BY ANTON LUCANUS
There has been an increased discussion about the relevance of GPA after graduation, specifically a Bachelor’s/Undergraduate degree. Most articles, however, offer only a one-sided opinion – some justify its importance, while others dismiss its significance. The crux of the debate lies in the GPA being a strong measure of an individual’s aptitude versus how the GPA system is an inaccurate measure itself, and is not a true measure of the person’s overall capabilities. However, it is difficult to find an analysis of the case for and against GPA’s importance in parallel in any article or website, something this article aims to do. Before moving on to gauge its importance, one must first understand what the GPA system is and how it is calculated.
The Grade Point Average (GPA) is a metric which measures a student’s aggregate academic result. For each course/unit the student completes, they receive a percentage grade (x% out of 100), which then gets converted to a corresponding letter grade (eg. >90% = A+, >80% = A, etc.). These letter grades then have a corresponding value on the GPA scale (eg. A+ = 4.0 points, A= 3.5 points, etc.). Thus, all the letter grades, from all units, are converted to their equivalent GPA value, and then averaged, which is the student’s final GPA grade. The most popular GPA scales are on a scale of 0 – 4.0 points, although some systems have 5.0 (or some other value) as the highest possible attainable point.
The case for – a measure of obvious and intricate qualities
Once a student completes their undergraduate studies, there are two options from there on: either to permanently join the workforce or pursue some form of further education (immediately or after working for some time). Either way, the GPA is a crucial metric. Most proponents of the GPA posit that it measure a student’s technical competence and understanding of a subject matter – in this case, the area of study/major of their degree. This means that a higher GPA indicates a better understanding and problem solving (through assignments and exams) of a particular specialization.
In addition, the GPA also measures some ‘unquantifiable’ qualities of students, such as conscientiousness and perseverance. Although most students choose a major of their liking when pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, they will be times when they will not like the subject matter or have difficulty in comprehending it. However, despite these hindrances, if they can score good grades overall (hence good GPA), it shows the student as capable of dealing with similar unfavourable situations in the real world.
The latter point is of particular importance when students are applying for further education, such as a Master’s Degree. These courses can delve into subject matters much deeper and universities need to be sure, before they can grant admission, that the student is well capable of dealing with a more rigorous course.
When it comes to the job market, comparing potential employees isn’t as simple as comparing items on a product review website. Both points – a measure of technical competence and the ‘unquantifiables’ – increase the GPA’s relevance. This is especially true when employers inspect applications from similar applicants (same major, extra-curricular activities, etc.). In such cases, a higher GPA gives the candidate an edge over the competition in the job market. Moreover, an oft-cited study has shown that an employee’s earnings is directly proportional to their GPA in university, further highlighting the importance of the GPA.
The case against – a flawed and incomplete criterion
While its importance (to whatever extent) is accepted by everyone, the opponents are quick to point out that the GPA – for that matter academic grades – are a non-uniform metric. It becomes a case of relativity – the institution of graduation is significant. Consider two students, both studying the same course; the first is a graduate of a world-class university (eg. Harvard), the second a graduate from a university with only state-level recognition. If both of them, upon graduation, receive a final GPA of 3.0, they both would appear to have the same aptitude levels (at least theoretically).
However, the reality is that the first student is far more (academically) talented than the second, as he has come from a far better academic and teaching environment, where the level of grading is far more stringent. Therefore, for the Harvard graduate to get the same grade as the state university graduate, he would have had to studied harder and produce better results. Obviously when both of them apply for the same job, the employer will hire the first student (he might even get hired even if he had a 2.5 GPA, while the second student is still at 3.0) because he is a Harvard graduate.
Even recruiters have understood discrepancy, and have thus devised alternate recruitment measures, such as their own online aptitude tests. These allow the recruiters to measure with greater accuracy and better screen the applicants. In addition, employers nowadays also place a great emphasis on the overall profile of the candidate – internships completed, extra-curricular activities, volunteer experience etc. Thus, it can be said that the GPA is not the most important factor when applying for a job, although recruiters still focus on them.
At the end of the day, a student’s undergraduate academic performance, and subsequently GPA, do matter regardless of whether they want to study further or look for a job. The GPA is as important as ever when it comes to universities considering prospective students for their post-graduation programs such as Master’s. On the other hand, while employers are considering myriad factors when screening applicants for a job, the GPA is still a significant criterion because it is a strong measure of technical competence.
Byline – Anton Lucanus is the Director of Neliti. During his college years, he maintained a perfect GPA, was published in a top cancer journal, and received many of his country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarships. Anton writes for The College Puzzle as a means to share the lessons learnt throughout his degree and to guide current students to achieve personal and educational fulfilment during college life.