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Why your GPA doesn’t define you

By Josh 16 Dec 2019
Person leaning against a wall with the number '6' on it.
Yes, you’ve read the title correctly. And no, this isn’t going to be a generic motivational blog. Instead, I want to have a frank discussion about GPAs. A heart-to-heart without the in-person aspect. 

To give you some context as to who I am, I work full-time and am about to finish my undergraduate degree. I tell you this because how much time I spend working ties into the messages of this blog, which are that your GPA doesn’t define your worth as a person, and that getting the marks you wish to achieve is all about how much time you invest in your studies.

Let’s face it, we all have plenty going on. The one thing you always hear when asking a university student about how their life is going is, ‘I’m busy’. Busyness has become commodified within the higher education industry with a plethora of companies and people all trying to offer us secrets to the ideal study/life balance, saving time or achieving better marks. So, you wouldn’t be mistaken for feeling the pressure to be better than you currently are or that you haven’t yet reached your potential. It’s something I’ve struggled with personally and as I tend to be a ‘realist’, I don’t typically buy into that type of commodification. Over time I’ve come to realise, both on my own and through my support network, that when we have to balance work, life, and study, it isn’t physically possible to perform optimally or perfectly at everything at the same time. 
It isn’t physically possible to perform optimally or perfectly at everything at the same time.
As humans, we always attempt to stretch ourselves as far as we can go – often right to our breaking point – without realising that it’s unhealthy and, most importantly, it’s unnecessary. We want to achieve high marks because it feels great. We want to still go out with our friends, devote time to a hobby, watch TV shows, work so we can afford to live our lives, and maintain our university grades, all at once. I’m definitely someone who constantly battles with this conundrum of wanting to succeed in every aspect of my life; but what I’ve learned is that lowering my personal expectations leads to a healthier and happier existence. 

Have you ever submitted an assignment that you couldn’t spend as much time on as you would have liked and then received a mark you feel disappointed with? That’s an example of where you have to think about what is realistically achievable. If you want to enjoy all the things life has to offer while studying, chances are, your grades from assessment to assessment may take a hit (in other words, maybe you won’t get straight 7s). Grades are something to use as feedback where applicable, but don’t get hung up on it. What’s important is acknowledging what your priorities have been, learning to accept your reality, live with the results, and take these learnings with you when you start your next piece of assessment

I’m not saying you can use watching Netflix all night as an excuse not to work hard on your assignments and then let yourself off the hook when you don’t get a good mark. But, if you’re applying yourself to do the best you can within your life’s constraints, then that’s all you can do. It’s not all about getting that GPA of 7 – it can be about just passing that subject during a hectic semester and time in your life. And accepting that’s enough.

As we’re seeing in the employment industry, GPAs are only one of around five equally-weighted factors that are assessed for future employment (Holland, 2018). What I want you to take away from this blog is the realisation that while you’re studying, you’re most likely trying to hold the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you don’t receive the grade you wanted, don’t be too hard on yourself, because a mark on paper does not reflect your worth as a person, your life situation or your intelligence. 
A mark on paper does not reflect your worth as a person, your life situation or your intelligence.
Getting good marks is dependent on how you invest your time; but there may also be times when you spend so long on an assignment and still do not achieve the grade you thought you deserved. Try to remember that this happens to nearly every university student at some point during their degree. The key is to keep moving forward. It’s all about resilience. My undergraduate university journey is about to finish, but this realisation has helped me greatly with managing my expectations throughout my degree. 

My view is skewed through the perspective of full-time work and simultaneous study, and you may have a different outlook depending on your own life situation and student experience. You could be a studying parent or an international student finding your way in a new country. It’s the culmination of how our priorities differ that lead us to making decisions as to what is most important in the moment. The big picture is getting to that end point of holding that graduation certificate in your hand. It’s the end game that matters, so don’t ruin your journey to get there by becoming consumed with remorse or disappointment.

Want to learn more about how your GPA will affect your employability? Listen to Rohan Holland, General Manager and co-founder of Readygrad, in this episode of 'How would you know?'.
Author profile of Josh