“I seriously need to switch out of this class,” Jamie was telling me, “This teacher is just busting my balls. I can’t get a B…” Jamie was usually a straight A student.
I tilted my head and pursed the corner of my lips. We were talking about our A&P teacher’s seemingly impossible standards.
“I’d fail before I switch,” I said laughing. I was barely scraping B’s in the class.
And… I was completely serious when I said that.
This realization was huge for college.
I scored lower than I was used to in that class. But… I was learning stuff like crazy. The teacher was an absolute beast when it came to violently shoveling A&P knowledge into my skull until I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was a tough class and an amazing teacher.
It would be worth failing that class just to learn as much as I did. You get teachers like that once every dozen classes. Take advantage of it.
But it’s not that simple, there are a few complications:
The High School Dilemma
Some high school students are forced to maintain a precarious balance in school.
They want to learn from their teachers but, at the same time, they’re trying to keep their grades high enough to get into a competitive college. Would they rather score an A and learn less or score a B and learn more?
An ‘A’ may get you into a better college.
But… learning more means you’d do better once you get to college and your future in general. Learning less just feels like a waste of talent. If you can learn more, shouldn’t you want to learn more?
The solution to this dilemma isn’t hard to find when you understand the value of college:
95% of colleges aren’t worth competing to get into. Sure… they’re good investments. They’re just not hard to appreciate the benefits of. They’re a dime a dozen but cost you 400,000 times that. 5% of colleges are top-notch investments in your future.
Are you competing for that top 5% of colleges?
Take Your Success has a great take on this. Sometimes your GPA matters. Most of the time, it doesn’t.
If so, you’re not in the business of learning more. You’re in the business of competing for limited spots. The vast majority of students that get accepted to these colleges will be using every advantage they can get. Choosing the noble act of learning more is a symbolic gesture that will not pay off in the short run. It will just decrease your chances of getting accepted.
If you’re not competing for the top 5% of colleges then you’re in the comfortable majority.
You’re going to school. (I’m assuming you’ve decided that already.) You don’t need to waste your time in easy classes. It’s pointless. Sure… you can do it but it won’t help you. You’re stuck going to class anyway. You might as well learn as much as possible. (Sometimes that will be in a class where you struggle to score high. Sometimes it will be in an easy to score high class.)
It may not feel good to go home with a mediocre looking grade but that’s not all you’ll go home with. You’ll also have the experience and knowledge to deal with your future classes better. In the long run, you win.
What About The College Dilemma?
The high school dilemma revolves around the choice between a better college or learning more.
The college dilemma revolves around the choice between a better gpa on your resume or learning more.
Should you focus on scoring higher to get a better job or learning more?
Scoring higher may give you better job opportunities. Learning more could do the same. The difference is ultimately the time frame.
When you’re applying for your first job, your GPA may be a factor. This is particularly true if you’re competing for exclusive internships. But if you can’t back it up with knowledge then, like it or not, this is going to be a short term head start. You might make more but eventually the lower scoring students that learned more will catch up.
For the most part, I don’t believe there is a college dilemma. Whatever you pick, you’re not losing out. Manage your college schedule in a way that makes you happy. Both ways can work.
One Quick Exception: If you’re not planning to work in the field more than 5 or 10 years then consider focusing on your GPA. That means you’ll start with a higher paycheck. By the time the more prepared students catch up, you’ll be leaving the business and enjoying a higher return.
A Worse Grade Doesn’t Mean A Better Teacher
This is the most important caveat to my point in this article.
This isn’t about finding classes where your grades suck or your teachers are miserable buffoons. It’s about how to deal with those oddball courses where you know your grade will suffer but you also know you will learn a lot.
Sometimes good teachers hold students to high standards. Sometimes bad teachers hold students up to ridiculous standards. Try and distinguish the difference.
Once you start to notice it you’ll be able to manage a ton more in school.
These are the usual signs to look for:
Do poor students complain about the teacher being tough?
Do high-scoring students complain about the teacher being tough?
Do average students seem to enjoy the class?
If you get a yes to all three questions then you may not have an easy to ace course but you probably have a wonderful learning opportunity. If you’re in the right situation then take advantage of it.
You will only have so many great teachers in your life. A great teacher is the most valuable resource you’ll ever have in any subject. A great teacher can permanently improve your future in any and every field. They can get you motivated. They can make you appreciate subjects you’ve never appreciated in the past. They can change your life for the better.
Naturally, you need to manage your grades in some situations but don’t miss a great opportunity to learn when you get it.
Let me tell you the story
of Bad Luck Billy.
He shows up to Smart Students Secrets looking to get his 4 free academic strategy guides but…
it’s too late. They’re gone.
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