Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Learning Is Not All About GPA

I took Chinese during the first semester of my freshman year and intended to major in economics. My reasoning was simple: Chinese was a difficult language that would be difficult to study independently, and economics was something I was unfamiliar with. I figured that since I was attending a top university, I should take full advantage of the courses that would pose the biggest challenge to me.

That all changed by my second semester. It turned out that despite waking up every day at 4:00 a.m. to study characters, I was not able to memorize them at the pace necessary to excel in the intensive Chinese courses here. I went to my Chinese professor and asked him if he thought I could handle another three semesters of Chinese.

“You can,” he said, “but I don’t know if your GPA can handle it.” He continued, “I doubt that you will ever get an A in Chinese. Maybe you should take another language. You already speak Korean, right?”

I initially scoffed at the suggestion that I might consider dropping a class not because I could not learn the material but because I would get grades that might cause my grade point average to sink. That seemed ridiculous. Surely I would be better off if I struggled to get by but still came out with a language that I otherwise might never learn.

But I abandoned that logic when I talked to mentors and academic deans. GPA is a big factor in a lot of things, and most employers and admissions offices are not as impressed by a hard-earned 3.2 as they are by a 3.8 earned in classes a student feels comfortable with.

I dropped Chinese as soon as I got to a computer.

I further followed this lesson in my decision to study international politics rather than economics. I am a fairly strong student of international relations. I am lousy at economics. I would probably benefit a great deal from forcing myself to understand economics better, but why bother? It would damage my GPA. That is the same reason I do not study calculus or take a lab science. I know that there is information in those courses that would be immensely valuable to me, but I am not naturally gifted in those subjects.

When it comes to my studies, I am risk averse.

I still take a demanding course load, but I only take courses in which I have a shot at doing very well. Why damage my chances of getting into a great law school before I even take the LSAT? Why ruin my chances of having the career in the military I have worked so hard to earn? Why take risks for the sake of education, when they might harm me professionally?

I am not the only one who thinks this way. The lack of surprise on the face of my academic adviser when I said I wanted to drop a class to protect my GPA demonstrated how commonly the deans hear such statements. Ratemyprofessors.com is filled with comments by students warning others not to take a class because the professor is a hard grader. Forget the quality of the lectures; forget the content of the course assignments; the thing that matters to many students is what a class will do to their GPA.

There are people who are phenomenal at whatever they do academically. I am not one of them. There are some subjects in which I excel and others in which I am average at best, at least among Georgetown students. My military background is a great help in some classes. In others, I think of it as a burden. During my time in the army, I wrote a lot of reports, but I don’t recall solving an equation once. I came out of the army with a lopsided skill set.

The ultimate problem is that taking classes that improve my GPA is good for my career but not necessarily good for my education. My concern over my GPA keeps me from challenging myself, and there are plenty of students like me. I know people who chose not to major in international politics after a course in statistics was added to the list of requirements. They did not suddenly lose interest in the major; they simply stopped believing they could maintain a high enough GPA to apply with confidence to whatever job or university they hope to get into upon graduation.

As students, we should recognize that we do have a choice: Is our primary purpose in college to challenge ourselves and grow in knowledge and wisdom, or is it to earn credentials and make connections that will be useful in the early years of a career? Sometimes we can’t have it all, and this may be one of those times. Academic deans could do a better job helping students to see this, as there are certainly benefits to attending Georgetown that go beyond the student’s first job.

After all, it is doubtful that anyone will care about my GPA after I have been working for a few years. But they probably will care if I speak Chinese.

William Quinn is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service and a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army. He can be reached at quinnthehoya.com. AIMLESS FEET appears every other Tuesday.

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