Unpacking “The Grades Don’t Matter”

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Before arriving at Carlson, I started hearing the rumour that, “The grades don’t matter.” I had never heard of such a thing in any previous academic context. I had always fought hard for a 4.0 GPA, and I didn’t see myself doing any differently in Business school. I wasn’t about to take this phrase that was being tossed around at face value. Throughout my first semester, I learned that there is value in grades at Carlson, but for completely different reasons than I thought going in:

1. Grades reveal subjects and careers I’m naturally talented at and inclined toward.

In my first semester, the classes I got A’s in were the subjects I’m most interested in: Finance, Accounting and Strategy. These grades are reflective of my knack for the subjects and my desire to focus on learning skills that will help me most in my career. Grades do not always perfectly align with career inclination, but they can be directionally helpful. They can affirm existing areas of interest and provide clarity for students who aren’t sure what field they want to go into.  

2. The grading curve enables me to prioritise learning across various sources.

The first semester is curved to a 3.33 GPA, and most students achieve a B or higher in all classes. Carlson recognises that learning occurs primarily in the classroom, but also through participation in clubs, networking with alumni and attending outside speaker events. This fall, I attended the Net Impact conference in Philadelphia. It lasted three days and took away hours of studying, but it opened my eyes to a whole world of for-profit social enterprise that I have since pursued in more depth for my career. Carlson’s approach to grades allowed me to prioritise learning at the conference that week.

So, if you choose to attend Carlson and ask me the question, “Do the grades matter?” I’ll respond with, “Why do you ask?” If you feel stressed about your upcoming tests or are losing sleep to study for seven extra hours, my answer will be, “No; they don’t matter as much as your health does.” But, if you’re looking for a way to prioritise the many great learning opportunities Carlson has to offer and to catapult reflection to understand yourself better, I’ll respond with, “Sure; grades can be helpful, and let’s grab a coffee to talk more about what’s on your mind.” Wise second-year friends of mine have made the same offer for counsel to me, and I am happy to pay it forward.