Does GPA matter in engineering?

You get the e-mail that says your final grades are online. Your heart starts beating. Boom boom. Boom boom. You're hoping that the average is low. Hopefully, you can swing at least a B. Most companies are happy with a 3.0 right? You log onto the university website. You click the grades button and… D. Shit. Or maybe you're that student who aces everything and didn't even check your grades. Either way, a lot of students end up asking themselves: Does GPA matter?


I won't lie to you. GPA can matter if you have dreams of attending an ivy league school or working at a prestigious company. If your happiness requires working at a prestigious place, there is nothing left to say. GPA probably does matter.

That's not an interesting question. This article is for those who aren't so sure about their GPA. They don't know exactly where they want to be. This is for those who question whether they will be successful or happy if they don't do as well in college.

01 | What The Studies Say

Peter A. Cohen conducted a meta-analytic study (a study of other studies). In it, he attempted to find a relationship between GPA and adult achievement. Specifically, he looked at the relationship between GPA and:

  • Job performance (rated by supervisor)
  • Job performance (rated by peer)
  • Job performance (rated by self)
  • Income
  • Promotions
  • Satisfaction
  • Eminence
  • Graduate degree (whether one was obtained)

He found there was a marginal connection between GPA and adult achievement. In short, a higher GPA didn't equate to more success. 

A different study performed by Donald P. Hoyt took a closer look at engineering in particular. Hoyt examined 5 studies conducted by other researchers. Each of the studies looked for a connection between GPA and salary. Hoyt concluded that in four out of the five studies, there was no correlation. Thus, the grades you get in school are unlikely to have an effect on your future salary.

Yes, getting a lower GPA may mean that you don't get to work at your dream company. Yet, it doesn't mean you won't be as successful or make as much money as your peers. "But Justin, I want to work at XYZ company, even though I have a low GPA. What should I do?"

02 | Getting Your Dream Job With A Lower GPA

According to an executive at google, GPA’s are a poor indicator of a good potential employee. 

One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless
— Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google

When companies look at your GPA they are trying to determine how capable you are. The entire goal of the hiring process is to see if you can solve the company's problem. Find creative ways to prove your competence and you will stand out among your peers. So what are some good ways to stand out? Raghav Haran of landanyjobyouwant showcased some interesting case studies:

Francine Lee: Made some suggestions about redesigning the user experience of Dropbox photos. She then ended up getting a job there.

francinelee

Nina: Made a viral website analyzing data and giving insights for free to AirBnB. 

nina4airbnb

I suggest researching the company you want to work at and trying to solve one of their problems. This can be a highly effective way to show your competence as a potential employee. It also shows that you aren't afraid to take initiative and have a lot of passion. I recommend checking out Raghav's site for more information about how to do this. I am not affiliated with him, but I appreciate his work. It's also a good idea to join clubs that are relevant to the industry you want to work in. For example, if you want to work in the automotive industry you should join clubs like FSAE. This shows employers that you take initiative, are passionate and have relevant experience. 

03 | The Traits Of Successful People

So if GPA doesn't matter, what does? Richard St. John is a success analyst. He conducted years of research with successful individuals to find out their secret. After all his work he found the following 8 traits to be the most consistent ingredients for success:

1. Passion - “love what you do”

2. Work - “work really hard”

3. Focus - “focus on one thing, not everything”

4. Push - “pushing yourself [to improve]”

5. Ideas - “come up with good ideas”

6. Improve - “keep improving yourself in what you do”

7. Serve - “serve others something of value…”

8. Persist - “…because there is no overnight success”

Angela Lee Duckworth went from management consultant to teacher to psychologist. She studied a wide array of people in different settings to determine who was successful and why. She found out that the key to success boiled down to one single quality:

grit. In Duckworth’s own words:

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future. Day in. Day out. Not just for the week. Not just for the month. For years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like its a marathon, not a sprint
— Angela Lee Duckworth, American Psychologist

Succeeding in life has less to do with your grades and more to do with what kind of person you are. The world appreciates people who don't give up trying to find the solutions to its problems.

04 | Developing Grit

The closest idea Duckworth has come across to help develop grit is the "growth mindset". The "growth mindset" was actually coined by Carol Dweck (professor of psychology at Stanford). Individuals with the growth mindset believe that they can do anything. They believe time and hard work are all they need to improve. Contrary to the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. Individuals with the fixed mindset believe that they are either born good at something or not. 

05 | Final Thoughts

Clearly, GPA is not all that it is cracked up to be. There are other means to landing your dream job. Furthermore, GPA has little to no correlation with success/salary. But, keep in mind that getting a D won't help you either. Getting an A won't limit you. Many companies have minimum barriers to entry. It helps to try and always stay above those barriers so that you aren't immediately excluded for a job. Either way, by working hard and staying persistent, success will come. Best wishes!


Do you think GPA matters?