Good policy awareness

By Yaroslav Mikhaylov

  With Thanksgiving in the recent past, University of Massachusetts students are headed back to Amherst for the final stretch of the semester. This is where clear differences between the various brackets of college students manifest themselves most clearly. Some students will put in many hours of extra work just for that extra bit of an edge on their GPAs. Others, confident they will pass their classes, settle for the minimum required to squeeze by with that gentleman’s C. Still others frantically scramble to figure out in which building that class they haven’t been to since early October meets. With exams, papers and the dreaded finals looming in the all-too-near future, it is time to evaluate what it all means. What bearing on one’s future career does that A in interior design really hold?

Grades are a frequent complaint among students. Everyone can relate to losing sight of the major concepts or ideas in a class because they were too busy memorizing figures, formulas or theories. And everyone has skipped at least one lecture to get a paper or a project for another class done on time. It’s okay, that professor doesn’t take attendance anyways. For many, the college experience feels like a repeat of high school: don’t worry about what you’re learning and just get good grades so you can get into a good college. You can satisfy your academic curiosity once you get there. Yet between the major requirements, general education and college-specific requirements, this next step in the academic progression feels much the same as the previous one: get good grades to get into a graduate program, a good internship and ultimately a good job. Students are so concerned about earning a grade that they forget why they are in college in the first place – to learn skills they will ultimately use in their careers.

Grades do not reflect learning. They reflect how well a student prepared for an exam or how closely he or she followed the instructions in writing a paper. It’s difficult to get a good grade in a class without learning something. Most assignments and exams require you to know the material, but often as mere background to several very specific topics, issues or problem types the assessment in question asks about. The issue is even more significant in a class that does not take cumulative exams. There, it is very tempting to simply forget what was covered in early September because it’s not going to be on the final.

Grades are, in essence, a measure of how well a student has adapted to the class environment. The very first paper one writes for a class is the hardest one, because you do not know what specific areas the professor looks for when issuing a grade. Some students adjust quickly, and some professors and courses are easy to adjust to. Other professors are notoriously fickle graders, earning them a “Hard” rating on Grades then reflect little of what was learned in college and more how well the student figured out the requirements his or her professors set and how precisely he or she fulfilled them. Then why do they matter in the real world if they don’t reflect the knowledge colleges are supposed to endow?

An oft-repeated bit of advice that management expert Stephen Robbins gives across all of his publications is to “hire conscientious people,” They are the ones that do all of the required tasks on time and exactly to specifications – much like a student has to do with their papers and homework assignments in order to get a good grade. A good grade point average shows a prospective employer that their intern or new hire will do exactly what needs to be done to the best of his or her ability.

None of this is meant to insinuate that what you learn in college is unimportant for getting into graduate school or getting a great job. What you know and what you don’t know is what employers seek to find out during interviews. It will also become clear at the job itself. Knowledge can be learned, forgotten and learned again. However, habits a good GPA is symptomatic of are difficult to develop and take a lot of time to master. Curing the greatest genius of a bad work ethic is much harder than teaching a hard-worker some skill he or she had forgotten to learn. So if you have good work and study habits – good for you! If you do not, then at least you have time to learn them before being thrust into the “real world.” You’ll even get a nice shiny GPA out of it!

Yaroslav Mikhaylov is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].