I was recently asked a question about the real value of scoring an A in class.
I give a ton of advice on how to get the A but I often take for granted that an A is worth getting in the first place. I think that’s a thing that most students take for granted. That being said, it makes perfect sense to question this kind of a thing. To go on assuming value without verifying it is a little bit foolish.
Some of the obvious reasons a person might worry about getting an A would be for:
- Getting into a better college
- Getting a better job
- To know they have the knowledge they need.
- Keeping parents/teachers/friends off their backs.
Some of these reasons are pretty hard to measure. Is it worth getting an “A” just to get your parents off your back? I can’t answer that question.
For that reason, I’m going to focus my energy on the two big actionable reasons you might want to get better grades.
If you’re a high school student, should you aim for A’s to get into a better college?
If you’re a college student, should you aim for A’s to get a better job?
I should probably add a major caveat. These are mostly my opinions. I’m throwing some facts in to help you evaluate the decision yourself but, naturally, these are super subjective matters. I won’t be able to provide any serious calculations. (Since I am a study blogger, you can probably expect some pro-grades bias.)
I’m going to break each of these questions into two separate questions.
First, I’m going to assess how reasonable the assumption made in each question is. You shouldn’t ask “Is getting into a better college worth the effort of getting “A”s” without first asking if getting “A”s will actually get you into a “better” college.
This may seem obvious but it shouldn’t be. Often these kinds of assumptions aren’t backed up by empirical research. They’re just ideas that have been repeated so many times that people assume facts are backing them up.
Second, I’m going to ask whether or not getting those grades is worth the effort required. Naturally, this is heavily dependent on factors that are personal. I’m going to try to keep it as general as practical.
I’m going to use this same methodology for both of the questions.
So, Is Getting An A In High School Worth It?
First, I need to ask…
Does getting better grades get you into a better college?
First, I’m going to define better college. I believe the best reason to go to college is the potential return on investment. I understand that some students swimming in money don’t care about not eating macaroni and cheese and hot dogs for the rest of their life. If you have plenty of money and are buying college as a luxury then forget about this methodology.
In college, you’re paying for the opportunity to make more money in the future. A better college would be a college where you spend less money to earn more money in the future.
So you might rephrase the original question as: Does getting better grades get you into a high ROI (return on investment) college?
Payscale has done some interesting work about the average ROI of different colleges.
This is going to be an oversimplified explanation of some of the data but I think it’s sufficient considering this is a relatively subjective analysis in the first place.
You’ll notice that most of the big name competitive colleges are clustered near the top. They’re not the highest ranked schools (in most ways of sorting. Once you add financial aid they often end up right near the top.) but they’re usually reasonably high ROI (12%+ annually.)
You might also notice a huge cluster of colleges providing ROI’s that are over 8%. Often these are state universities that have minimal GPA expectations. Getting an A versus a B won’t make too much of a difference getting into a college with over 8% ROI.
There is a notable difference between high ROI colleges and low ROI colleges but it’s tough to say that getting better grades will qualify you for a significantly higher ROI college more than mediocre grades will.
From a pure, ROI standpoint, getting better grades in high school can definitely pay off. (This is particularly true if you get into a high financial aid school like MIT.) Admissions at many of the highest (but not all) ROI colleges is often tougher than the average ROI school.
Is getting into a better college worth the effort?
The answer to this question partially comes down to whether or not you use intelligent study strategies. You can think about this from an ROI perspective. For a hypothetical example,
If you need to study for an hour a night to get your “A”s then factor that into the potential reward you’ll earn in the future. That hour a night would add up to 180 hours over the school year. Now take that extra 4% of your expected salary and divide that by the extra time.
For this example I’ll imagine your baseline graduation salary is 100k. I know this is high but it will just help illustrate a point.
So… You will make 104k a year after graduating from a top notch college getting your extra 4 percent.
$4,000/180 = $22.22 per hour for your time invested now. That isn’t too shabby for a high school student to make. Then again, that’s assuming you’re only counting senior year.
Divide that by 4 if you’re a freshman (3 if you’re a sophomore, 2 if you’re a junior.) The earlier you are in your high school career, the more you can increase your chances of getting into a high ROI college but the less you’re going to make from it.
So if you’re a freshman you’ll end up making only a smidgen over $5.50 an hour. Sound like a poor proposition?
But wait… $4,000 is what you would be making every single year you decide to work. So… let’s be conservative and say you have a twenty year career. So… if you’re a freshman that can make $4,000 a year by scoring high now then…
$5.50 X 20 (For Your Whole Career) = HOLY CRAP! An Hour…
$110 an hour
That’s not bad for a high school student.
For a more conservative salary of 50k/52k a year, that return on investment is cut in half.
$2000/180 = $11.11 per hour. This isn’t bad for a high school student but I could see passing on it. Divide that by four and you’ll be making the same wage as a factory worker in an impoverished nation.
But multiply that over your whole 20 year career and you’d make…
$2.75 x 20 = $55 an hour
That’s a hair better than a job flipping burgers, right?
But… this is assuming you study for an hour every night. While most teachers recommend crazy numbers higher than that, most students don’t study that much. (Not even most high scoring students.)
If you average 30 minutes a night then you can double your potential ROI. If you study in 15 minutes a night (like I teach) then you’d get 4 times the ROI. (Of course, I don’t suggest my strategy as a consistent means to get into a top notch college. It can get you into a high ROI one but not necessarily a highly competitive one.)
Is getting “A”s in high school worth the effort?
Well… I think it ultimately comes down to how fast you can get them. That’s why I do what I do. The difference a small improvement in studying can make is huge. Small changes in efficiency add up to huge changes over time.
You don’t need to get into a competitive college to get a high return on investment but that extra investment of time can be hugely valuable over your life.
Are you sacrificing the best years of your life for it? Maybe but if that’s the case then I suggest you think about it this way.
Don’t let high school be the best years of your life. In my experience, life can improve dramatically after high school. The first couple years can be slow but as you gather resources and learn what you want to do with your life, everything in your life can become dramatically better than being trapped in high school all day.
Or… you can settle for high school being the best days of your life. I guess that’s up to you.
There is one important point to note though: Never lose site of your real goals. Your goal shouldn’t be to get good grades. It should be to get into a high ROI college. That tends to be a highly competitive college for top tier (with exceptions) or just avoiding bad universities for a good ROI.
So, Is Getting An A In College Worth It?
Does getting better grades get you into a better job?
Again, I’ll be defining the better job as the higher income per hour job. I couldn’t blame anyone arguing with this way of defining a better job. It’s just a simplification to make it easier to think about.
(I’d probably argue a better job has more to do with better co-workers than more money. Someone else might argue the better job is the one with more growth potential.) I don’t think there is any great way to define better job.
College graduates are regularly screened out based on their GPA. If you’re in college then you may already have seen this kind of recruiting. Big companies try to compete for the best potential employees. Since there aren’t too many college students with significant experience, GPA becomes a serious screening option.
70% of hiring managers report to screening based on GPA.
I suspect over a person’s career this difference would even out but, in the short term, GPA can definitely make a difference for a student applying for a job.
Is Getting An “A” In College Worth The Effort?
An increase from a 3.0 GPA to a 4.0 GPA can improve your earning potential by about $3,000 a year. This makes a similar calculation to the high school one possible.
If you study for one hour 5 nights week to get that extra point then…
$3,000 annual income / 75 hours for each weekday over the semester
= $40 per hour invested in studying
But… over 8 semester…
$40 / 8 semesters = $5 an hour per hour invested in studying
But… That’s annually…
So for every hour of studying (that increases your GPA by 1 point, I agree this is less of a given than the high school example…)
$5 X 20 year career
= $100 per hour invested in studying.
Now let’s assume my estimate of 1 hour of studying for an increased point in your GPA is insane.
If you study two hours a night then you’d still be making $50 per hour studying.
If you study four hours a night then you’d be making $25 per hour studying. Statistically, that’s not a bad income for the average college graduate.
So, Is Getting An “A” In College Worth It?
Assuming you’re only working for a couple hours every night then it’s probably worth the extra effort. In most cases your hourly earning for each hour of studying would be worth more than the hours you actually spend working after graduation. You just have to wait to appreciate the benefit.
But Is This Really Scientific?
That’s the tough part about this. I could dig into this data for hours and I wouldn’t scratch the surface of all the variables. My point isn’t that this is the perfect explanation of what happens. This is just a rough idea to help you make the decision yourself.
The question isn’t whether or not it’s worth the time invested.
The question is whether or not it’s worth your time invested.
For me, I think getting a good grade is usually worth the extra effort. Part of the reason I believe that is because, in my experience, these time estimates are extremely conservative when you’re using a quality study strategy. One hour of studying or working on class work can be worth hundreds of dollars if you’re willing to think about it in terms of your whole career.
Since you’re a subscriber here, I suspect you already understand your value in getting better grades. I hope this article can help motivate you a little with incomplete but illustrative proof.
This is just my crazy biased opinion to a very very complicated question. I hope it helps.
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I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my tendency to throw-out hundreds of people on a whim but it’s only because they’re not even trying anymore. Honestly… this community isn’t for everyone.
Smart Student Secrets is a community dedicated to students developing their own superpowers like:
Memorize hundreds of terms in less time than it takes you to brush your teeth
Spend more time enjoying yourself with the fun stuff in your life while STILL improving your scores
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