How good is "good enough"?
February 23, 2011 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Should I settle for mediocre grades?

I am a college freshman studying engineering. Like so many people I know, I used to be a pretty good student in high school, and have had a solidly mediocre year so far (Bs across the board, maybe half a letter grade above or below depending on whether we had time to prepare for the final). My reaction: "Meh." Some people worked their asses off for those Bs -- I am not one of those people. Some people were really dissatisfied with their Bs and are now working their asses off to get As -- I am not one of these people, either. Right now I feel like I'm just coasting along -- is this really such a terrible thing?

Moreover, is this attitude something I'll really regret later on? I still make an effort to understand the material because I find it vaguely interesting (and I know it'll bite me in the ass later if I don't) but sometimes the "me understanding things" schedule doesn't exactly line up with the "me taking exams" schedule, so to speak. I know that my parents are at least a little disappointed in/worried about me, and my brother, though his intentions are good, is not exactly helping ("Oh come on, I blew off class to play CS and table tennis half the time, and I still got straight As!").

I'm asking this because I feel like my judgment's been kinda out of whack for the past few months: I had a really stressful senior year of high school (all the stresses of moving to a new place/house/school, plus getting the grades for the scholarships so I could go to college next year) and just felt really drained when it was over -- I stayed in the house/at the library most of the time, reading and keeping to myself for a solid month at least. And when it came time to go back to school, I just couldn't bring myself to care very much. At some point over the summer my attitude shifted from "I have to put my 100% into everything I do and aim for 100%" to "I'm not super-stressed, I'm not failing, s'all good." I don't know whether this is me changing and rearranging my priorities, or just me being lazy and trying to justify my laziness to myself.

This question has been sort of meandering babblespeak, so thanks for taking the time to read it through.
posted by anonymous to Education (48 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you getting mediocre grades in "core" courses or in-major courses?

I can tell you that unless you are going to a school known to be extremely academically rigorous in Engineering (like Caltech or Georgia Tech), GPA in your in-major courses is pretty important for getting a job - most industry jobs have a pretty strict GPA cut-off between 3.0 and 3.5 depending on the job/industry. That being said, there's often some leeway for freshman year - everyone is adjusting

I'm not saying you have to put 100% into everything you do, but if you're not willing to put 100% into your in-major courses (even if 100% only nets you a B), then what's the point of taking that major?
posted by muddgirl at 8:00 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about the grades, worry about your effort. If you're really just coasting, then you should probably be working harder. If you're giving it your best and making Bs, then don't worry. If you're not giving it your best, then you should be.
posted by Shohn at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was like you in college; I decided that mediocre was okay because I was spending a lot of time enjoying the rest of things college had to offer.

In hindsight, I think was I was really doing was coasting because I was afraid of failing - if I got Bs easily I always could tell myself that I COULD get As if I only TRIED. But if I tried and still got Bs... well..... (if this is you, I recommend getting some talk therapy ASAP, because this will follow you out of college and be more problematic later, IMO).

In that sense, I wish I had tried harder. Also, I would love to go back to college knowing what I know now and do it over.

But I don't regret doing it the way I did, because I cultivated life long friendships, including a husband, and did well enough to be reasonably successful going forward. The people who worked super hard and got As are leading a different life than I am now, but it isn't one I'd trade for. So I guess it depends on what you want to do next, and what you're doing with the rest of your time now.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:02 AM on February 23, 2011

You're a freshman? You have time to change your attitude, but maybe a little coasting is what you need right now.

I think if you're getting Bs or above at a reputable school, your job prospects won't suffer too much (of course, it depends where you are). If you're interested in grad school down the line, your grades matter more.

One thing to consider: are you coasting because you're not that interested in what you're doing? Maybe if you explore a little and find something you really want to learn about and do, you'll feel less "meh."
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2011

To follow-up with personal experience: I didn't put 100% into my engineering courses Freshman and Sophomore year (my excuse was that I had a boyfriend in an easier major), but I got straight A's and A-'s Junior and Senior year. My GPA is a little lower than "ideal" but I went to a school with a very high reputation for rigorousness, which helped me a lot.
posted by muddgirl at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2011

I can't speak for you, I can only share my experience. I graduated with a 2:1 (I'm not sure if the grades are the same in the US; it's basically a B). By most people's standards this is a pretty decent result and it was certainly enough to help me make my way in the world. I didn't work very hard for it, though.

That was over ten years ago. Lately, it has started to bother me that I didn't get a First. I know it was within my capability. It's not that my life would have been dramatically different (chances are, I'd be exactly in the same position now). It's more that, as I grow older, as my time runs out, I see more clearly what I have gained by my choices -- and what I have frittered away.

I'm inherrently lazy and easily distracted. If I had it all to do over again, I probably wouldn't work any harder than I did the first time. But do I, now, much later, regret this fact? Yes, absolutely.
posted by londonmark at 8:13 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Agreed with muddgirl. My academic advisor adds "your grade will determine what project you will get, who want you on their team, and how much responsibility others will entrust to you". Good grades will put you on the path to meet and work with good people, and allow you to do cooler things.

As to how to get and keep good grades; a major problem I encountered is I didn't know how to pace myself. Taking on too many classes; or too many hard classes, will kill your grade. I wish someone had told me: you have a lot of time. Plan for 5 (or 4.5) years, and take some classes pass/fail (if you have the option). A good guide is that: you suppose to have some slacks in your schedule before the mid-term (because after the mid-term, the work load and stress will increase; and you should have enough capacity to handle that).

Another important thing I learned is to take care of myself. During the slack time earlier in the quarter, I used that to fortify my health, build good habits such as regular sleeps, meals and exercises; and also build up friendship/work-partners. Later in the quarter, when the shit hit the fan, I can draw on these earlier investments to help me finish well. Learn to manage your mood (exercise usually is the best way to do this, but social activities and other relaxation routine also help). Talk to a school psychologist to identify other resources to help you manage stress better. You sound like you are having mild depression. Find a routine to lift your mood and life will look totally different.

Good luck.
posted by curiousZ at 8:20 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was a computer science major and that's pretty much what I did. I ended up with a 3.2 or a 3.4, I don't remember exactly, but it was at a school with a good reputation for CS and I interview pretty well. It worked out fine for me -- I landed a very good job right out of college and I've been here for ten years -- but I don't know if I just got lucky or not, and the economy was much better then.

I guess the thing to consider is what you want to get out of your grades. If you want to go straight to a prestigious grad school, you might need to do better. If you want to go to one of the most competitive employers in the area/country, maybe you need to do better. If you're fine just getting a pretty good job, it probably doesn't matter that much, but you might want to actually look into whether the kind of employers you want care a lot about high GPAs. If muddgirl is right, for example, it's probably worth working a little more to get a higher GPA.

Some people offer the GPA of major classes as well as overall GPA, so you might want to consider that distinction, too.

Also, make sure that you aren't suffering from depression or something which can cause the kind of change in motivation that you seem to be describing. If you think you might be, talk to your GP about it.
posted by callmejay at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2011

anonymous: Moreover, is this attitude something I'll really regret later on?

You are asking us this question as if the answer is one of opinion. It likely is not. As mudgirl points out, grades are often important for many career paths out of engineering. Certainly if at any point in the future you would be interested in grad school, they will also be important.

Contrast this with humanities. Aside from my very first graduate job offer via a campus recruiter (which I did not take), nobody ever asked about my degree let alone my grades. Unlike londonmark I never think about either and it's been almost 20 years. That path will very likely not be your path, though, so you might want to buck up your GPA since apparently, you probably can.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on February 23, 2011

As a science major, having a high GPA opened many doors for me that would have been closed otherwise. Really mastering the material is often beneficial on its own.
posted by grouse at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2011

I taught a few courses of writing courses for engineers, which included a unit of resume editing, so I'm familiar with what engineering GPAs look like (at a large state school with a well-regarded engineering program).

You are likely grossly disavataging yourself compared to your classmates. B averages in engineering students were rare, and often correlated themselves with less competitive resumes generally.

My question is: why are you majoring in something you're only mildly interested in and can't really be bothered with? College is the time when you should be figuring out where your passions and abilities and job ambitions intersect, otherwise you're setting yourself up for a future in a career you feel lukewarm about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:30 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your attitude towards school will carry through to your adult life.

People strive to get As because they strive for excellence in their life.

You are adopting an attitude of: "meh, so my work is mediocre" - There is nothing wrong with that per se. The world needs mediocre workers - to staff office cubicles and do other grunt work.

But make no mistake about it - if you do not take pride in your work, if you are content to put your name on something that is mediocre, people (employers, customers) will know.

The grades are irrelevant. The question is, do you want to do your best and strive to the highest heights, or are you just looking to get by in the middle of the pack? That is an important life choice.
posted by Flood at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

What I have always said about myself, when asked, is this: "In a world of overachievers, I am an achiever". I do my work, I do it competently enough that nobody really notices me, and then I go home. Will I ever get promoted, make partner, or become a senior executive with that attitude? Nope, but I really don't want to so I don't care.

There is so much pressure in American society to do more, do better, be more awesome, blaze new trails, and also to be happy that it is sometimes forgotten that you are only human, and you can only do what you can do.

If you're coasting, and your coasting is getting you to or towards a place you want to be, then by all means keep coasting. No shame in that - you don't have to be top of your class, recruited by every major engineering firm in your area/the country, and be an award winning engineer in order to sleep at night. Do what you are willing to do, don't sweat the rest. As long as your coasting isn't harming anybody else (if you were married with kids and a mortgage, for instance, you might be motivated to get a better/more responsible job with more money attached), there's nothing wrong with it.

You will hear a lot as you move through life about 'work/life balance', and you're experiencing the practical effects of that for the first time now - in my honest opinion, "I'm not super-stressed, I'm not failing, s'all good" is a fantastic attitude and one that will serve you well as you go through life, because you're understanding what a lot of people don't - there's more to life than work/school/tasks.
posted by pdb at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [9 favorites]

The difference between a 3.0 and 3.3 to a corporate recruiter is not going to mean much. In fact, a 3.0 with some interesting extra-curricular activities and maybe some campus or organization leadership is going to be more impressive to most people than a 3.3 that did nothing but study for 4 years. A 2.8 with relevant work experience would be just as good IMHO. Maybe even better, depending on the nature of the work.

Also, after you land that first job, nobody will ever ask about your grades again. It's sort of depressing how meaningless they really are, given the amount of time, energy, and money that goes into getting out of college with a good GPA.
posted by COD at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'll tell you my experience. I finished with an exact 3.0 from a top ten school in the U.S. The first two years I did slight below average, then the last two years I had a 3.4 gpa. Now I am back in grad school and wishing very hard that I would have done differently. First the better grades you get the more options that you have after you graduate. Want to work for a top firm that only accepts people with stellar grades (think google, apple), now you can do it. If you just want to relax and work for a relatively ok firm, then you also have the option do so.

If you want to go to grad school and switch careers altogether, it will also help you as well (like it is my case now). I was able to somehow get into a top 10 again, but could have gotten into a top 3 had I worried about grades when I could have done so.

Basically if you want more options I would worry about grades, if you dont, things will become somewhat limited for you after graduation.
posted by The1andonly at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2011

I don't anything about engineering, so I can't comment on the job market, but obviously the better grades you get, the more jobs available. If you get only Bs there may be some jobs you won't be considered for. I've heard of some competitive government programs and companies (google after it was first founded though they have since relaxed the policy) requiring all candidates to have a 3.7 minimum. I slacked in college. I didn't go to class, I didn't work that hard. Through doing some pretty easy summer and winter break classes I managed to graduate with a 3.3 grade point average which was just barely good enough to get into a first tier law school. At the time I thought, "heh, I did the least amount of work possible and got to hang out with my" Now, I kinda of regret not working harder (I have a friend who feels this way too). It's the only time in your life where someone else will pay for you to learn what you are interested in learning. I didn't at the time realize what a great opportunity I was squandering. sometimes my husband tells me about all the things he learned in college, and I realize that I wasted those four years.

In law school I did work hard and graduated with a 3.7. There were some employers that told me they gave me an interview because of my gpa.

So I guess, in sum, if you only get Bs you'll be just fine. You'll be a productive member of society and be able to support yourself. But some very competitive grad schools or jobs maybe closed to you when you first graduate.You may later wish you had worked harder, but as regrets go it's a pretty mild one to have. Also, Gpa becomes much less important after you've been working for a number of years.
posted by bananafish at 8:34 AM on February 23, 2011

I regret not getting better grades as an engineering undergrad...a lot of B/B- grades did close doors for me. I got a less interesting job and admission to not-as-good grad schools as my straight-A friends. Also, I just didn't learn as much. I'd encourage you to get at least an A- average.
posted by sninctown at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looking back at my college years it's clear to me that my most significant problem wasn't that lack of focus and investment in what I was studying ended up getting me so-so grades (in fact the grades improved over time but my attitude stayed about the same) - it was that this attitude reflected the facts that 1) I had wandered into my major field of study with little rigorous or rational examination of the real reasons behind it and it wasn't that great of a fit, 2) my basic, general effectiveness in life was impaired by how poorly I took care of myself in terms of things like diet, exercise, sleep and cigarette smoking, and 3) I had been slogging under the weight of untreated depression throughout my adolescence and young adult life.

We make the decisions we make, and I don't waste a lot of time on regret. But looking back objectively I think my college experience was substantially a wasted opportunity. I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent experts on all sorts of topics with life experience and contacts to how the outside world actually dealt with these academic topics, but instead of exploring possibilities I kept my head down, obsessed over interpersonal relationships and existential angst, and pushed through on the obvious, minimal, uninspired pathway of my major field of study. It never gets easier to go back to school. If I wanted to now, it would take years of preparation to do so without requiring sacrifices of time and finances I'd consider unacceptable for my family.

Your freshman year grades are not going to be the be-all end-all of your future, and indeed as you progress through professional life your college performance will likely become all but irrelevant. But I'd urge you to consider what's behind your relative disinterest in something you're planning to invest at least 4 years of your life in and which you possibly expect to define in a significant way how you live the larger chunk of your waking life for perhaps the next 50 years.
posted by nanojath at 8:38 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

My college GPA was 2.7 and I never ended up technically even graduating (I finished all the classes, though). I studied computer science. My job title is now "senior software engineer" at a fairly large and respected company, I'm valued by my manager and team, and I make a six-figure salary and have good benefits. I'm 29 now.

In my opinion, which is obviously colored by my personal experience, grades are not as important as people say. At least not in this industry.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2011

The advice you are getting here seems to be, "It sometimes matters."

A non-engineering data anecdote for you: at one public health program I was accepted to, I was offered a half-tuition scholarship for the first year, based on my GRE scores and my GPA. Sweet, right?

Well, tt would have been a full-tuition scholarship if my GPA was 0.12 higher.
posted by teragram at 8:45 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's not so much the grades which I find of concern but the attitude. I find this will care over into other areas of your life, and this is the type of person I don't want to hire. This is a very subjective topic with variety and gradations to the answer, but if you are sliding by now in what is essentially your job, what will you do when you have something that is your job.

As others have noted, being a straight A may not be necessary, but barely showing a B average with no outside distractions (job, volunteer work, activities, clubs, etc.) is not a well rounded person I would want on my staff.

You have to decide what you are willing to settle for, and what you are willing to work for. Grad school, advancement in your job, job opportunities, internships, etc. I know I wish I was more driven in college when it came time for my grade school. Glad I did a lot of things in college but greater effort with an eye on the future would not have killed my college experience.
posted by fluffycreature at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2011

I spent the first two years of college working (and not taking enough core classes). I spent the other three making up for lost time on classwork. I graduated from engineering school at a top 20 university, but I'm in the grind just like everyone else. I wish I'd done more to *go*to* college, really experience it, rather than merely attending classes. I have zero friends from college.

Getting ahead (what I thought I was doing) is not all it's cracked up to be.
posted by notsnot at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Learning to put in effort and challenge yourself is a very important skill--especially when you decide to do something that will be challenging for you. It will be especially important when you start to build a life that is enjoyable.

There are tons of AskMe questions where people say they always got by without putting in real effort and that it had a negative impact on their lives. When they wanted to do something challenging for them, they just didn't know how because it made them feel stupid, so they stuck to doing the things they were naturally good at and balked when they inevitably came upon challenges.

Push yourself now but there's no need to be overly stressed about it. Do it as a fun game or competition (enjoy competition).

But beware of being lazy--practicing laziness will carry over negatively into other parts of your life.
posted by anniecat at 8:57 AM on February 23, 2011

You're a freshman? It'll only get worse if you're coasting now. You'll get into your major courses, tougher material, and you won't remember what it's like to try in school. And your GPA will suffer.

Furthermore, don't underestimate the networking power of a professor who's noticed your hard work.
posted by litnerd at 9:02 AM on February 23, 2011

One thing I don't think was mentioned yet is that the first years in Engineering are about the fundamentals. In later years, you do actual interesting stuff with those fundamentals. If you don't know statics or vector calc or thermo or whatever cold, then you're going to have a hard time keeping up with the new stuff, given the old material is so shaky. Perhaps one of the reasons you're keeping up with less work than your peers is because that ass-busting you did back in high school gave you solid enough fundamentals in math and physics that you can coast now. And it's hard to predict what you're going to use later -- I really use three courses, one of which I loved, one I didn't care for and one I blew off totally.

On the off chance you're Canadian, my experience is that undergrad engineering up here is tough enough that graduating is the main thing; "D's get degrees". I got my first job by impressing a prof with my work in his class, and my second on impressing a client at my first; in all cases, I only had to wave my degree around as a formality, I don't think they even asked about my GPA. But unless you're north of 49 or at someplace like MIT, ignore this paragraph.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:07 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't try because you want better grades. Try because this is what you are planning to do for the rest of your life. When the shit hits the fan at your future job, and your lower level management is pressuring you because your upper level management is pressuring -them- to get results on this one thing RIGHT EFFIN' NOW, you will, I promise you (from experience) wish you'd paid a "leetle" more attention.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:12 AM on February 23, 2011

Bs aren't the end of the world, but in this day and age they are often the grade of 'good enough' (where A is 'pretty good!' and C is 'fail'). One's freshman year is not expected to be the crown jewel of an academic career - you are just getting into the swing of college, learning how it works, and taking a lot of courses that are tangential to your real interests. As you progress forward in your major, you'll hopefully be taking classes that engage you and interest you more. I know I didn't start to get spectacular grades until I got to take classes that were less general and blah, and more analytical and specific.

A year of mediocre grades, especially if in one's freshman or sophomore years, can be no big deal. I know that a lot of grad schools weight the last two years of courses more heavily than the first two. As far as whether a potential employer is interested in GPA, I'm sure that varies across and within industries, and can be mitigated/enhanced by a variety of other factors (work/field/research experience, glowing recommendations, etc).

One thing I would say is that, at the very least, get your Bs tactically. If you absolutely know you will not commit beyond so many hours of study, put most of them into classes in your field of study, and get your Bs in Art Appreciation or Intro to Ethics or whatever gen ed requirements you have to take.
posted by palindromic at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The big danger is that you coast through your fundamental math and physics classes, don't master the material, and wind up getting absolutely slammed by the in-major engineering classes that assume you have mastered the material. Seriously, you need a good foundation or you're going to be completely lost.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:00 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I might as well out myself as OP here -- thank you all who have contributed advice, your own experiences, etc... it has definitely given me something to think about (along with, er, the midterm grades I've just gotten back...)

One thing I'd like to add is that I am studying at a fairly large university in Canada (yes, I know -- that should have been in my original question. I use the American college terminology out of habit.) Is there actually that much of a difference re: grading practices that Homeboy Trouble mentioned? I know quite a few people doing engineering in the states and the thought never really entered my mind.
posted by btfreek at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2011

I think this is a really common adjustment that smart students make when they go from coasting through high school to a more rigorous college. In high school, it doesn't seem like anything matters after the test, but that's absolutely not true for in-major coursework in engineering.

One big example that will rear its ugly head if you are a chemical or mechanical engineer is something like integration by partial fractions - this is something that's generally learned in Freshman or sophomore calculus. It's really boring and fiddly and we cram it for the test and promptly forget about it. Then, in junior-level dynamics or thermodynamics, we come across a really complex integral that no one can solve. We ask our professor and he says, "Oh, you don't remember your partial fraction expansion?"
posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should never settle for mediocre anything. Strive for excellence.
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This really, really depends.

Does your school have a good reputation for engineering? What type of engineering are you doing exactly? Do you intend to go to grad school? Do you have a passion/like for what you are doing despite what the grades say?

Honestly, if you are going to a well-known school, it's easier to get away with "lesser" grades than Random U. The industries between Electrical, Mechanical, Computing, etc are all different. Some care about grades much more than others. Also, even if you aren't doing as well as you or others hope to be, if you actually *care* about what you are doing and have interest in passion for it, it certainly makes up over the grades.

Case in point, I was a Computer Science graduate. I barely graduated, but I was always doing web development in my spare time. I had personal projects, talked to people about it, engaged in online communities and kept up with the latest trends. My enthusiasm and positive spirit is an asset in itself. Moreover, all the companies I've worked for never cared about my GPA. While not as common, some of my coworkers didn't even graduate college, or majored in something entirely different. But this is common for Web Development / Software Engineering. It would be very different for a more traditional type of engineering.

Now if you want to go to grad school... GPA is terribly important, especially networking with professors. Now if you want to work for a top tier reputable place (like a Google or Microsoft), yes GPA matters. But if neither of those are in your goals... I honestly wouldn't worry about it.

If you were to ask me how I'd do college different if I were to go back.. yeah I'd study more, but I'd also socialize more. Don't become a bookworm, but don't become a party animal either. Your friends can be very important. Peers come in handy both in solidarity but also in networking.

And ultimately remember, your success in life isn't tied to your grades. It's tied to how motivated and determined you are do to whatever you want to do. Sometimes grades are means to an end, but sometimes they are not. If you want to be a professor, yeah study hard. But if you just want a nice job out of college, there are more things than just grades that matter.
posted by xtine at 11:21 AM on February 23, 2011

The importance of grades evaporates approximately five minutes into your first job out of university. I coasted through engineering enough that I was able to maintain almost full-time writing work concurrently. I took care to just pass every exam (my summers were too busy for resits), ended up with a desmond (2:2; lower second honours), yet still got a fully-funded masters. I was offered a PhD position but didn't take it up.

I regret nothing, and have always been able to take the work that interests me.
posted by scruss at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know about the specifics of how your exact grades will affect your life, but I spent too long coasting on natural ability, a trick memory, and an impressive ability to BS convincingly. When I started really wanting to apply myself and achieve notable, difficult things, I didn't really know how, and I lost a lot of time and stress to trying to play catchup. I would strongly encourage you to learn now how to work hard and excel, and don't just think you probably could if you tried, because, well, I did too.
posted by KathrynT at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

College is not high school. You will be screwing yourself out of many post-college job opportunities by not getting the best grades and GPA you can. I have had my low GPA come up in job interviews.
posted by JJ86 at 12:09 PM on February 23, 2011

What are your career goals/what career possibilities are you considering? Are you considering grad school?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 1:26 PM on February 23, 2011

Anecdata: I've been out of school for 15 years and no employer has asked to see proof of my degrees, much less my transcripts.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2011

Agreed with The Card Cheat. Grades, GPA, and all that may seem like the most important thing in the world when you're first starting out, or still in school, but they really do diminish in importance as you get deeper into your career. I've been doing what I do for 15 years, and been out of school for 20, and I haven't been asked about my schooling beyond the generic "where did you go to school" in about 14 years.
posted by pdb at 2:29 PM on February 23, 2011

The question really isn't whether someone is going to ask about your grades in 20 years (probably not). One question is whether there are going to be career or other options you won't have during or immediately following college. This will determine what options you'll have at the next stage in your career and so on. Another question is whether you are going to be a poorer engineer or have more difficulty in upper-level classes from not being able to master the material in your intro classes at an A level. The answer to both of these questions is almost certainly yes.

The crucial final question is how much you care about either of those things.
posted by grouse at 3:29 PM on February 23, 2011

Anecdata: I've been out of school for 15 years and no employer has asked to see proof of my degrees, much less my transcripts.

Just one more anecdatapoint: I've been out of school for 14 years and every employer and grad school has asked to see my transcripts for both undergrad and grad school. It all depends on what field you go into, I suspect.
posted by The World Famous at 3:31 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Battle Of Anecdata Points vis-a-vis employers asking for transcripts may founder on the shoals of US common practice vs. Canada common practice.

As may the question of how important high grades are to getting a job as an engineer.

I didn't take my grades seriously in college, because it was my "day job" and I was doing other stuff that I believed would be more important to my actual goals in life. Only you know what's most important to you right now, and only you know what's likely to be most important to you in the future.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:55 PM on February 23, 2011

You don't specify what kind of engineering. If you need to go to grad school, this could be an issue. If it's something like programming, it doesnt matter very much.

I had a 2.8 GPA and it's never been an issue as a programmer. Only one employer ever asked my GPA, and that was 10 years out of college so I just didn't give it to them (this was my current employer, in fact, so they hired me anyway).

Had I wanted to get a masters I'm sure this would have been a much bigger issue. Similarly if I had went to a lower-tier school, maybe -- my 2.8 was at a top-tier school so just having the degree helps regardless of GPA.

So: it's complicated. Grad schools care WAY more about GPA than most employers, but this depends upon the field.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2011

Speaking based on my experience and that of my friends: if your school is big enough to have major corporations attend career fairs at that school, they will probably have hard GPA cutoffs. Smaller companies might make exceptions, but for any position with a lot of applicants that are straight out of college GPA is probably going to be a very easy way for them to reduce the number of applicants.

My approach? (some more babbelspeak for you)
Don't throw away easy points. Ever. Read the syllabus - for class with 1000 total points, you usually need 900 points for an A, 800 for a B and so on. Do your easy assignments. Half-ass the hell out of that 10 point assignment if it comes down to it - get 5 points - but don't skip it. Every little bit brings you closer to your goal, and the more points you get on easy stuff the less you have to sweat projects and finals.
The same goes for your GPA in college overall - those classes you are taking that have nothing to do with anything you care about - putting a little bit of effort in now will pad your GPA in the coming years when you really need it.
I'm not saying you have to work your ass off to get an A in your hardest classes, but if you're capable of an A in a class go for it. You don't have to get an A+, just try to sneak in there with a 91 or something. My goal in college was usually a 93%, but I often snuck in there with an 89.5... I wound up coming out of it just fine in the end
posted by itheearl at 5:18 PM on February 23, 2011

If you're going to grad school, you want those grades as high as possible. Freshman year should be pretty easy-- this is your chance to grab as many A's as possible.
posted by spaltavian at 7:31 PM on February 23, 2011

You sound really burned out. I know I felt like that after four years of slaving for A's in order to get into college. Then you get there and uh... you can't sustain that level of perfection and drive for 4 more years because you're TIRED. I was kind of relieved not to have to have perfect A grades in college (indeed, I had one prof who absolutely refused to give A's "unless you have a halo over your head," so that track record got ruined pretty quick), because I had no interest in going to grad school and thus didn't have to keep being perfect. (Though according to a thread down the page, apparently my GPA was acceptable for grad school! Hah!)

However. I was a humanities hippie-dippie person, and not an engineering major (I hung out with a lot of them though). That, alas, is a different ball of wax entirely. Engineering is a VERY HARDCORE MAJOR, and uh... you really shouldn't be slacking if you're in that one. Really really shouldn't. I hate to say it, but you probably need to get back to that grindstone of perfection ASAP.

But really, it depends on what you want to do after undergrad. If you ever want any more schooling, you'd better be perfect. If you want to go into the workforce and screw further schooling, it probably won't be as important. But anecdata on this thread seems to be about 50/50 on whether or not an employer will care. My anecdata story is that I briefly dated an engineering major who was forced to work full time to support himself while going through school. This really didn't work well for him gradewise, and he claimed to have a 0 point something GPA. However, since he kept dropping out of school to work in programming, the company he worked for really liked him, and he said they didn't give a crap about his GPA because they knew he did good work.

So... your mileage may vary. But you'll have a lot more options if you can suck it up and go back to slaving away as hard as you can during the school year.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:28 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been out of school for 14 years and every employer and grad school has asked to see my transcripts for both undergrad and grad school.

But did they care what was written on them, or was it HR saying 'yep, pieces of paper match claim on application, tick box?'

Coast away, my boy. Coast away.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:39 PM on February 23, 2011

A few more thoughts, since I drew out your secret identity and all.

Assuming you are at a G13 school or something comparable, (since you say it's big) in my experience, the degree is the most important thing. Canadian schools are more standardized than American ones, so as long as it's accredited and you graduate, you can get EIT status with your provincial engineering association and which school you went to and your GPA are less important than in the US.

That said:
1). Grad school is a safety valve. I graduated in 2000; a fine time for a Civil (every year since Vitruvius has been a decent time to be a Civil engineer, IMHO), but a terrible job market for electrical and computer engineers. The electrical engineers with good enough grades could hide out from the workforce in grad school for two years, and come out with something to show for it, rather than months or years of unemployment and terror. But that is definitely something where the grades are needed.

2). Some highly specialized fields also need grad school; I'm coming to the realization that I will eventually need a doctorate in my field to be able to impress certain groups of clients (and, honestly, my theory is just not quite up to snuff some days.. Good thing my last two years had GPAs high enough to get me in to grad school. Maybe 5% of my friends needed grad school, but certain problems and fields do demand it, and you don't want that to be the one that calls out to you.

3). You probably want to make sure that you aren't falling behind on the fundamental skills, since 3rd and 4th year rely on what you're learning now. Those are the years you learn the cool stuff, and you don't want to be struggling through first year crap then. Those are also the years that actually matter grades-wise, if anything does.

4). On further consideration, as I said, I got my first job by impressing my prof (I slept through half of the lectures, but destroyed the exams; his charitable interpreration was that I was not being challenged, and it's probably true; this field happens to be my calling). What I didn't get was anything for a summer or internship job, and not for lack of trying. These kinds of things are more based on GPAs, and my 2.6 wasn't exactly impressing anybody. A lot of people I know got their real jobs out of their summer jobs, either directly or indirectly. I lucked out in happening to have a prof that could afford to hire me at the one thing I was really good at, after I proved it to him. Google may not be so forgiving, if that's your goal.

The one thing I should mention is that the major engineering schools have an excellent extracurricular life; putting less effort in classes and more into the engineering society, project teams, EWB or something can provide the 'soft skills' while being one hell of a lot of fun.

As they say, engineering can be the worst four years of your life, or the best six.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:51 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks again everyone for sharing -- looking through this thread, it looks like I've got my work cut out for me.
posted by btfreek at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2011

« Older What if it's not ADD?   |   What are the best examples of stylized visual... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.