A recent opinion article in the New York Times got me thinking again about whether or not good students become successful. As stress and anxiety in college students increase, you have to wonder if all the homework and stress of being a straight-A student is worth it. Is there a connection between a student’s GPA and their later success?
Academic success isn’t the key to later success
This isn’t what you’ve been taught in school since the 1st grade! This probably even isn’t what your mother told you. Or what you’re telling your own kids. This can be such a frustrating thing to hear when you (or your kid) is staysing up late to finish homework. Going against pervading opinion, why does he think this is true?
In the article, Dr. Grant says he has watched students obsess over getting straight-A’s for over a decade, to the point of sacrificing their health. And it’s all because we are told that being a successful student is the gateway to a successful career. When he was a student, he was one of those students. (Like I was.)
Does research show a connection between academic success and career success?
But, he says that research shows that “Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence.” This is what I started suspecting around the time I read several biographies about Steve Jobs, who was definitely not a strong student.
Because school teaches you the wrong skill!
Does school teach the skills needed to become successful?
School gives you a problem to solve. “But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem – and more about finding the right problem to solve…. [and that the most] creative architects [have] a record of spikey [not straight A] grades…Getting straight A’s requires conformity.”
This is one of those times that it’s both gratifying and frustrating to find out you may be right.
Challenging the mind-set that school is important to later success
To preserve their health, I’ve been trying to adopt the approach with my own kids that being a successful student isn’t of dire importance. But as a former over-achieving student, it’s hard. It doesn’t help that both of my college students have academic scholarships that require maintaining high GPAs. And it’s hard to ignore the large amounts of money that’s saving us in college costs. But are we saving money now at the expense of their health and success later in life?
It’s hard to change a life-long mindset. In Grant’s article, he linked to a lot of convincing research that success in school isn’t necessary for later success in life.
Grant sited several studies that showed that school success isn’t linked to later job success. In the study, Do grades and tests predict adult accomplishment?, they reviewed the literature showing the relationship of school success to a wide range of outcomes, from highly creative adults to income levels. They found that “In general, the studies demonstrated low positive relationships between academic aptitude and/or grades and accomplishment.”
One of the reasons for this is another study that shows that school doesn’t encourage creativity. Who hasn’t heard of the notoriously bad student giving “creative” answers on tests that got them no credit? I can certainly see a strict English teacher marking a big read X on a “creative” answer that isn’t the “correct” answer for symbolism in novel.
Knowing this can help students put school in perspective and decrease stress and anxiety
Knowing that success in school doesn’t determine career or life-time success can help students put this in perspective and decrease their stress and anxiety. This is especially important during finals.
A moderate amount of stress can help you focus. But when stress and anxiety become over-blown (How I do on this test affects the rest of my life!), it can actually decrease focus and make it harder for students to study. Panicking during a test can block their ability to answer questions.
I shared the New York Times article with my kids, and my youngest daughter said it really helped her to put things into perspective. Students need to be reminded that a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It just means that they still have some work to do in that particular area, if it’s even important for them to know that topic.
But there is some hope. (Is this a silver lining?) Maybe school isn’t all a waste of time after all. (I call school a waste of time partially tongue-in-cheek.)
Maybe school is important to (lesser) success after all
Researcher Karen Arnold found that while top students rarely reach break-out success, they usually have successful careers. In her book, Lives of Promise: What Becomes of High School Valedictorians: A Fourteen-year Study of Achievement and Life Choices, a study followed almost a hundred valedictorians for over a decade. From it’s description, it didn’t necessarily show that academic success wasn’t helpful in later success. It may just have shown that it isn’t all that’s needed.
On one hand, that’s frustrating. When you put in that much effort, you really want to be an overwhelming success.
But on the other hand, chances are low that any of us will be a break-out success. If we all had outlying success, then that would be the norm! So that brings us back to the beginning question. Is being a good student the best way to success for most of us?
Arg. I hated my college philosophy class! What do you think? Is it important to be an outstanding student? Or will that require that you practice skills that will prevent you from being a breakout success?