THE BLOG

My Wishlist for Students: College Is About More Than Grades

02/09/2015 05:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015

I just peeked at a study about college students that surveyed a bunch of people who recently graduated high school. Those behind the survey were interested in whether and how recent high school graduates felt they were ready for college.

The survey suggests that the majority of recent high school students (60 percent) wish they would have "worked harder" in high school. The study discusses a variety of gaps in college students' preparation (between high school and college), and seems to have a very specific idea about what it means to be "ready" for college (e.g. better grades in high school, more proficient in math, better study skills, etc.).

In my opinion, there are ways to fill those perceived "gaps" upon entering college, and many of them have absolutely nothing to do with grades. When I was out of college and seeking my first employment opportunity, approximately zero percent of potential employers were interested in my GPA. Did you hear that? ZERO.

If an employer determines whether or not you are employable by emphasizing your GPA (and only your GPA)...

... Let's just say that is someone I'd refuse to work for.

... And this is coming from someone who graduated Magna Cum Laude.

I can just feel the claws coming out in my direction. Sorry, not sorry. When I was a student, I was friends with plenty of other students who had high GPAs and absolutely no life skills whatsoever. Moreover, they needed their hands held 100 percent of the time. Sorry, boss, but I do hope you use a more holistic metric to determine whether someone is employable right out of college.

Now, guys, you need a decent GPA to make it through college successfully. You need a decent GPA to pursue most majors. For some majors, that GPA had better be damned near perfect. If you earn a low GPA at the start of your college career, good luck getting that cumulative average to climb. I am not about to tell you to stop being concerned about your GPA. But I am going to give you a picture of what it could mean to fill those gaps in skills that the study talks about -- everything on this list is something I did not do, and something I wish I would have done in college, looking back.

And so, here it is: My short wishlist for students with more than one semester of college remaining.

1. Study Abroad

College is perhaps the only time in most of our lives where we are guaranteed the opportunity to experience life in another culture, if we so choose. There is not a major or profession on the face of this earth that could not benefit from worldly experience. Seek an opportunity to study abroad. You will not, not, NOT regret this. You might regret, however, not seizing the opportunity when you had the chance. Pro-tip: You probably need a decent GPA to be approved for a study-abroad opportunity. Most professors will not take the chance on someone with a questionable transcript, reputation, and background -- such histories are (potentially) interpreted as a liability and too high of a risk.

2. Do Not Blow Off a Foreign Language

If I regret one thing about high school and college, it was my uninformed, short-sighted assumption that learning a foreign language was of absolutely no immediate or long-term use to me. This assumption has proven itself wrong time and time again, but not until I had been out of college for several years. Do not blow off a foreign language -- I do not care what your major is.

3. Work for Someone Difficult

Most of us get jobs in college. If it turns out that the job you get is made unnecessarily difficult by the person in charge, commit to working for them for a period of time (rather than quitting immediately). The skills you will gain by learning to deal with difficult people will last you a life time -- and you'll learn exactly what to look for when you seek future employment opportunities.

My father told me recently that a "burden is an opportunity." When you learn how to transform the kinds of gaps (burdens) that the study talks about into opportunities, you'll begin to fill those gaps in more holistic, meaningful ways. College-readiness is not just about grades and test scores, no matter what those in power attempt to impress upon us, and no matter what well-meaning surveys want to tell us. College-readiness is also about becoming the kind of person who has enough foresight to identify the abundant opportunities which surround us.

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