In the first part of this thrilling two-part series I decided that grades didn’t matter to me.
That’s not to say that education and learning doesn’t matter, but that my lecture professor with no real-world experience isn’t going to contribute to any waste of time on useless pursuits or stress. Simply, society’s expectations for myself are not in line with my expectations for myself.
The ROI of getting great grades is not as high as the ROI of getting an education. A real, applicable, trial and fail education.
After engaging in this academic apathy for two years and getting prepared to embark on a third, I have some strategies. Here’s how I manage to not stress about grades while keeping them at a passable level.
1. Use people (in the nicest way possible)
My approach to grades wouldn’t be possible without awesome friends, or my ability to make friends quickly. You’re going to need notes from them because you’ll be working in class or skipping a week of class to attend a conference.
But don’t be a douchebag about it. These are still your friends. Not only do I pay for coffee, late night study pizza, and so on while studying, my friends know I’m there to help them in areas where I’m strong, and I go out of my way to do so.
2. Be honest
Despite popular belief, our professors aren’t idiots. They know when someone isn’t putting 100% into their course. Don’t make excuses or bs about it, just be honest with them. In my experience, professors are much more understanding and even helpful when you outline for them what you’re trying to do and why.
3. Don’t be an idiot
Going back to the answer I received from professionals I talked to, don’t be an idiot. If you notice a professor going through painstaking measures to explain something, maybe perk up your ears a bit. You might not have time to do the class-assigned readings, but scan them for keywords and infographics.
4. Study smart
“You’re one of those kids I hate, you know that.” I hear that from good friends of mine quite often. I am that guy who waits until the night before an exam to study, if I study at all. Why? Because of smart study habits.
Great study habits change from person to person, so what works for me might not work for you. I’m uberADHD, so I know not to study for more than 30 minutes without a mental break. I limit my studying to information I know will be a big topic on the test and ignore the other stuff. I ace those questions because I have much less to remember, and I can usually pull a 75-25 ratio on the other stuff. Find a strategy that works for you, but don’t be afraid to tweak it every so often.
Education never ends
All of that stuff is great. But if you’re just doing that and not working on learning elsewhere, you’re just being lazy. Here are some tips on customizing your own education.
1. Use your resources
I’m paying for all these books, computers and professors, so I might as well utilize them, right? Talk to your professors; ask them for advice, tips, etc. Don’t limit it to just your current or former professors. I receive fantastic guidance, advice and knowledge from Professor Mitchell, who I’ve never had as a professor. Not only does she keep me on track and call me out when I need it, she’s there to help me develop skills, like photography, that I’ve never received training in but would like to.
2. Get involved – on your own terms
This is where I messed up in high school – I had mediocre grades and I didn’t do much outside of class. Join organizations, but not just for the hell of it. Know how you want to help, what skills you want to develop, and offer your services to that group. For me, this ranges from website development, graphic design, social media and marketing, depending on the organization. It’s a win-win situation.
3. Get working
Get a job, internship, or something in the field you want. Or, like with school organizations, pitch your employer on what you can offer them in addition to your current position. My buddy Patrick is getting the restaurant he works at into the social media realm. He still has a job, and he gets to develop his skills.
Can’t find a way? Don’t be afraid to ask. Or do it on your own. If you’re in advertising, write up a campaign plan for a local charity and ask to pitch it to them. They may take it, they may not, but at the very least you have something to put in your book.
4. Become an excellent time manager
This is where I got royally screwed this past year. I’ve never been good at managing my time, but managed to get away with it. This past school year, there were weeks where I ran on about two or three hours of sleep per night. I’m still not an excellent manager of time, but I’m getting better.
That’s it. Seems simple, right? It starts with the ability to do one thing – let go of the traditional concern about GPA but maintain a thirst for learning.
If you can do that, you can do anything.
The Yakezie says
Just wanted to ask one main question in this fascinating debate between Colby and Craig: Why not just get an education as you define it Colby and a 4.0?
Why would one risk their futures on a less than stellar GPA? Best to get as much education as possible, and the highest GPA as possible so you have your chances.
Colby, you mention going to “a big state school” and “almost dropping out”. I’m sure your school has some fine points, however, is there a chance it’s not one of the top 15-25 schools in the nation most people aspire to go? Which may lead to your conclusion about the poor quality of your professors?
Thanks for your thoughts.
Keep on debating guys!
Craig Gonzales says
I’m disappointed the debate stopped. This had a lot of potential, and I think it would have been a good education discussion for the community. So many current college students read these posts, it’s important for them to read both sides of the POV.
The Yakezie says
Debates generally stop when the truth is definitive and found. It’s hard to argue with my suggestion and question above.
This is why I try and keep things undefinitive when I write a post, and then you see massive amounts of chatter.
Craig Gonzales says
Hi Colby and others –
Look, my point does not argue the value of a certain qualitative measure (4.0 vs 3.5), my point is that your claim to not care about grades mixed with your suggestions amounts to a claim to not care about the information given in the classes you take. The grades are secondary, it’s the effort and the excellence that I have problems with.
For your point about professor experience and idiocy, I’m truly sorry that you go to a university where the majority of the people you know think professors are idiots. You either go to school with the most brilliant 18-22 year olds on the planet, or the most entitled 18-22 year olds in the planet. Either way, it’s disappointing that your classmates disrespect academia, but it is shocking that they refused to do the research necessary to chose a school without puerile, idiotic instructors.
I know you are passing on YOUR experience about instructors without experience or brains, but wouldn’t it have been better to identify professors WITH experience and WITH brains and attend their classes? Surely your state U has good professors.
To the new debate, that you proposed. Grades are an individuals and an institutions way to measure students. Many liberal arts schools have done away with grades and it works just fine for them. But, those same schools require excellence to earn a pass. Excellence involves focus, hard work, and smart work. College is not multiple choice. I had zero multiple choice tests in college. If your tests are predominantly multiple-choice, then there truly is a problem that you have found a solution to.
So, what must the education system do to get the outliers to pay attention to grades? Nothing. Some people care about grades and do well, others care about grades and don’t. Some don’t care about grades but still do well, others don’t. The system doesn’t have to mold to the individual any more than the individual has to mold to the system.
My problem is one of effort. You say you don’t care about grades, but it comes off as if you don’t care about effort. Untemplater, at its foundations, is about hard work. Don’t paying attention to school is not unique or untemplated, it’s just lackadaisical. So many people do the things you do AND care about school. CARE. TRY. EXCEL. Earning a 3.5 but not trying is a serious waste of time. Again, it’s not about the grades, it’s about the effort.
Why do you only mention education systems and the business world? Grades are important for lawyers, for researchers, for scientists, for doctors and doctor-ish types.
Being untemplated means expanding your mind to see what is out there. Studying for the multiple-choice test and enrolling in classes with stupid, idiotic professors, only to realize you are above it and decide to tune out, is not very untemplated. In fact, it’s so freaking normal and common I’m shocked it’s here.
Normal people skip school, ignore grades, and “do their own thing” in college.
Those that are different are those that excel. The excellence is what makes them untemplated, not the fact that they blog or travel or read Seth Godin blogs.
I think you misunderstood my previous post, so I attempted to clear it up here.
I think there is potential in this discussion, but try and open your mind. I understand your point: grades are not enough. But that’s not really what you said. You said don’t care about grades. To not care about grades, you would have to not care about the class. And that’s my problem with this argument. You should care about the classes you take.
You should care about the classes you take. If you do not care about the college classes you take, then you should take different classes. You should NOT just hack your way through college in courses that suck. If the professors are dumb and the classes are terrible, you are probably in the wrong major. That is why you pay attention to courses, that is why you try in school. To find what you don’t like and identify what you do like.
So let me throw it back at you: What would a class have to do to make you care about it, and what have you done to find classes that you care about?
Wow. Craig hit the nail on the head.
I don’t have much else to say.
Craig Gonzales says
I repeat what I said the first time, it’s not the grades that matter (though they do), it’s the work ethic.
Strong work ethic would have you link correctly (it’s episode 1 of 2, not pt 1 of 2).
Colby Gergen says
Apologies, the piece was linked and posted by an editor, not myself. I’ll be sure to pass on the message, though.
Craig Gonzales says
Okay, let me clarify my point, because the last post was childish and pointless.
(1) Things that you are right about:
– Grades are not ENOUGH. That is absolutely correct; grades are not enough to earn a good job. I was recently working with a very bright investment banker looking to attend Insead MBA. He had a 3.9 in his undergraduate program, worked as a research analyst for Citi, and had a rich father. How rich? His uncle bought the Insead – Singapore library. He was still rejected. We know some of the admissions counselors and asked why he was rejected. Their answer? He was not “Insead” enough. He was too much of a nerd. He didn’t have the personality to fit in the culture.
You are right that high grades don’t make the person, nor do high grades guarantee success. You are also right that people need to focus on becoming well-rounded people. Social skills, political skills, thinking skills, networking skills, and finance skills are all important to a life, not just study and test taking skills.
(2) Where you are wrong.
– “Professors with no real world experience . . .”
Where does that come from? I, for one, take offense to that. I stopped my PhD program to gain life experience because the most influential professors had extensive experience in life and in their field. You certainly cannot make universal claims. It’s like me saying all students that don’t care about grades are lazy pothead losers. Not nice AND not true.
– “Despite popular belief…” Who thinks professors are idiots? Seriously, who is your target market? Your pointers begin with incorrect universal claims.
– Your thesis seems to be that if you can let go of the preconceived notion that the GPA is important, you’ll be able to do anything. The steps to success once one ignores grades are:
1. trading money (pizza/coffee) for notes and skills
2. telling professors you don’t care about their class and that you think their lack of real-world experience makes them unable to sate your desire for “real” education
3. Only pay attention when the professor is giving information that may be on a test
4. Only study definitions and main ideas (seriously … is your college a high school?)
5. Even though you believe professors are idiots, and even though you dont really pay attention to their class, and even though you told them that you dont care, ask them for help.
6. Know what you want to do without seeing options (like paying attention in different classes) and spend all your time doing things like blog and take photos and design websites.
7. Get a job
8. Manage time (seriously?)
Part of college is not just to earn good grades and get a job, college is to learn about oneself. Part of that learning is social and extra-curricular interaction, but part of that learning is taking courses in subjects one would not have thought to take. College opens the mind, but in order to have your mind opened, you need to pay attention to what your idiotic professors have to say. This is an important part of life that you will probably regret in the future.
You are limiting your opportunities because you treat college as high school… a place to listen for what is on the test and a multiple-choice test. College courses are discourse, learning, and information sharing. You learn about yourself as much as you learn about the topic. Must you do well to learn? NO! But must you give it a try? YES.
Your advice tends to flow into an argument FOR doing well in school:
Using resources … professors and classes
Getting a Job …. the best job I had in college was referred by a professor that loved my work
time management … doesn’t need explanation (WHY do you need time management skills to do less work?)
don’t be a dumbass… seriously, don’t be a dumb ass… do well in school
Finally, it just seems as if you are giving terrible advice and I really hope people do not follow this advice. You should be able to do the work necessary to do well in school, get a job, volunteer, play games, be social, use resources, manage time, and whatever else hackneyed bit of advice you gave.
Good grades are not required to get a good job, but this isn’t a post about a job, it’s a post about excellence and life. Good grades prove to you and to everyone else that you have what it takes to work hard, and smart.
If it takes you too much time to earn a 4.0, then don’t earn a 4.0. 3.5 is perfectly fine. But earning your potential and just not caring about grades are two entirely different things, and I think you are giving terrible, terrible advice.
ps. This is more aggressive than my post on part one because this continuation looks thrown together in haste, inconclusive, and plain wrong. I think you are doing the young untemplater community a disservice handing out this advice.
To be truly untemplated, you need to be excellent in all that you choose to do. If you choose to go to college, excel. If you choose to be in the army, excel. If you choose to start a blog, excel. Be excellent or you’ll be nobody.
Colby Gergen says
Oofta. Good morning to me.
I’ll respond to the criticisms in order, so here it goes –
1. “Professors with no real world experience…” is in reference to having someone with 4 years of experience in low-level PR teaching an introductory advertising course. Sure, there are inspiring and brilliant professors who have limited to no time in the field, but in my experiences, those with limited time in the field offer limited applicable knowledge. I cannot begin to count how often our class had to correct the aforementioned professor on something she stated as fact..
2. “Despite popular belief…” stems from the trenches, the classrooms, where I spend a lot of my time. Many students think that professors, especially those in large lecture classes, don’t pay attention or don’t care about students. That is what I claim is wrong. I wouldn’t call it an incorrect universal claim when it’s something I hear on a daily basis.
Now, on to the “steps to success” part –
1. Fine, take away the pizza and coffee. That’s just something I do as a general thing in life. You still have strong friendship with an equal exchange of ideas and work. My generation is very collaborative and team-oriented, even when we aren’t in group projects. We, my group of friends and I, understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and consistently push each other to improve.
2. I didn’t know being honest was a bad policy. That said, you make it sound like I’m a total douchebag. I’m simply honest with the professor about my intentions, about what I hope to get out of their class and about my goals in life. In my experience, most appreciate this and that is part of the reason why I have a strong relationship with many of my professors.
3. Who said anything about listening for information only for exams? Yes, I perk up for that, but I also pay attention to information that I find valuable to myself, personally and professionally.
4. If you understand the overarching ideas and themes of a unit and know the terminology, you will be more prepared for any curveballs thrown your way. Additionally, but understanding those things, your knowledge will reach past the course and hopefully continue to be applicable in the future.
5. You’re right – that’s exactly what I said. Thanks for dumbing it down for me. Take advantage of your professors and don’t care about them as a person.
6. Again, you’re right. Don’t talk to industry professionals and ask them questions about what they do, what they’ve done and what they enjoy. Don’t go visit agencies and corporations and learn about them and the array of positions they have available. The fact is, I’ve learned about positions and departments we’ve never discussed in class (yes, I pay attention) by visiting agencies and talk with professionals.
7. Well that seems to be smart for a fairly broke college student.
8. Some people need a reminder. It’s something I’ve always struggled with but continue to improve upon, especially after reading Lauren’s post.
I don’t treat college like high school. In fact, those that know me have seen a pretty big change from high school to now. At one point, my life was such a disaster I was nearly kicked out of school. These are decisions I made when I was forced to step back and reexamine my life, where it was headed and where I wanted it to go.
Also, please don’t assume you know the reasons why I’m in college. I’m actually not in it entirely for myself. I’m here because my parents worked their asses off to give me the opportunity to be the first member of my family to graduate, in 4 years, from a large state university. Yes, I want to make the most of my opportunity, but I’m doing it my way.
By the way, I still have a 3.5.
This post wasn’t thrown together and I’m sorry you feel that way. If you think it is bad advice, by all means, don’t go recommending it.
Obviously, there is nothing either of us can say that will make us see eye-to-eye on this issue.
Instead of wasting our words on this debate, I propose a new one – What can the education system do to make students like myself place a higher value on grades?
Is there a way for the education system and business world to work together on placing a higher importance on grades?
Or do you like it as it is? Do grades, or lack thereof, serve a Darwinian purpose to the the business world? On one hand, organizations only hire people with excellent grades (Google). On the flip side, I was told by a VP at a large international advertising firm that he never hires people with straight A’s. The one time he did, he fired her three months later.
Yes, this response is snarky. That’s just how I am. It’s not meant as any disrespect. In fact, I respect you for the strength of your convictions and willingness to share them, attached to your name. I give you props for that, because so few are willing to do it.