This is the first entry in a new semi-regular series I’m calling: The Unconventional Scholar. In the style of my first book, How to Win at College, this series features unexpected (but surprisingly effective) tips for getting more out of college.
The Mystery Number
In my last couple years as a college student, I looked up my GPA on only two occasions that I can remember. The first was in the fall of my senior year. I had to put it down on my grad school applications. The second was in the late spring. I wanted to see if I was in the running to be Salutatorian. (Fortunately, I wasn’t — my GPA remained a healthy 0.025 points away from being competitive — so I was saved the stress of thinking about giving a speech.)
Outside of these isolated occurrences, me and my cumulative GPA lived separate lives. We had no interest in knowing about each other. I suggest you do the same.
GPA Breeds Stress
There is no good reason to know your cumulative GPA. It can only serve one purpose: stress. If you’re a GPA addict, then as you study for exams, you can’t help but think about how different grades in the class will affect your overall standing. This makes you nervous. It makes you more upset when you score lower than you wanted. And it shifts your focus away from discovering the most efficient possible way to embrace the material and toward a paranoia about avoiding GPA-busting mistakes.
Ignorance is Bliss
Here’s what you should do instead: ignore your GPA. In most classes, your professor will tell you your grade at the end of the semester. There is no reason to look at the grade report that arrives in the mail, and comes emblazoned with your GPA. Do what I did, and simply throw out this envelope without opening it.
(In fact, earlier this year I ordered a copy of my transcript for use in a promotion for Straight-A, and was shocked to find a collection of citations from professors that I never knew about; I had missed them at the time because I never read the grade reports in which they were originally sent.)
Focus On Performance, Not GPA
Smart students treat each class like an individual challenge. Your goal should be to find the most efficient possible way to really learn the material. You might not always get this right. Sometimes, you’ll make stupid mistakes on a test or bet on the wrong thesis, but that’s okay. So long as you’re getting better at being a student, over time, most (not all) of your grades will be great. By ignoring your GPA, you’re simply cutting out a lot of stress along this journey.