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Does Your GPA Really Matter?

Laura Morsch, CareerBuilder.com writer

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Studies have shown college graduates earn up to 75 percent more than people with just a high school diploma. So students earn good grades, study for the SATs and rack up an impressive list of extracurriculars in their quest for that oh-so-important acceptance letter.

But now that you're in, can you relax? Just how important are your college grades to future employers? Are those long hours at the library and those all-night study sessions really worth it?

Where it really counts
Keeping your grade point average (GPA) up can be vital to your academic success. Slacking off could land you on academic probation, or the university could yank your scholarship. Plus, according to the U.S. News and World Report, maintaining a high GPA is crucial to those who dream of attending top graduate schools like Harvard medical school (3.8 average GPA), Yale law (3.9) or Stanford business school (3.6).

The realities of the job market
Thankfully, most employers don't enforce these same academic standards on their applicants. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' "Job Outlook 2005" survey, 70 percent of hiring managers do report screening applicants based on their GPA, but the largest group say they use a 3.0 as their cutoff.

All other factors being equal, an employer is more likely to choose the candidate with stellar grades, but that doesn't mean a so-so student can't land a competitive job with a prestigious company.

Employers understand that students have different circumstances. Employers do take a university's reputation into consideration, but they also understand working to pay your way through school, extracurricular involvement and extenuating circumstances can lower your academic marks.

Having relevant experience like internships is key to getting ahead in today's cutthroat job market. Luckily, a superior GPA from a top-ranked university isn't required to get an internship, according to the Princeton Review. Internship coordinators look for candidates with a go-getter attitude, something that can be expressed in a cover letter and interview – not a resume or transcript.

Don't be deceptive
Although employers may not automatically cut you for your low grades, leaving your GPA off of your resume completely may do you more harm than good. If you're a new grad and omit your GPA from your resume, you might find employers warily wondering how terrible your grades really are. One career adviser even said if there's no GPA on a resume, he automatically assumes it's under a 3.0. And it should go without saying that you should never lie and tell an employer you have better grades than you really do.

Resume remedies for mediocre students
If your GPA falls below your dream employer's minimum standards, you do have options. Again, leaving the figure out isn't wise, but you should emphasize your academic strengths as much as possible.

Luckily, some business schools and other graduate programs pay closer attention to the grades you earned during your junior and senior years than to your overall transcript. This can really help out people who are struggling to raise their averages after a rough transition into college life. Another option is to list your major GPA, or your average grades for only the classes taken in your major.

Collegegrad.com offers these tips for choosing which GPA to include: If your major GPA is higher than a 3.0, and your overall grades fall below that cutoff, only list your major average. If both averages are higher than a 3.0 and your major GPA is at least three-tenths of a point higher than your overall average, feel free to list both. Always round to the nearest tenth of point.

And remember what President George W. Bush told a group of graduates in 2001: "To all the C-students, I say, you too can be president of the United States."


Laura Morsch is a writer for CareerBuilder.com

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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