Graduate School: It’s not about the grades.

Many students entering graduate school have a great professional and/or academic background. Many were top students in their former classrooms or top professionals in their fields. With that being said, one of the major adjustments one needs to make from professional or academic life to graduate school is the difference between learning and grades (or being “top in the class”).

For the Most Part, Grades don’t Matter

For most of your academic career, you’ve been taught one thing: grades are the most important factor in determining your future. You needed good grades to get into high school, good test scores and grades to get into college, etc. I think that graduate students, however, need to let this belief go and focus on actually learning what is relevant to their passions. The fact that you are in graduate school shows employers that you’re passionate and intelligent – it also sets you apart from a majority of potential employees because you have more than just an undergraduate degree. Furthermore, employers aren’t going to turn you down because you got a “B” in your advanced marketing research and statistics class – the fact that you’ve challenged yourself with classes like that and have done reasonably well is more important.

sb352Learn: Focus on What’s Relevant to Your Passion

This may sound like a no brainer but I know a lot of graduate students that are more focused on cramming and getting a perfect grade instead of really taking the time to understand the material and develop the ability to apply the work in future scenarios. What’s the point of cramming simply to get the highest grade only to forget the material a week later? I really think it is beneficial for graduate students to work on learning and focus less on the actual grade because at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: What did I learn? What can I apply?

Focus on Your Passion, not Your Grades

From my experience, graduate schools structure their programs in ways that deter students from getting all A’s. With that being said, I think it is important to focus on really learning- not only from the course lessons, but also from faculty, staff and students. It’s not about the grades anymore. It’s all about what you know and what you are able to apply.


Johnny Schroepfer is a Integrated Marketing Communications Graduate Student at Northwestern University. Connect with Johnny on Twitter@jbschroe or visit his website:

Related posts:

  1. Is Graduate School the Solution?
  2. The Importance of Networking in Graduate School
  3. Two Unexpected Ways to Get a Graduate Education

3 Responses to “Graduate School: It’s not about the grades.”

  1. avatar Katie says:

    Great point of view. And with that level of passion and excitement about your chosen field, as well as a heart-felt devotion to learning, the grades will take care of themselves to some extent.

  2. avatar Daniel says:

    This is 100% true. I finished an MBA recently and so many students get caught up in grades. Granted, there are a few fields where graduate level grades matter…for example, I have heard that top consulting companies only want students with top grades.

    That said – for everyone else grades should not be the focus. There is no correlation between grades and intelligence in my mind. High grades don’t mean you can network or work a room, present ideas to management or even get things done.

    Professors can tell who in class is bright based on discussion and in many cases don’t expect you to knock everything you do out of the park, so don’t expect a prof to write a glowing recco because you have a 90 percent mark. My advice: if you’re getting over 90 percent you are not networking or hustling for a job hard enough. Those people who focus on getting hired are the ones who get jobs. People who focus on getting good grades get nowhere. No employer or potential employer I have ever met with has asked me about grades. Never.

    On the other hand, I will acknowledge that many students come from backgrounds where marks weren’t just everything, they were the only thing. Most grad level students are 26 or older and I just think that it’s hard to re-wire yourself in the middle of a stressful degree. I don’t think that schools should really “coach” students on how to do this… it’s one of the many lessons you need to learn along the way for yourself… as are many of the best skills you pick up with when you do something like an MBA.

  3. avatar Allie says:

    I couldnt agree more, and have gradually come to realize this over the first two months of my grad program.
    Immersing yourself in the discussions and hands on experiences Grad School programs offer are far and beyond more beneficial than being able to memorize mind numbing statistics and definitions for exams.
    I truly believe that individuals that are most successful post Grad School are the ones that were able to master the hidden concepts that weren’t on exams or powerpoints.

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