An “A” student in English is not as attractive to future employers as a student who can write well. A student who can write well is not as attractive as one who has published articles or books. Grades do not determine the future, capabilities do, or, better yet, actions do.
I already knew this when I walked into college. I was not a straight-A student in high school. There were many students who applied to the College of William and Mary from my high school who had higher GPAs than I did. I still believe my essays played a large role in my acceptance. GPAs are impressive, but they are only a means to an end.
Think of it this way: when a spokesman gives a presentation to an audience full of capable colleagues, no one cares that the individual had good grades in the past if his presentation is not competent. When a politician gives a speech, no one cares about their alma mater if their words are not eloquent or their argument is not strong. What is a GPA compared to an essay when writing and speaking are two of the foremost signs of intelligence in our society?
There are exceptions, of course. Math and science students do not need the written word as much as others may. I could wax poetic all day long, but it will not bring about the cure for cancer or use energy more efficiently. Words are not everything, but even amongst those who prefer numbers over letters (or are at a stage in math when they do, again, prefer letters over numbers), capabilities speak louder than grades. A well-written computer application (or a hacked iPhone) could land you a job at Apple and a portfolio of well-designed websites could land you requests from professors to companies. Yet at the end of the day, scientists have their intelligence questioned if their theories are marred by poor grammar, and a poor writer will still face obstacles in the world of science and math.
Walking into college, students should care less about the grade they get and more about the quality of their work. These two goals may sound as thought they’re one and the same, but a key distinction can be made between them: high quality work will usually earn good grades, but good grades do not necessarily mean high quality work.
In high school, teachers are burdened with concern over whether their students will perform well on SoLs. They are sometimes more concerned about whether or not students can memorize mass volumes of information than their students’ ability to analyze and apply the information they are given. In high school, as skills are being taught first, papers can many times earn passing grades if they reflect what the teacher taught, regardless of its depth (or lack of).
In college, on the other hand, professors are not burdened by state standards and are more concerned about each student’s capabilities. A paper can earn a good grade just by being a well-argued analysis of a specific issue, rather than an overview of each piece of material covered in class. A student studying to get an “A” may try to memorize every note they took that semester, whereas a student focused on doing their best work will write the best paper they can on whatever lesson from class stuck with them, and the professor will more than likely reward them for it.
Outside the world of scholarship, no one person is expected to know everything. As students study for their college classes, they should be aware that they are studying to be successful in future careers, and those jobs will most likely not require memorizing every page of a textbook. Besides, teachers reward students who write their papers acknowledging that they do not know everything and take the time to point out the weaknesses in their own argument. A college student who approaches a task thinking they know everything will likely receive a grade showing them that they do not.