #7
    I agree with micromass. Also, a degree doesn't guarantee you a position in anything... really. A lot of people i know with degrees are working minimum wage. When i graduated highschool i got a job at a nutrition company over many many people with business and nutritional science degrees. So don't get a degree just for the sake of getting a degree

    No, grades don't matter... as long as your not planning on going to grad school. But why would you NOT want to succeed and get A's? it teaches you a lot of things like good study habits, discipline etc.

    also, someone correct me if i'm wrong, you don't have to pay for grad school for sciences. Some schools require you to be a TA and they pay you too.

    i'm quite surprised at your prospective on life and living... about how middle-class people. Why not take a chance? if someone is already working a minimum wage job why not take a risk and change something about it? My dad came to canada 40 years ago with NOTHING, went to 1 day of highschool at 16 years old and had to drop out to support a family of 7. Now, 40 years later, we live in a million dollar house and have 2 more rented out.

    I'm not trying to brag, i look up to my dad a lot. not because he's making something out of absolutely nothing. But because he is living proof that no matter what you are, low-class, middle-class it doesn't matter. If you want a good life you work hard each and everyday. Otherwise you'll be stuck working a minimum wage job and hate your life, and you will give birth to children who grow up to work a minimum wage job and its just a never ending cycle. also a lot of people work full time and go to school full time as well. my friend works full time at night and school full time in the day

    I think that school is always a good choice. But don't just go to get a degree for the sake of getting a degree. that minimum wage job will ALWAYS be there for you, so go to school and do the best you can. best of luck to you!
  9. Dec 24, 2012 #8

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    This plan to do the minimum makes as much sense as your plan to eat nothing but rice for four months.
  10. Dec 24, 2012 #9
    The biggest guarantee of future success is past success. If you are apathetic about what you are doing now, how successful do you think you'll be in job interviews? If an employer asks about what you are passionate about, what will respond with? I'm passionate about doing the bare minimum to get by?
  11. Dec 24, 2012 #10
    You're pretty ignorant. To get an engineering job at GE you need an absolute minimum of a 3.0 and is one of the highest paying companies for entry-level engineers. To get an engineering job a company such as Boeing or Lockheed the minimum is 3.2. If you want to be mediocre, your grades don't matter. If you want to make money fast, go deal drugs.
  12. Dec 24, 2012 #11
    You do not need straight A's but if you have good grades you can have a better job and be better off financially at the long term. You can also go to grad school and while it isn't going to give you much money if you go into grad school in physics there are other areas like law that pay a lot.
  13. Dec 24, 2012 #12


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    18 every semester.
  14. Dec 25, 2012 #13
    I have trouble understanding how attending graduate school (in the sciences) financially unwise for someone middle/low class. You're currently PAYING for your education out of pocket, while during grad school in most cases you get PAID to get an education (with other responsibilities). Your earning potential is no doubt statistically higher with a graduate degree than with just an undergrad (if you work outside of science), especially in this day and age, so the only direction on the economic ladder is up if you're coming from a low/middle class background.

    I'm from a very low class family and my academic performance (not straight A's, but very good for my country's standards) has earned me full scholarships throughout my undergrad degree, to the extent that I am actually getting full living support for my education. My earning potential will be higher than if I had just entered the labor force with no degree, even if my degree isn't immediately useful to any business (physics). I can't answer the question about grades, but what I've heard from working engineers (including a sibling in the US) that are doing very well is that grades don't matter at all after your first job.

    If you're more concerned about earning potential and breaking out of whatever economic stratum you live in, I'd be more worried about choosing the right degree or trade. Assuming you're in an academic career (ie: not business, engineering, etc.), I recommend switching out as soon as possible if you're not enjoying what you're learning for its own sake and focus your energy and money on getting a marketable degree.

    I don't think there's any shame in wanting a degree for the sole sake of being able to support yourself at a comfortable level. Just make sure you're making the proper choice and actually acquiring some skills.
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2012
  15. Dec 25, 2012 #14
    Well that's pretty impressive. Working 40 hours a week and taking 18 credits a semester is not something many can handle. 40 hours a week of work and 17 credits was way to much for me to handle and still get good grades. When I was doing 34 hours of work and 19 credits I was fine and got mostly A's and B's. This is my limit.

    Anyways, here's my way of thinking

    Life => looking upon your life and being satisfied => happiness

    In my mind, the whole goal of life is to do things that will make you satisfied when you look back upon your life in the future. This will in turn make you happy.

    high school => good grades (if going to college) => high school diploma => minimum wage job

    If your going to college than the goal of high school isn't to get a diploma but to get good grades. If your not going to college than you can straight D's, and still earn your high school diploma. You could be a valedictorian of your class in high school or at the bottom and could still wash dishes or work as a gas station clerk.

    college => good grades (if going to graduate school) => degree => job which you can support yourself

    The whole goal of college is getting your degree. If your going to graduate school than grades matter, this I'm not questioning. I'm however questioning getting good grades if your not going to graduate school. I mean 3.0 or higher isn't that hard to do.

    Being able to support yourself > Being Rich

    I mean as long as earn my degree and am able to get a job in which I can support myself than that's all that matters to me. My personal belief is that if I can't support myself financially because I'm working minimum wage my whole life because I don't go to college than I'll be unsatisfied with life and unhappy. Some people are fine being on food stamps or welfare but I don't think I would be so I went to college. As long as I can support myself financially than I'll be satisfied and in return happy. I don't see the difference in making 40k a year or 200k a year. As long as I can support myself I don't think it would make me any more happier or satisfied with my life. I guess that's just my personal belief. I don't need to work at top notch companies and making 200k a year to be happy or satisfied, I just need to support myself. I strongly believe that with Bachelor's degree straight A's wouldn't mean making thousands of thousands of dollars more earning per year than a 3.0, if anything. It's also questionable if it's even worth all that extra work and if that maybe thousand or whatever dollars more will be worth it. I just don't think making lots of money should be my goal, but being able to support myself financially, as I don't think it would make me any more satisfied or happy with life.

    I know some people who go to my university that have a 4.0 and are in like the honors program. They however lack any common sense. I mean how hard is it to have a 4.0 if your filthy rich and can afford to take 12 credits a semester and not have to work? My guess would be not that hard at all. When I was taking 16 credits a semester and not working it was very easy. I can't imagine how easy 12 credits would be. These people have never had to pull an all nighter or go on 4 hours of sleep. Such people go through very little suffering in college and do very little work.
  16. Dec 25, 2012 #15


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    There is a substantial difference, e.g., renting vs owning a home, having used cars vs a new car, not having savings for retirement vs a substantial retirement account, . . . . If one has a wife and children, it helps to have a salary substantially more than $40k/yr.

    Grades should be demonstrative of mastery of a subject. Given the choice of hiring a graduate who made A's vs one who made B's and possibly C's, I'd hire the former, unless the B-C student demonstrated in some way that the grades did not reflect on capability and proficiency.

    These days, most science, engineering and technology companies prefer to hire graduates with at least an MS degree, which, in addition to class work, should be indicative of the ability to do directed resesarch and/or development. Some R&D organizations hire MS or PhDs.
  17. Dec 25, 2012 #16


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    I think this is a really sad view to take. Good grades are typically indicative of having learned the material. If you are in school for STEM, you are there to learn about nature. If you think that is pointless to take pride in this process and excel, perhaps you should have just stuck with a gas station career...
  18. Dec 25, 2012 #17
    One can also look into the fact that getting straight A's isn't always a 100% correlation with learning the material. There is a certain method to getting A's in a class, and sometimes the means of doing that isn't always the best for the long term learning and understanding.

    I think the calculus sequence is indicative of this, most people (myself included) don't really understand exactly what they are doing, but can figure out the method to solving the problems to get the right answer on the test, whereas someone may actually understand the material and make trivial errors in calculation. Just throwing it out there.
  19. Dec 25, 2012 #18
    Very true. But even without this view, it is still beneficial to learn the material. Let's assume that just having a BS degree matters. If you learn nothing during your undergrad degree and just slack through the courses, then I don't think you will be able to keep a good job, even if you manage in getting one. Somebody who had good grades in school typically (but not always) knows the material well. They also have enough discipline to study and a good attitude to new material. This is something employers want. If they discover that you don't have these attitudes, then I doubt that your good job is going to last.

    So even if you don't value knowledge for knowledge sake, even then it is good to learn your stuff.
  20. Dec 25, 2012 #19


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    GreenPrint, in many ways, having good grades and a degree won't directly translate into making six figures. You can be an A student in history, and end up making less than a C student in engineering. You're right, the A student in engineering may not always end up making more than the C student. There's a lot of factors that determine your eventual earning potential.

    However, I am a firm believer that you should always do everything in your power to fortify your position. If you know some employers, can judge you on grades, then I think it's worth the time to keep a good GPA. Besides, you don't know how much a difference 40,000 a year is from even just 100,000 a year. It's the difference between having a decent college fund for your child vs hoping on a scholarship. It's the difference between being able to take vacation vs working the holidays for extra money. It's the difference between having a nice buffer in the savings account vs hoping your car doesn't break down soon.

    If you ever have a family, simplying having enough to live isn't good enough anymore. It's about being able to provide for them and any emergencies that pop up.
  21. Dec 25, 2012 #20
    I think you guys misunderstood his statement. He wasn't saying that there is hardly a difference between a 100k salary and a 40k salary. He was saying that a C student in engineering isn't going to have a difference in pay from an A student that is very different.
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