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10 Reasons Why Your GPA Means Nothing and What You Can Do About It

Updated on September 23, 2015

Reason #1: To Curve or Not to Curve?

This is one area where you will find a lot of differences from class to class. Some professors choose to curve each quiz and exam to make their students' grades fit into the nice boxes they have been handed by their department for how many students should have A's, B's, C's and so on. Some wait until the end of Finals to see what curve to apply. Some don't curve at all. So while you may have worked hard to get what you thought was a particular grade, the professor may curve the entire class up or down to meet the goals he has been given, which could be to your gain or detriment.

Reason #2: Multiple Choice vs. Problem

Here again, much is left up to the professor, even within the same college or university. Students quickly learn who is an "easy" teacher and who to avoid in order to get an easy quiz or exam. Exams may be as simple as multiple choice questions that are the same or nearly identical to those on the prior quizzes. A professor who is known to make up his own quizzes or exams or to use short answer or long problem questions may be avoided by some students because they don't learn the material well enough to pass their class. So while you were staying up late studying for the test, the student in the next class had a 25% chance of getting any question right by randomly picking a letter. 3416650

Reason #3: Is it Really Cheating?

While various lines of thought are used to try to make it not seem so bad, cheating is just what it is: cheating. Unfortunately, between the technology used today and some students paying for copies of previous tests to know what to expect, cheating continues to rise both inside and outside of the classroom. During any quiz or test, cell phones that would normally be quite are suddenly vibrating furiously, as if the student's life depended on knowing the difference between a deferred tax asset and a deferred tax liability. Students can go online to find someone to write a research paper for a small fee. Some companies will take online tests, do homework and even leave a few questions wrong so that your 100% score doesn't tip anyone off. The worst part is that while some professors still care and do their best to mitigate any cheating in their classes, some have given up and may even chide the student for getting a low grade because they didn't cheat, or "didn't cheat well enough", like most of the other students did.

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Have you ever cheated on a quiz or exam at school?

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Reason #4: Major Headache

While some Universities at least try to separate students according to major for certain classes, it doesn't always end up that way. A class that is required for multiple different degrees may have CIS, Accounting, Finance, English, Teaching, Psychology or Engineering students all together. Depending on the subject, some students will go into class already knowing half of the information and will naturally do well. Others may struggle as they deal with new concepts or higher math for the first time. The professor probably won't care which major you decided on; just what scores you get on your exams.

Reason #5: So What Did You Do Today?

Some students are fortunate enough to go from high school straight to a college or University. They may live at home, in a dorm or with roommates close to their school. If enough money doesn't come from Financial Aid or parents, getting a part-time job is generally necessary to have money for what isn't covered. This part-time job (or no job at all) gives the student a lot more time to study and attend classes. On the other hand, the returning-to-school single mother with a full-time job may miss classes and not have much time to prepare for exams or even do weekly homework. This gives an unfair advantage to the younger students who have more time to spare.

Reason #6: Extra Credit

Don't get me wrong. I love Extra Credit. Extra Credit is one of the first things I look for when I get the syllabus for my next class. While they don't seem like a lot of points, these little nuggets can be enough to save you an entire letter grade when it comes down to it. Unfortunately, not all professors make extra credit assignments available for their students who want to distinguish themselves from the rest of the class. Even worse, sometimes a student would love to take advantage of these extra points, but simply does not have any more time to spare for this particular class.

Reason #7: I AM My Group

If you are anything like me, the worse, most hated part of any class or assignment is if it requires you to work in a group. "Group Assignment" basically means that I will be doing 80%-100% of the work by myself, while the entire group gets the same grade for the project. Group Assignments mean that your grade is tied to how much work several other people feel like doing and when they feel like doing it. If you're still chasing that 4.0, you'll often end up doing most, if not all, of the work yourself just to keep your own grade up. If you're the majority of people who end up in groups with me, you probably won't do anything or you'll do the minimal necessary on the day the project is due. The good news for you if you are the slacker of the group is that you'll get an A too. The bad news for me is that I just earned it for you and only got 2 hours of sleep last night, while you learned nothing other that to sit back and wait for other people to do your work.

Reason #8: Just How Small Can You Write?

While you may have earned your GPA by studying and learning, it turns out that you didn't have to for ever class. You see, some professors allow index cards, full pages or even Open Book/Open Notes for all of their quizzes and exams. This means that the girl next to you just wrote all the important formulas really, really small on an index card instead of learning them like you did.

Reason #9: The +/- System

Just as there in no consistency from one professor to another in the matter of Curving, the same holds true for the +/- System. The is the system where a middle of the road A is just an A, while an exceptionally high A is an A+ and a low A is an A- and so on and so forth. Some professors use this system to distinguish their students efforts from each other, some do not. Some only use the minus (-), while others only use the plus(+), while still other use both the plus and the minus, but only for certain letter grades. So while you may be able to get a B+, an A+ is not an option, even if you finished the class with 100%.

Reason #10: University vs. College vs. Online

Not only do grading systems vary from one professor to another and one school to another, the course standards of what you are expected to learn and how quickly you are expected to learn it vary as well. Some online schools offer to give you credit for certain job experience, even though this means that you get credit for a class you never took, including homework, quizzes, exams and finals that you never had to bother with. All you had to do was go to work and do your job. The school really has no way to verify that you satisfied all of the competencies for a class, they take either your word or that of a supervisor or at the most have you "test out" of classes that other students would have loved to have "tested out" of instead of doing all the work.

So Now What?

So now that you've realized that the guy sitting next to you waiting for his turn to interview has the exact same GPA as you do and may not have done half the work that you did to get it, what do you do? As employers realize that GPA doesn't mean everything, or anything really, here are a few tips to help you differentiate yourself:

1 - Volunteer - Having actual volunteer experiences to relate, your favorite place to volunteer and why you enjoy it so much will show two things: you cared about more than just yourself and you had the ambition to go out there and work hard for free for something important. Your resume should show how many hours you normally volunteer and list the duties you perform. This is especially important if you don't have much work experience because sometimes you've already been working, just not technically getting paid. If someone at the main agency you volunteer for will write you a letter of recommendation, all the better!

2 - Be ready to give examples of times when you ran into a difficult situation and how you handled it. More interviews are structured this way now, so you'll find that most of your questions start with, "Tell me about a time when...". Run a quick Internet search so you can think ahead of answers to some of the top interview questions.

3 - Don't forget to research the company you're applying for a position with. Remember a few key facts about their past, but also present (What's going on now? Have they been in the news?) and their future (Where is the company headed? What products or services are they working on developing for the future?). Confidently give examples of what you have to offer and ideas you think will help them in the future.

4 - Last, but definitely not least, follow up with a Thank You note. The receptionist's desk generally has a supply of business cards, so it should be easy to pick out who you just interviewed with and send them a quick note right away. And don't forget to smile and be nice to the receptionist while you're there. Companies often use them as eyes on the ground to feel you out.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Thomas A. Edison: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work".

What Was Your Best Interview?

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