Your College is Not a Technical School

Ramit Sethi

I went to school with some of the smartest people in the world–people whose knowledge and insight would stun you regularly–but you wouldn’t always know it. Maybe it was the guy who didn’t know how to pump his own gas, or the girl whose monotone voice and paragraph-long questions made me want to jump off a bridge and stab myself on the way down (want to be doubly sure). I don’t know.

But one of the stupidest things I heard thrown around was the question of which major would help get a job. It went something like this: “All the econ majors get jobs in consulting, so maybe I should do that…” (thousand-yard stare).

I’m so tired of hearing this that I am seriously considering walking a crocodile on a leash wherever I go and having him chomp off the arms of the stupid people who say this.

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Your college is not a technical school. If you simply want a job, you can go to ITT Tech. Instead, I think college is about meeting interesting people, doing what’s interesting to you, becoming very good at it, and marketing yourself.

What I’m saying is different than the old, conventional thinking about life (“Go to school, pick a safe major, get a good job, and be a cog in the machine for the rest of your life”). I even know some parents who insist their children get master’s degrees. Why? “It looks good.”

When senior year rolls around and people are looking for jobs, it’s amusing to see the contradictions in what we believe and what our opportunities really are. For example, a funny but sad barrier people use on their own job hunt: “I’m an English major, so I can’t apply to be an investment banker.” No, the reason you can’t be a banker is that you selected yourself out of the applicant pool based on your ignorant assumptions.

Your major isn’t as important as you think. It’s what you’ve done that distinguishes you.

I think the point of school is much more than to simply get some credentials, and it’s certainly much more than to learn the stuff you do in class. In fact, ask your friends who graduated how much of their coursework they use on a daily basis. For almost every major, the answer is exactly the same: not much. Instead, college should ideally teach you how to think and give you a broad-based skill set that you can apply almost anywhere.

Priorities are important
When I was in school, my priorities were (in order)…
1. Friends
2. My own business stuff
3. Classes

Before you write me telling me that grades come first because your parents are paying $3895823523, please note that I agree–you have to get decent grades. No argument: If you have a 2.0 GPA, you’re probably not getting a good job right out of college.

But I have a couple of things I want to talk about: First, grades are important for grad school and, to a limited extent, for your first job. After that, nobody gives a damn. Second–and this is my own personal opinion, of course–I’d rather get moderately good grades while having a social life and doing a bunch of interesting stuff, rather than focusing exclusively on school so I could get an A+. What’s an A+? It’s a letter and a character…on a piece of paper.

Plus, it’s often prohibitively hard to get from a B- to an A. In other words, it’s not too hard to get to an 85%, but getting from there to a 95% is really hard. If you can do it while managing your time, great (and frankly, most top students do). Is it worth it every time? No way.

Oh my god, Ramit!!! Are you suggesting we don’t get the best grades we can?!?!?

No, but I like when you get really agitated like that. Of course everybody should try to get the best grades they can. But there’s more to school than grades. And this is why I think that doing cool stuff that produces tangible results is really important. For example, do you have a portfolio of projects you’ve designed? Do you have a blog? Do you have a strong network of great people who can help you find the right job? Do you have articles you’ve written for different newspapers? What do you have besides a conventional, boring transcript to show what you did for the last 4 years?

I think I could probably learn 80% of my college career simply from reading the books. But the last 20%–the hardest and most valuable part–came from talking to people, bouncing ideas off them, doing my own startup stuff, and making a bunch of mistakes. And I did all of this in the relative safety of college, where the worst that can happen is you get a “-” next to one of the letter grades on your transcript.

I wrote about a similar thing in my article on greed and speed, where I said that if you build something valuable, the money will come. The same is true of jobs: If you do interesting work, have great friends, build a great network of supporters, and market yourself, the employers will come. In fact, if you’re really good, instead of you seeking them out, they will seek you out.

Look what business luminary Tom Peters says about GPAs:

Never hire a human being who had a 4.0 in college. If they had a perfect GPA, it means they bought the act and never screwed around. Now a 2.0 is probably not so good. But the ones who had 3.0, yeah! Those are the freaks you want!

(More commentary on this from Ian Ybarra.)

Most people don’t think this. They want a job after college, and that’s where their 4 years goes. I would ALWAYS hire a B-student who can show me she understands technology and is passionate about what she does, over someone who shows me he spent 4 years in the library and has no tolerance for risk or real skills (except test-taking).

Are you stuck by convention?
Let’s see what a couple of other hardcore entrepreneurs have to say about it.

Paul Graham notes this in his absolutely excellent essay, Hiring is Obsolete:

I asked managers at Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Cisco and Microsoft how they’d feel about two candidates, both 24, with equal ability, one who’d tried to start a startup that tanked, and another who’d spent the two years since college working as a developer at a big company. Every one responded that they’d prefer the guy who’d tried to start his own company. Zod Nazem, who’s in charge of engineering at Yahoo, said:

I actually put more value on the guy with the failed startup. And you can quote me!

So there you have it. Want to get hired by Yahoo? Start your own company.

You don’t necessarily have to start your own company. But if you want the jobs that aren’t announced on the email list, and you want to just have a more fun time at college, you do have to do interesting stuff. Publish papers. Start a student group. Travel a bunch and take cool photographs. Get 10 friends together and meet the CEOs of the biggest companies around, and write up what you learned. Do anything beyond just your classes!

In the end, I think it’s actually more risky to focus exclusively on classes. Why? Because you have to compete against everyone else who will be trying to get jobs using the same critera: grades. I hate competing against other people directly, so I’d rather simply go around them.

Finally, Seth Godin weighs in:

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise…

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, “But those companies don’t interview on campus.”

Those companies don’t interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but…

The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a tremendous gift, this ability to choose.

Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to get into “trouble” with the professor or face the uncertainty of the unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the library, reading their textbooks.

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.

There’s more to school than grades and getting a job. What are you going to do?

Articles I quoted:

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  1. TJ

    you make some excellent points Ramit. going out, meeting new people, experiencing new things are all apart of the college experience. well rounded individuals come from this school of thought, although some administrators may think differently. I would have to say they were the ones with their noses in books 24/7 however…
    nice piece.

  2. Ravi Char

    Very nice blog post Ramit! If you look at the way business schools market MBA program – they market the destination i.e. MBA as means of attaining professional growth rather than marketing MBA as an experience that will give you perspectives to look at business which eventually leads to professional growth.

  3. Jerimi

    You know, on the side I teach college math courses. I think im going to hand this out to my students. haha Im serious!

    Its so frustrating to be in my position (i can only imagine full time – ugh) and have to deal with an adminstration that doesnt get it – and encourages students to waste their time being overly focused on the SCHOOL part and not the other parts… damn it.

  4. Jonathan

    Great Post Ramit. I’m a student myself. Next year, I will earn my Bachelors of Science.

    I see this happen all the time. People go to school, get straight A’s and then can’t find work. They spend too much time on their books and not enough time exploring the endless world of oppurunities that surround them. They’re aslo afraid to try new things.

    Yeah, you graduated with honors, but really, what is that going to do for me if hire you? Not a damn thing!

  5. Canadian Capitalist

    You are absolutely right about grades not being important except for maybe the first job.

    I am working for a fourth company since I finished school and not once have I been hired based on my grades (decent but not great).

    So, you might as well get some decent grades and have fun along the way.

  6. anderson

    grades are important, I interview a hundred people a month, and not always from their first job. how hard you worked in school is an excellent predictor of how hard you’ll work within a real organization.

  7. Mike

    I learned later (almost too late) in my college career how to pick the best classes. Go to book store prior to registration and browse the text books. If you like the book you will probably enjoy the class.

  8. K

    I’ve never once been asked for my grades upon graduating.
    I’d likely walk away if someone did.
    Reminds me of an interview where I was asked for the definition of risk.
    Gave my casual interpretation and was asked for the “textbook” definition.
    Told them right away that it wasn’t the environment for me, thanked them for their time and walked out.

  9. Scott Elliott

    I will never forget graduating from colege. When they called the engineering school, they all held up and waved oversized green “dollar bills” signifying all the money they would make. What happened next? Oh, just a big recession. A lot of those kids hard a hard time finding a job. The took it for granted that those A’s and hours in the library meant an automatic job. But a lot of them didn’t know how to adapt to the economic realities and didn’t have social networks to rely on for contact that might lead to jobs.

    And it’s absolutely true that no one in the work world gives a snot what kind of grades you had in college. All that matters is — “what can you do for me?”

  10. wilson ng


    A few months ago, I wrote “What good is an MBA?”. It is here:

    The point is that it is interesting you stress the choice is between getting good grades and having a network and exciting life.

    i think the point is that school teaches us some basics — some basics that we need to learn and know how to apply. Getting a 4.0 average means you master those basics. But that is not enough. You need to sell yourself or know how to apply what you learn. And I guess that is what you meant by cool stuff.

    I would like to stress that going to school should be knowing and mastering the relevant principles that you will need later on. The best marketing and connections in the world is not going to help somebody who have a dubious understanding of the basics in management, or of the technology he sought to master.

  11. Jonathan Otto

    Ramit argues that students are treating college as a technical school, but I think Universities have now structured themselves to mold students to work just this way. Go to college, follow the rules and make money.

    The new 4-year technical school

  12. Deron

    I fell into the trap of thinking that I’ll go to college, pick my major in something I like (computers), get a degree and then have people pounding down my door wanting to give me a job. It doesn’t work like that. Now don’t get my wrong, I had a social life and didn’t make straight A’s, but I do wish I would have taken more risk’s in college as far as start up opportunities. College is so safe, you can try this sort of thing, possibly fail at it, then just go on about your business to the next day of classes. It’s terrible how a lot of administrators at Universities brainwash these kids, like they did me. I had so many of my teachers telling me that someone with a CIS degree will usually start out making a very nice salary, but what they didn’t tell me was that my little ol’ bachelor’s degree doesn’t give me the real work experience I need to succeed in getting a successful job.

    Nice article.

  13. Tammy

    I full understand all of this; everything is about connections, network of friends and knowing people and such. However experimenting and starting your own failed business and such; It really does not apply to pharmacy. Somethign I am going into, sometimes I think they prefer we not have a personality 😛

  14. Will Atkinson

    This is an excellently worded and reasoned article. Many students get a 4.0 GPA (search “grade inflation) but few do things that will actually distinguish themselves come graduation.

  15. college drop-out

    ///You make great points, and I will in fact be printing this out for my parents to read. I understand everything you have said and have been putting it to practice. It is when you come from a family where your parents are leaders in academia, your brother graduated with honors from Cornell, and you’re little sister is probably headed to Purdue or Harvard…that no one really takes you seriously. (that’d be me)

    ///I have slowly been adding to my huge network of friends and acquaintances, and I have been using college thus far, as a safe place to improve my social and networking skills. But you see, I am past that stage now, and after two years in school, it is unfortunate to look back and say all I got out of it was improved social skills and a social network.

    ///Because, honestly you are close-minded to say that college is the best place for that. It reminds me of people who say college is the best time of your life. No, everytime is the best time of your life, and people who have that former attitude are cheating themselves of true happiness, and closing their eyes to the many opportunities that always exist everywhere. There are two issues here…you have people who wouldn’t take the initiative of learning such skills in college…you know the people who stay in their rooms or the library all day…they wouldn’t learn such skills elsewhere either. But, if you are naturally outgoing and sociable, you will meet a multidude of people anywhere you go. In fact, some of the most key people I’ve met, I’ve met outside of school.

    ///I am quite mature for my age, and that is not to say I am a “know-it-all” or anything like that. But, unfortunately, most of the guys I have met in college thus far (and let me tell you, I’ve met hundreds of people)…most of the students I have met are very immature and remind me of little boys stuck in a man’s body, so-to-speak.

    ///College doesn’t make you, your career doesn’t make you. You and your desires and your passions, the effort you put forth to strive for success, that’s what makes you.

    ///I think what you’re trying to explain surpasses the scope of just college. It’s about your perspective on life…and if you are someone who has a passion for living and views everything as a new opportunity or challenge, it wouldn’t matter if you were a garbage truck driver stuck in prison, you would still make something of it and achieve big things eventually. Seriously.

  16. jw

    Sorry, but this is stupid advice. As a successful entrepreneur myself (who later spent a number of years working for The Man) and now an academic, I have seen plenty of idiots earn a 3.0 and a select few work for the 4.0. Did they sacrifice a breadth of experience for their grades? In a nutshell, no.

    Getting a 3.0 or even a 3.5 makes you amazingly unexceptional. It shows that you are able to barely coast by, and that, as an employee, you’ll provide me with predictable, mediocre results. This demonstrates no passion, only a blase middle-of-the-roadness.

    A 4.0 stands out. A 4.0 is remarkable. A 4.0 is worth working for and bragging about. A 4.0 makes you special. A 4.0 candidate will get the job over a 3.0 candidate 95% of the time, and she’ll make more than the 3.0 candadate 95% of the time as well.

    Or, you can follow this advice. Celebrate mediocrity!

  17. Ramit Sethi

    Did you read the article? The last thing I’m saying is “be like everyone else and get a 3.0.”

    The point is to be remarkable, not like everyone else.

  18. Matt

    It’s unfortunate the way so many people focus on college, when for the overwhelming majority they’d get further ahead spending those four years building networks and learning things that will be useful to them. (Not to mention accumulating orders of magnitude less debt.)

    Would I hire a 4.0 student? Sure…if he had the same qualifications I’d demand from a 3.0 or 2.0 student or a college dropout or a determined newbie straight out of high school. Otherwise no way.

    If you’re the kind of person who obsesses about grades, getting a 4.0 average is _not hard_. And whether you are or not, it’s _not interesting_ to anybody except you. Don’t talk to me about your GPA if you want me to care enough to listen…talk to me about what you learned, how your mind was changed, and most importantly WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR MY BUSINESS. Or else get the heck out of my office and stop wasting time that I could be spending talking to a candidate with a chance of getting hired.

  19. Bobby Hansen

    Goddamn it couldn’t ya have said this to me about 3 years ago?

    /suck in a job I hate with a degree I don’t give a crud about in Education. To be safe.

  20. Tanelorn

    Dude, all that sounds great until you really get out there and try to pay your bills. You’ll start regretting not focusing on a future job real quick. Have fun and do all that social stuff, but you’re there to make yourself the guy that gets hired while all the frat boys end up flippin burgers.

    Trust me, I went to school for 7 years, got 2 majors and 3 minors. I changed my mind alot and never thought about after-college much. After 5 years out of college, I can tell you that I sincerely regret not being more mindful of how I was going to earn $$$ when I got out.

    Seriously, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR FUTURE JOB. Nothing sucks more than fighting for a decent paying job while your student loan bills and your car payment and your rent and all those other expenses suck away the meager bit of cash in your “i have a crap job but it’s all I qualify for” bank account.

  21. Nick

    well said. in fact – even taking a year off after college can work to your benefit if done right. I spent the last year in NE China teaching english and learning Chinese. When it was all said and done, I got picked up by a VC firm in Shanghai (Chinese) that I’d met randomly on a connection – I was picked because of my willingness to do something most people wouldn’t dare try. And yes, college is so much better when you’re doing things you actually like than freaking out about whether you have a 3.4 or a 4.0.

  22. ckr oshaughnessy

    Good article. Decent advice. Over the last 25 years, since getting the auld degrees (3.75 in one, smashing 4.0 in the other) I’ve been variously employed. Didn’t get the million$ a year job straight out … haven’t gotten it yet in fact, but have done quite nicely. I’ve been a soldier, itinerant sailor, writer, college teacher, builder, and a net/sys engineer. I’ve had 2 job interviews in 25 years. You make a good point: life is about contacts, not grades. And, it never hurts to take the long view … you’re quite unlikely (if you have any imagination and spirit) to wind up doing anything remotely like what you learnt at school. My degrees are in linguistics and mathematics … and today I’m not a linguist nor am I a mathematician, nor am I especially rich (except in experiences). But my, what a ride. Today I have a daughter who speaks to me sometimes, an ex-wife who likes me, an adoring wife who loves me, some great dogs, an ancient house, a boat that scares even me, and a head full of great stories for my nieces. You’re right; it’s not about the grades … but it’s also not about the jobs, nor the money. It’s about the experience. Have fun.

  23. Zachary

    What you’ve written is basically a justification for laziness.

    The truly exceptional person will enjoy a healthy social life, will excel academically — that is, will absorb fully the education being offered, and will be given top-flight grades that reflect competence and commitment — and will as well distinguish themselves with projects taken through personal initiative.

    Those that think college is about ‘getting good grades’ are not getting the point, and are of course getting 3.0.

    College is not meeting people, doing interesting things, or preparing to market oneself. It is about improving one’s knowledge of fields vital to their development as a professional and a person, through instruction that cannot be gained through reading alone. Please do not continue to promote mediocrity as being superior to actual achievement; our culture is beset enough by the forces of mediocritization and anti-intellectualism.

  24. John

    I was about to drop out of college before I read this. Now I may think twice…my thinking was, I want to play with my band (plug:, so why sink time into a major that does nothing for me? Finally, an answer. Thanks, you’ve given me alot to think about.

  25. Ben


    Your advice sounds profound and unique but I find it neither novel nor useful. My school counselors and starry-eyed classmates have said this since elementary school, and looking at my peers, I think that’s a bunch of crap.

    As a member of an admissions committee at a top 10 medical school, I place high value on a candidate’s prior academic performance. There are many people who succeed in the job market with weak academic performances, but on average, you’re much more likely to land a secure future with good grades than bad grades, end of story.

    At the end of the day, I’d rather have the means to provide for my family with a job I hate and a hobby I love than to have a job I love with no financial security.

    And going to a technical school doesn’t get you into medical school.

  26. EncinoMan

    Wow, you are alot like Carly Far-in-a. You both went to Stanford, were lazy and recieved useless degrees. Now you will network yourself into a top position in a company that you do not deserve and drive it into the ground. You and her talk about inovation and technology, yet know next to nothing about it. If you are interested in tech, become and engineer and innovate, People like you are social leeches, get over yourselves.

  27. Clinton

    Ramit –

    It was literally not 10 minutes before reading your article that I had a conversation on this very subject…but my conversation was in the context of high school.

    Your passage about all of your starry eyed classmates only taking the safe and mainstream route struck a chord with my conservative suburban environment. This is the kind of enviroment where two things fly: engineering and trades. This Canadian boomtown is filled to the brim with hardliners – administration and parents alike – that have brainwashed their children into mindless drones only doing what they do because of what their parents and their government wants them to do. The cirriculum is so one sided that it goes to the extent of posting pro-trade and pro-maths/sciences propaganda in the hallways.

    But then there is me (and not just me, other I know). I am very much the opposite. I respect the people who are so inclined to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos by figuring out what the variable X is equal to. The doctors and engineers and geologists and what have you are extremely gifted people Im sure. But increasingly I am finding that, if by some twist of fate and circumstance the wishes and pressures of those influencing me were to come to pass and I did in fact become one of those things, I would certainly and literally die of boredom.

    To me, life is about far more than numbers and chemicals and how fast a toy car goes down a ramp inclined at 45 degrees. Its about the experience, as you said, and about the beauty and love and excitment that an exploratory life and mind can bring. English literature, philosophy or psychology truly interest me, but it seems as if no one in the world give a damn about any of that, and there is no support. The english cirriculum is lacking to even that of our French program (two official languages indeed).

    This was a much needed affirmation that it is possible that even if I choose to do something that does not gaurentee that crunched numbers equals numbers on my paycheck, I can still possibly squeeze out a satisfactory exsistence.


  28. Mike

    I went to college for 4 years and exited with an English and a Philosophy degree. Four years later, I work in a warehouse driving a forklift. And you know what? I think college was worth every penny and I would do it all over again if I had the chance. The most important thing I left college with was not the piece of paper saying I had a degree. It was my circle of friends and the experiences I gained. Happiness is more important than financial security.

  29. Adam Chance

    Unless you are applying for a grad school or education type job, your employer has NO WAY of determining your GPA.

    Say you had a 3.0 or 4.0 or whatever they cant check unless you give them a copy of your transcripts.

  30. name

    It seems to me that you haven’t yet found what you love to do. When you are truly intrigued by something, be it writing, mathematics, english, physics, whatever, then you will study it with devotion and passion.

    I suppose one might be able to make good grades by spending hours in the library reading textbooks, but its much better to independently study far ahead so that your courses become a comprehensive review rather than a struggle. If you are really interested in your field, this should come easily.

    Then, be an active student — talk to your professors about subtle points in their lectures, and ask questions which are deeper than the material being covered. Work on your own projects, and talk to them about it. They will notice your dedication, and that will make all the difference.

  31. Matt

    I agree that college is all about the experiences that you have while there. I majored is CIS and the .com boom was over right as I was entering college. I graduated with a 3.2 and I am making more than all of my peers, the reason for this is because I was active in several clubs on campus and I also worked hard to find a job in my field while in college. I started getting much needed real-world experience before graduating. I feel that this is what set me apart, and helped me land the job that I wanted after graduating. I published my resume through the Career Center here on campus and I have had over 15 companies contact me wanting to interview, I have turned most of them down because I have already accepted that job that I wanted. The few interviews that I did accept, I was compensated($) for my time and received a few paid vacations to various cities (Dallas, Kansas City).

    It’s not all about GPA, but don’t expect friends to always get you a job either, if you truly are a slacker then they might not vouch for you to get that insider interview.

  32. ethan

    If you go to a good school and get a 4.0 GPA or something close to it, you are exceptional. This is something that takes a combination of hard work and brains.

    So while your advice to do something special in school is well taken, Tom Peter’s advice to not hire someone with a 4.0 and look for a 3.0 is obviously ridiculous bravado.

  33. Alex

    What a bunch of baloney. All undergrads with a 3.8+ GPA that I have met at Cal (where there is no grade inflation, except in quack fields like ethnic or gender studies) had a rich social life (sans binge drinking and chasing tail), enganged in a wide range of extracurricular activities, and got great jobs.

    What the author of this article does is twofold: 1) he tries to find an excuse for being a slacker while in college, and 2) he advocates the “old boys club” approach to getting a job – which works, but is a great impediment to progress.

  34. Dawid

    Im a student doing a-levels, i dont have time to read the whole article since i have a social life.

    I however agree strongly with your 85% – 95% theory. Infact i have concluded that already last year.

    I have never gotten over 95% for maths no matter how hard i work. But if i dont work at all i get 85%, is that 5-10hrs study time (yes that much) worth that 10%?

    I dunno, i forcast that the time ill have to put in for a-levels to get 95% is 10^2 which is 100hrs… 2 much if u ask me

  35. Kurt Luther

    The people getting the best jobs have done cool stuff and have a 4.0 GPA. I agree, however, that if you can only achieve one, go for the former.

  36. Jon

    This is stupid advice. Yeah, that 4.0 is a ton of extra work, and you have to seriously crack your ass at the library to get it. But it’s worth every ounce of effort. No social life for 4.0 students? Bull crap! Who do you think those 3.0 students go to for help to get through those exams? Who do you think tutors all those 3.0 students? Who do you think has to put up with all those 3.0 free riders on group projects? Why, it’s the 4.0 students who do all that. I can guarantee you that 4.0 students leave school with more contacts, friends, and admireres than any 3.0 “risk taker” will ever know about. Why? Because 3.0 students don’t take the time to really show they give a damn about what they’re actually doing. Demonstrating that you actually care about your topic by perfroming at the 4.0 level speaks louder than any social activity, blog (that’s a joke), or failed business attempt. Get that 4.0 and show what you’re made of.

  37. Ben

    I do wish that you’d used the phrase “trade school”. I’m an engineer and would like to think that the Institute of Technology I attended was both a school and technical.

    Otherwise, I share your sentiments.

  38. T R

    This is perhaps one of the most insightful writings about College and careers that I have read.

    I have a B.S. and an MBA and work for one of the largest 100 companies in the world. I was a 3.0 student, had tons of social and extracurricular activities and in the end find that I can relate to and adapt to many different environments much better than the cave dwelling 4.0 engineers.

    In the end – have fun, become well rounded, LEARN TO WRITE WELL (this is huge) and take risks. It will all work out in the end.

  39. the truth

    I’m afraid I disagree with the idea that colleges are not prepatory work for the real world, or that coursework is rarely used during ones career. This is false and misleading information. Coming from a family of civil and mechanical engineers, all with university degrees, they will tell you most of their course work has some practical application in their daily work routine. I believe your article would be more accurate if you qualify that humanities majors are not preparing themselves for a specific career and should focus on a broad college experience. However, those in pharmacology, vetranary sciences, healthcare, human resources, business and accounting, marketing, engineering, chemistry, biology, mathamatics,physics, education…. etc. These college majors will rely heavily on their coursework not only in obtaining a good job but having the skills to succed in that position. Put it this way, when I graduated from Purdue in business I had a hard time getting job offers because I did nhot follow your advice and network enough in college. I had friends with little or no networking skills whatsoever that graduated with engineering degrees and recieved job offers in excess of $20,000 above my job offers. Your argument only makes sense if you base it on humanities majors.

  40. Bidera

    Good points were brought up in article.

    However, I would strongly advice anyone against dropping out of college. Change your major do whatever you need but graduate.

    Most people are not cut out for the rough world of degree-less job hunting or starting your own biz.

    Worst mistake I ever did was read a Ayn Rand book at 18, was the worst time in my life to do so.

  41. alison

    Applause! Applause! You have hit the nail right on the head.

  42. farky

    adam chance – i guess it depends on what industry you are applying for a job in. as an engineer, every job i’ve had required copies of my college transcripts to verify i did, in fact, have the degree listed on my resume and was qualified for the position.

  43. Hey_I_Went_to_ITT

    Stupid Advice, yes you can meet people in college but that’s not what it is for dumb shit. Try applying yourself for the reason you went, I dunno, maybe to learn somthing. If you are trying to goto college for social reasons then fine, go to a party college, get drunk, get knocked up (or knock someone up) and spend the rest of your life working at the local car wash and biatching in a blog.

  44. Patrick McElhaney

    Going to college for “the experience” is a thinly-veiled excuse to put off growing up.

    You can do everything described above outside of an expensive college. How about bouncing ideas off experienced professionals, rather than your ignorant college buddies?

    If education isn’t your top priority, why even bother with college? Like you said, you can get the other 80% from books.

  45. Greg

    Great post, Ramit. I’ve seen so many of my peers make that mistake. I’m the CEO of a tech startup and have a philosophy major, and my chief developer has an art history degree. We’re qualified alright…

  46. Dan

    Good article. Going to college and making excellent grades prove one thing; that you are Educated. Being educated does not equate to being intelligent, or having good problem solving skills. I took a couple college classes, but mostly because I want to be on Jeopardy. I joined the Air Force and learned stuff the hard way, got real world experiences. Since then I’ve excelled at every job I’ve had, progressing beyond my peers and now work as a Manager with no formal training, it all came from actual life practices. This mirrors what Ramit is saying about college; “Practice getting a life”.

  47. Nate

    Your article, while somewhat insightful, strikes me as more an after-the-fact justification of laziness during your college career than a ground-breaking concept. I do agree that grades themselves are not that important for one’s long-term career goals; however, that is not a valid argument for not putting forth one’s best effort in the classroom. If you earned an B- in a course, you clearly did not absorb the material to the level required for competency in that subject. While some subjects are less vital to success than others, I believe that a person must at least score well on the core subject matter of their degree. There are some fields of study where the material is not used after graduation, but in others — for example, engineering — core material is used on a daily basis and serves as the foundation of the individual’s skills.

    I also agree with your assertion that students should explore further on their own and not just attend class and bury their noses in their textbooks during every waking hour until graduation. I myself learned quite a bit from my studies outside the classroom, but without the fundamental knowledge I gained during my classes, further exploration would have been impossible. That being said, your argument comes off more as a suggestion to ignore coursework and grades than encouragement to explore on one’s own time. Why, then, should people pay for college? If social networking is all one earns from college, couldn’t that be accomplished just as easily by hanging out in the student center and taking no classes?

    I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in computer science. It is extremely frustrating to know that although my degree says “with honors”, it’s fundamentally equivalent to the degree earned by someone who screwed around in class and did not take a personal interest in their education. In my year and a half working for a consulting firm in the commercial sector, I am disgusted in general with the lack of knowledge exhibited by some people in the software industry. This is not true across the board (in fact, I’m impressed with the skill level of the engineers at the company I work for), but I continue to come into contact with people who seem to be more interested in social networking and advancing their career than in good engineering.

    While I don’t believe you absolutely must earn high grades to be good at what you do, high grades are an indication that you absorbed more of the material and are better equipped to utilize the knowledge. Anyone that claims that a 4.0 is equivalent (or even more ridiculous — worse!) than a 3.0, needs to stop and smell what they’re shoveling, “luminary” Tom Peters included. This is just yet another way to celebrate mediocrity, along with the removal of the “valedictorian” concept from high school and other related measures that have been suggested in recent times.

  48. Scott

    As the head of software, I did the interviews for a company for about a year, so I may have some insight for people looking into new product development.
    First off, it’s nice to read this on the web. I tried to aim for the 90% mark personally, since it gets as much credit as the 100%, and then I can focus on other classes that are harder for me to get 90%.

    I tell you what… after doing some hiring people ranging from no education beyond high school up to PhDs from Cambridge for software engineering positions, somewhere in the middle is about right, at least for what I’m looking for.

    Workers at the higher end of the spectrum tend to worry about what is technically correct rather than “get er dun”. Workers at the lower end of the spectrum don’t know enough of the details to not screw up.

    Obviously, a failed product is bad, but a product that is technically correct in every way academically that is released two years late is completely worthless as well.

    I need people who know the correct way to do things and aren’t afraid of using a little duct tape behind the scenes to get the job done in a timely manner so we don’t get blown away from the competition in this brave new flat world.

    Best way to get a job from me… show me that you at least bothered to try to learn a thing or two in college, show me that you learning more now than when you were in college, and convince me that your personal feelings won’t be hurt if everything isn’t academically correct in order to get the first version out to market on time.

  49. Josh

    Very nice article. I emailed it to my youngest brother who is in his second year of college. I hope it helps him determine what he wants to do there rather than just get a degree and get out. I know many of the points struck home with me and my past experience.

  50. Mahmoud Lababidi

    Ramit, very excellent article. I whole-heartadly agree with you.

    I have one interesting friend, though, that is social and has a near 4.0 GPA in aerospace engineering. He does work hard in his classes but when Friday afternoon hits, it’s like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Any advice I could give my friend in his 4th year of school (out of 5) to stop wasting his time and brain cells as he does? or should I let him do his thing because this is what he wants?

    Also how do you know Ian. My friend Vijay showed me his blog (they are friends). Small world.

    And congrats on getting on delicious.

  51. Megan

    The primary benefit that comes from having a degree (assuming that one is going into a field where the specific knowledge is needed, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, etc) is the fact that one has a verifiable record of an extended, committed, adult achievement. It is a record that states unequivocably, “I did this for four-to-ten years without my Mommy or the state driving me there every day and making sure I do everything my teacher says.”

    Certainly grades are important, but if one maintains acceptable grades while having the responsibilities and hobbies of a real, live adult over a pretty significant chunk of time, it shows employers and people who hire that one has the ability to commit and follow through without constant micromanaging and without a significant investment in on-the-job training.

  52. Zimba


    You ignore the fact that it is possible to get both a 4.0 (or almost close to it) AND excel in doing things differently from all other students.

    Your grades and networking/people/extra-curricular skills don’t have to be a zero-sum situation.

    Did you for instance write an undergraduate thesis? That is one area in which you can distinguish yourself in a non-standard way while scoring a high grade.

    What Tom Peters says is complete and total RUBBISH. I hope what he says is not considered seriously. Sheesh!

    Don’t kid yourself: GRADES ARE IMPORTANT. I speak from experience.

  53. Anonymous

    I was one of those morons who focused exclusively on school – it was 100% of my life for 4 years. Staying on campus till two in the morning studying, pale skin, no life, the perfect grades, etc. I did it because I wanted to be the best, and the GPA was the only way I knew how to demonstrate that. Now, I’m graduated, and cannot find a decent job! You are right, the grades mean so very little when it comes right down to it.

  54. colleen

    hi there. I am not a regular reader of your blog, i just linked to this entry through and i just wanted to commend you and say how impressed and relieved I am to see someone else identify with and expound upon my own views so eloquently on the web.

    I graduated last may from a small liberal arts college, and I was quite lucky that i figured this out early on. i was a science major, with a mind on a science career, so classes and grades did count for something, but i found that i learned far, far more in my non science classes and had the most thought-provoking discussions around the lunch table in the dining hall. and while i have a lot of friends working office jobs or pounding through grad school because thats what the career office recommended to them, im being paid to live on a beach and birdwatch every day.

    So, anyway, i commend and thank you again. i shall link this post to my own journal so that more of my college friends can see.

  55. ope

    Let me say this, I work for a major employer in the US.. engineering mainly, but hire most of the degees out there for many different jobs. So…
    GRADES DO MATTER. Say what you want to justify your grades or how much time you want to skip class or not do your homework well, but in the end.. .grades do matter.
    A gpa in the 3-4 range tells an employer plenty. It plainly says you can handle doing your job well and can balance in your hobbies and homelife at the same time.
    I am with a major employer. The higher the grades, the more you stand out. You have to stand out to get the better jobs in this country… it’s up to you. Don’t blame your lack of good-paying job on god’s will or anything else.. you make your mark in this world, and employers take notice.
    You CAN get your foot in the door to employers in many ways. Unless you have an insider or some networking contacts to give you the job, your resume’ and gpa do most of the talking.
    Ask yourself objectively, what does a GPA tell someone that does not know you? There is your answer.
    My opinion when I see a resume:
    3.5-4 GPA – Excells in all he/she does
    3-3.5 GPA – Hard worker, does well in most things
    2-3 GPA Did just enough to get by, fo 4 years.. hmmm
    1-2 GPA Will not consider hiring
    To get a 3.0, you just have to get at least a B in all of your classes. Most of the time if you turn in your work with a good attempt at effort, a B comes easy.. so if I see a GPA less than 3.. you were a slacker for all of college and this will most likely continue throughout your life.

  56. slj

    I have mixed reactions to this essay. I studied hard in school, earning a 3.97 undergrad and 3.96 in graduate school. I took more classes than required as I love to learn and continue to do so. I am proud of my accomplishments and use the global skills I learned on a daily basis.

    I did not make the contacts that you stressed in your post – not because I was too busy learning, but because I was too busy working full- time and fulfilling reserve duty. I am under-employed, it is true; however, I would hire people with my qualities whenever possible – a person capable of making sustained commitments to longterm tasks, one who cares enough to show passion through effort, who appreciates innovation and who has the ability to see that everything is related to everything else, whether the link is realized or not.

    Do I wish I had spent more time socializing and making connections? Perhaps. My work life may be more monetarily successful and rich in different ways than it now is. On the other hand, my college experience cultivated a broad outlook for which I would not trade anything. I can think about an issue on many levels and evaluate accordingly. In addition, college was not and is still not my primary source of experience. My good grades did not prevent me from gaining a wide range of experiences (many of them humbling).

    Since I was unable to accomplish both to the same degree, which would I rather have, a fantastic network that puts me in line for exciting opportunities, or the discipline and desire to do my best with the attendant broad-based global skills that come from attempting to master diverse subjects?

    Which is most important for you? Perhaps defining your meaning of ‘rich” is the key to your decision.

  57. gpa=crapshoot

    “To get a 3.0, you just have to get at least a B in all of your classes.”

    o rly? sounds like someone at a major employer needs to revist averaging. . .

    1-1.9 agreed, worthless
    2-2.9 eh, might be a diamond in he rough but not worth the time
    3-3.5 upper end probably very good with a wide variety of skills
    3.6-4 probably excellent in a very narrow field and a complete pain to work with outside it.

  58. mike

    He already did that: Why do you want to be rich?

  59. Jonathan Lambert

    Passion, desire, and a fire in the belly are the most important aspects of entrepreneurship. BUT! So is the ability to do one thing, and do one thing insanely well.

    Grades will never be as important as the people in Ivory Towers would like them to be, because in the real world not every person who got a 4.0 is successful, and not every 2.0 student wipes out, despite what your guidance counselor would like to have you believe.

    But, this article is a distraction. Do your best in school, use “grades” and “the game” to build your will, to be able to focus your mind to do one thing really, insanely well. Recognize it’s a game, and get insanely good at it.

    That’s about the same as it takes to start a company, do the purchase orders, hire someone, build a product over time, and learn.

    The fact is, you SHOULD really try hard in school. But play it like a game. Use it as an opportunity to get yourself totally sharp – skills you will need.

    If you’re good at the game, you’ll still have plenty of time to do all of the interesting things out there that keep you interesting, so the point of the article might be rather moot. Not sure, my point is elsewhere.

    Grades are a distraction, so why let them occupy ANY of your time. Get school out of the way, and get that ticket you’ll need down the road to get people to listen to you, and then get out there and kick some business butt!

  60. Alan Gagnon

    I agree completely. I work in the Hospitality field, and while I am only a little more than a year and a half out of college, I have more job marketability than people who had grades much better than me because I have gained work experience and took part in clubs where I could network and interact with working professionals, not just teachers.

  61. Matthew Price

    You are correct, college isn’t about just getting a job. I always felt that college was a great place to “open doors.”

  62. Steve

    I am a junior at a respected engineering school. My education is what some would call narrow or short-sighted. Learn skills, get a degree, get a job. And guess what? I am completely fine with that. People make it out to be so horrible. Innovations are happening constantly in my field (Material and Metallurgical Engineering) so I don’t expect to find myself behind a desk crunching numbers the rest of my life.

    My point is, this article seems aimed at the business, economics, communications, journalism, and history major type students out there. I have a lot of friends at a nearby college in business/marketing majors, and I’m appalled by the amount of brown-nosing and favoritism that goes on. They feel compelled to do it, because if they don’t, somebody else will. It seems like your advice to stick out from the others has already been told to these kids, and they take it as “suck up to every authority figure I meet until I land that VP job”.

    I am much more comfortable knowing that I will graduate with a specialty that gives me some direction in life, rather than having to hang onto the coat-tails of interviewers to get my opportunity at the good life. I could go on for hours but I’m sure nobody wants to hear it. 🙂

    Have a good day….

  63. Dustin Diaz

    Classic case. I have a degree in Spanish and I work at Yahoo! as a web developer.

  64. Rev. McWilliams

    High five, man. High five. And just for the record ‘Jon’:

    Who do you think those 3.0 students go to for help to get through those exams? Who do you think tutors all those 3.0 students? Who do you think has to put up with all those 3.0 free riders on group projects? Why, it’s the 4.0 students who do all that.

    Sounds like one hell of a social life. Enjoy.

  65. Timothy Zak

    It’s a little dispiriting to observe how clumsily our assumptions transform into judgment.

    Everyone seems to be filled with a contempt and worship for statistics. Why the compulsion to judge human beings with swiftness and surety. That you must choose who to hire does not call for overarching conclusions about them.

    I am much abused by the rule of thumb* because I am misshapen. Perhaps my values are self interested, but they are not mere rationalizations for my own destiny.

    *(I am aware that the tacit reference is mythological.)

  66. GTgp

    That all applies in *some* circumstances. It’s kind of hard to be an engineer w/o knowing the hard/boring stuff very well in undergrad. I’ll agree with also doing relevant work/projects outside of academics, but in science/engineering, your degree(s) can REALLY matter. You might get lucky (I did), but acing a lot of classes doesn’t necessarily hurt. Of course with other fields like law and medicine, your grades and schools are often the highest priority.

    Of course, this assumes that the person’s goal isn’t to be an entrepreneur (which isn’t the goal of many people due to the risks involved). Business success often does quickly devolve into simply who you know and luck/timing. I have friends that did take some big risks during college (or even left college) and some have become rich, but many people (including myself) would never take the risks my friends did.

    No matter what, a lot in life sometimes comes from pure luck/chance. You’re just always trying to maximize the odds of acheiving your specific goals.

  67. Deepak

    Well, I was thinking of myself crazy till now. I had the same thoughts about my college life [which is about to finish within two months]. well, here in India, Enginering degree in any branch is the stepping stone to a laborious job as a programmer/call centre executive in any software company, led from the front by majors like infosys and TCS. Very few dares to think beyond that. When the first thought of a goal in life appears to one-usually that occurs before the 2nd yr ends – they hurry to make up their aggregate percentages[no grads here!] by catching up with the rest of exams. so that they are eligible to make it into infosys or Wipro. Most of my friends have been placed into some company and I was left alone. I never found it a god choice.

    While I am at college, I tried to make frnds, just like you said, and develop a circle of frnds. I tried to find where did my interests lie. I found that i can be a good designer, and i turned into it. Glad to tell you that my design site will take off by saturday 🙂

    Again, I have been trying to LIVE, a conscious effort, so that every second is fully alive in my life. I now pity my frnds who forgot to do so, and lived a life out of textbooks, libraries and boring classes and made it into a software junkyard where their creative and fresh minds are exploited to the full and then thrown out.

    I am an automobile engg student and I certainly dont know the advanced topics in that subject. Neither I know the numbercrunching job of learning the spec.s of every old and new vehicle that comes in the magazines. But i am not sad about it, not even a bit. Why do we need to learn all these dirty stuff wen they can be referrred from a book? Once Henry Ford was called an ignoramus by a newspaper for his lack of knowledge about facts and figures. He responded by saying that he cannot answer the questions they asked but he certainly CAN find a man who can answer the questions. That is a key point, be a manf of thought, than a man of facts and dead theory.
    I have realised the essence of college life and wat a degree meant to me only late. But i am certain grades doesnt matter, when your LEARNABILITY is great. What matters is what and how you learn and NOT what you have learned.

    Thanks a lot Ramit for the article, really an inspiring one. I suppose you know something about the indian engg. college scenario. The views here are very specific to the colleges and student life around here and should not be taken as a comprehensive evaluation.

  68. Viyan

    Upon reading this article, I realized that I already knew everything you were saying; however, actually hearing it from someone other than my own conscience was reassuring. It’s hard to accept the fact that grades are not the only driving force behind success. I think a lot of people are like me where we know this yet are hesitant on taking action from thereafter. Thank you for putting this article up. It was truly inspirational.

  69. Fi Beta Kappa Summa Cum Grande

    Some pedantic crap: social networking demonstrates evolutions and adaptations in alliance-formation; it doesn’t really push the human project forward. If *everyone* cultivated social alliance skills and grew networks of 400-500+ individuals, who the would do the cogitive heavy-lifting? There has to be a mix. The 3.0’s telling the 4.0’s that they’re missing out on something like a social life are in fact missing out on what the 4.0’s have well in mind. But that’s not anything that can be articulated or communicated. I have my very small group of friends who fill more than enough of my social networking needs, and any other need I have for friendship gets poured into intellectual companionship with the great thinkers, long dead. But as I said, there’s no way everyone can be the 3.0 or the Internet for one thing would have never gotten built. The 4.0 on the other hand cannot live long and prosper without a ‘customer’ for his/her knowledge/specialty. It’s all a vast marketplace driven by supply and demand.

  70. WTJ

    well said

  71. theCapitalist

    I dropped out of college and I just got paid ~$40 to sip coffee and read these comments.

    Does anyone, who is wildly successful, actually think a degree guarentees success? Perhaps if your definition of success is being a beurocrat (academic, middle management, or otherwise). If that is all you aspire to, then get ready to bow down to social preasure at every corner. Maybe then, just maybe, if there’s not a budget cut, you’ll earn a good – but not great – living.

    The people who learn how to take risks well are the ones who come out on top.

    Ramit, great article – my only quip is that you didn’t go far enough with it. I suspect you’re under lots of social preasure. Try not to make any apologies for what you believe.

    Now, please excuse me while I push the button I designed to finish the rest of my work for me.

  72. Chris Cheng

    i have a 3.0, i’m fucking weird, and i’m about to graduate and have no job.

  73. Grant

    There are no absolutes.

  74. Amanda

    I am a third year biotech major at RIT. I work unbelievably hard and am constantly reminded that grades are not the only thing employers/ graduate schools look for. Some days I am told, “Amanda, relax. Your college years are the best years of your life.” Or “You should focus on getting research experience. Go volunteer at a hospital. Graduate schools love that.” What’s funny is that these same people also tell me to keep my GPA up. There are only 24 hours in a day, man!

    I don’t think anyone REALLY knows how to do this whole ‘college thing’ correctly. So this is how I do it:
    -some weeks I skip class and learn on my own, other weeks I attend.
    – I pull all nighters occasionally to study for a big exam and other nights I throw my hands up and pass out.
    -Sometimes I am hopelessly optimistic and think that my hard work will some day pay off. And of course other times I am shit scared that its not enough.

    My point is, ofcourse I care about what my professors want me to do, what my parents want me to do and the background that future graduate schools/ employers want me to have. However, I’ve found that doing things MY way is what makes me happiest. So if I want to obsess over my grades, I’m going to. They’re important to ME!!!

    I just think that people should get through college the way they want to. No matter what my GPA, my extracurricular activities, etc, I know I will be a happy little graduate as long as I worked my hardest and made myself proud. Whatever way I went about doing it.

  75. Sacha

    Well, how about this… I went to high school… occasionally. I graduated when I was 15, however. Then, vowing never to set foot on a school campus again, I spent the next 11 years goofing off, “networking” as you call it, working several different jobs, enjoying life, having fun, yadda yadda yadda… now, I’m 27 years old, and I’m in college. And I have a 4.0. I don’t think I’m sacrificing anything to have it, either. I still have a social life, and I have plenty of fun doing whatever I want to. So, what kind of comments can you make to that?

  76. Joe

    Employers want somebody they can plug into a job and have immediate succesful results. Managing bureacracy requires (on a little check-box form) that this person have a degree. Life experience is ALWAYS preferred. A+ student? Yeah, that’s great, but what can you do for me? PROVE IT with your actual experiences and you’ll always have something to fall back in. Academics hiding in a quiet hole in the library tend to stay there … well, hell, they dug it themselves.
    P.S. Joe likes dark, quiet holes.

  77. jyoshna

    i m presently studyin hard 4 gaining a degree in engineering and sloggging day and night 2 get all my grades on track. all of this has become so monotonous and on reading your article ,i realised i fall into the category of scores of aspiring engineers who just stick only 2 the academics with little or no scope of extending their knowledge hemisphere!

    hey now i gonna consider ur suggestions . i totally agree with u and feel thet the world is out there 2 embrace those who think and work smart

  78. Abhinav

    ok, i agree with the gist of your advice here. But what will happen to our world if we don’t at least have some 4.0 GPA seeking students? What about discovering the next great medicine? What about the next great programming language? What about the next great computing device? A balance is essential, but expecting everyone to have your priority list is moronic. Inspite of whatever the Yahoo guy told you I bet Yahoo would love to hire a few 4.0 GPA Stanford PhD. grad. Yes they would like some out of the box thinkers, but unless you have the 4.0 GPA PhDs, who will execute the idea?

  79. shmeh

    All the comments perfectly exemplify the point Ramit is making. The 4.00 students bitching about how he says Grades don’t matter are too narrow minded and personally offended to understand the real point. All he was saying was that oftentimes, the 4.00 student is only good in their area of study. The ability to regurgitate definitions or consult textbook convention is nice, but someone who can think critically about a problem and solve it using their own intellect is far more valuable to society.

    I agree – grades are important, but don’t spend school with your head so far in your ass or your books that you don’t ever question what you are told. I have seen many professors be blatently WRONG and I had the sense to realize it. I got A’s in grade school and high school. I carry a 3.00 in college and it hasn’t taken much effort so far. I ALWAYS go to class and ALWAYS do my work but I yet to study in my college career. Don’t classify the 3.00 student as a slackoff. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. You can’t perfectly classify a person by their grades alone. But the 4.00 students I remebered in high school didn’t have a healthy social life, were not well-liked or receieved and were very narrow minded. I can’t wait to see the attack I get from people misinterpreting what I said.

  80. Garrett

    This is an excellent article. I am currently a college freshman and could not agree more with Ramit. My father pays for me to go to school so I feel I have an obligation to do well, but there is no reason to work my ass off in hopes of landing a dream job. An employer is going to want a reasonable balance between hard work and experience, not somebody that is only good at taking tests. In my opinion, a student that challeges the course work and doesn’t just regurgitate the information later is far better than someone that does. How else can we expect innovation if all we do is follow the books? I currently have an active social life and a 3.0 gpa. I get out, meet people ,and still have enough time to keep good grades. Sometimes it just takes the realization that a piece of paper is not everything.

  81. Al

    Thanks for this blog entry – it really cleared my head. I never liked following the beaten path but sometimes fear of failure drove me to follow the herd and obsess about grades and getting a job. I am soon graduating probably with honors and have a solid full time job lined up. Pretty ordinary eh? I agree with Ramit…work hard, play hard, but always do what you love and meet people along the way!!! I regret not taking more risks – there were so many interests I wish I had made time to pursue. Look what I have to show for it? Job security, network of friends and future business contacts, and a certificate…there’s definitely more to life than that! Life is about living on the edge and making mistakes, especially when you’re in college. I’m enjoying my last moments of school on exchange right now and will backpack SE Asia upon finishing. I encourage you all to step out of the typical bubble we all live in. Travel the world and out of your comfort zones…see what you are missing!

  82. Cassandra

    hey; this article is great. i’m currently making a zine about the aspects of college/education.. would you mind if i included this? (with full credits of course)

  83. Pete

    I’m about to get my BBA this Saturday, and I wish to god I’d had someone to tell me all this back when I was 18 (I’m that kid with the 4.0 that Tom Peters doesn’t want to hire). I really envy the kids I know who took the time to make themselves interesting, rounded people while in college, though I’m glad that I’m at least still young enough to get my priorities in better order. Thanks for the great advice!

  84. Ike

    Well…Nice article, but it only makes sense if all you want to do is become RICH.

    In the end it depends on what you want to do. Do you want to be a top notch academia or researcher? Do you want to be in the forefront of innovative technical solutions? Then you MUST keep those grades up, ‘cos you will need them in grad school, and for research later.

    Do you want to be an enterpreneur or organizational leader who knows how to mobilize people & get things done? Then don’t believe that just a 4.0 will get you there. Get yourself busy starting/running organizations in school

    Point is WHATEVER it is you want to do, make sure you prepare yourself enough by doing whatever is truly relevant to your goals…not everyone has being rich as their no 1 priority

  85. Anonymous

    I don’t know… I mean, I get what you are saying about experiences, but as a 4.0 student I can truly say that I have lived it up during my undergrad years as well. I think that it just depends on how one approaches knowledge in general. Because I love reading, ideas, discussions and the like, school is a joy for me. I am going abroad to spend a semester in Oxford (a program that I couldn’t have been accepted to if I weren’t an honors student) this fall, during which time I will not only get to study under brilliant scholars, but I will also head over to Germany for Oktoberfest, and France to spend some time in the museums and cafe’s (let us not forget, of course, the famously interesting nightlife of Oxford pubs as well). Thus, I think that you are pointing to a false dichotomy here, which assumes that one cannot both excel in school and enjoy life at the same time. For me, excelling is yet another perk of the adventure that is my life.

  86. Eleanor

    I just read this, and I have to say, I learned a bunch of the things you’ve mentioned here in the last year. As I was putting my resume together and beginning to apply for jobs, it suddenly occurred to me that all the things I did that ate into my study time (running the dramatic society, costuming shows, working at the library (and getting paid — shelving books), giving student tours, goofing off in the dining hall) were really the things that made me more attractive as a potential employee than saying, “so, I took Latin for four years. And I know a lot about the Middle Ages”.

    But I was also a lot happier than most of the people I knew — I took the classes that I thought were interesting, and did the extracurriculars I enjoyed, and figured that jobs and life would come afterwards. Afterall, when else was I ever going to get the opportunity to spend four years reading and thinking and writing about the Middle Ages?? I found that the kids who were taking classes because they either felt it was expected of them, or that their parents demanded it of them, were much less likely to be happy, and I knew many who dropped out. The smart ones wisened up, and went on to other fields that they found more interesting. (Case in point: my best friend came within two points of failing both her first year calculus and chemistry classes for pre-med. The next year she went into English, and now Yale is kindly paying for her to study medieval literature in Germany.) Anyway, my point is that it’s often a better investment to do what you find interesting, rather than what you think you should be doing.

  87. beachcrawler

    One of the common traits of successful people is their willingness to work hard. The only event in your life that is recorded and repeatedly used as a measure of that willingness to work hard is your gpa. A 3.5 or higher shows that you were mature at a young age and you made sacrifices for that 4 year span. If you don’t think your GPA is scrutinized by employers you are kidding yourself, especially in government (they make you send your transcripts). A good gpa will always send your resume to the keeper pile. After that other factors become more important.

  88. margaret

    Great topic, going to college or university is a great exprerience. Unfortunately most university BA graduates come out needing to now go to vocational colleges to learn hands on jobs as the university has tought you too much theory not always needed in the real working world. As for getting the best grades, marks are personal interpretations by humans like teachers. For example my 16 year old has produced some amazing essays and all he got was 78%, perhaps another one could have marked it 90%. So yes our system based on grading is needed for evaluation but in reality an all around student is more sociable and adaptable human being than some above average loners. Yes obtaining 90’s in your courses demonstrates excellence but by far does that mean that these individuals would make the perfect candidates in most working environments. Why most of the time they perform good on paper but poorly in human working environments. That is just my opinion. Now my 16 year old son will be graduating this year? All he thinks about is his band and his drums, that is his passion. As a parent I feel obliged to tell him to go on for his passion for drumming wont’ pay his bills. It breaks my heart for I can’t see him doing a business degree or an English major although he has good grades. So this is the tough job of a parent to see your child go to college to do something he has no passion for but it is the status quo if you want to have a job. No wonder so many people hate their jobs.

  89. brit

    pfizer pharm. company will not higher anyone with a gpa below 3.80.

  90. Katya

    Cheers to Brit who knows the difference between hire and higher–geez.

    I am a Pharmacist myself and acheived a 3.9 in college and had a semblence of a life while there.

    In certain professions you’d better do as well as you can in the grades department otherwise you just wasted your time.

    Personally, balance is key in my life but sometimes you have to buckle down and handle business.

    I would say do as well as you can though in college because grades do matter. Don’t lose out on some amazing opportunities because you decided to slack.

  91. untitled

    Come on, getting through college is not that hard, is only 4years. After that, you could do anything you want

  92. Daniel Olson

    Ramit –

    I really liked this article. Two years ago in my sophomore year of college I was so worried about study techniques and getting straight “A’s” (I probably spent well over $100 on different study guides and aids). Now though, I am not as worried. I realize that sacrificing your life to get straight A’s is just not worth it. That’s why this article was so great for me to read. You can still get A’s, but you gotta know when to quit and throw in the towel and realize its just not worth the stress to obsess about the grade. Great article, I like your websites as well.

    All the best,
    Dan Olson

  93. Mahmoud

    “Come on, getting through college is not that hard, is only 4years. After that, you could do anything you want”

    No you can’t. By the time I’m home from my 9-6 job, I have to go to the gym, read, do laundry, etc. And I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment either. None of my friends from college live around me like my 40 best friends lived with me in the same house. So not this time buddy, until you get a job busting your butt 40 hours a week, college is by far the best time to enjoy everything. I sure did.

  94. Allison

    While I thought this was well-written, I beg to differ. Many employers ask for your GPA. Most internships require one to have a certain GPA to be considered. If you want to go anywhere beyond your undergrad years, to graduate school, a good GPA is vital. Extracurricular activites, contacts, and experiencing the world are all vital parts of college, don’t get me wrong. However, GPA is the greatest predictor of how a student will do in graduate school or on the job.

  95. Andrea >> Become a Consultant Blog

    I am offended by people who think a high GPA indicates a person lacking non-academic skills. Many people treat their school work seriously, meaning that they put in their best effort. Some people, such as myself, had to maintain a high GPA to keep their scholarships. Some want to keep all of their options — graduate and professional school, for example — open. Some want to keep internship options open — many of my co-op jobs required a minimum GPA. And many students with high GPAs are smart — they may still have great grades while attending parties, volunteering, working and socializing because they require less effort to get an A than other people need to get a B.

    The people I knew who got mediocre grades got mediocre jobs and now have mediocre careers. The people with top grades got top jobs and have first-rate careers.

  96. michael edelman

    Peters is full of snappy insights, but he’s never actually had to implement his recommendations. If someone came to me with a 4.0, I’d say here’s a person who applied himself to a task seriously for four years in pursuit of a goal. That tells me that they’re willing and able to apply themselves in working for me, too.

    You know what the single best indicator of college success is? High School grades. And, as it turns out, college grades are a very good indicator of career success, too.

  97. e-College

    I totally agree. But we are raised up since childhood to study, study, and study. That needs to change.

  98. Rafael

    I agree with what you say. I am a 2.0 graduate. It is true that many of the 4.0 students lack the confidence when it comes to taking risks in business. But I do not think that you should slack off. It is important to try as hard as you can. The GPA is a good way to determine success in life but it is not the only way. Some people develop their thinking, learning, and socializing skills enough to take on those that did get a GPA. While others that have been getting the top GPAs all their lives began to slack because they are not tested. It is easy to keep on doing the same thing. Change means learning. If you you do not seek new experiences you will remain the same. It is important to challenge yourself and learn to focus on what is right for you. As long as you learn to learn out of college you should be fine with your life. A good GPA is a good thing to have but if your stuck with a bad GPA then concentrate on learning to learn and focus, it is more important than a grade. Later you can teach yourself at your own pace. Just remain focus on your goals.

  99. JP

    Why not someone with a 4.0 AND amazing people skills? I see no reason to settle if you are looking to hire amazing people. Sure, some people are bookworms and anti-social but get great grades. Then others get poor grades but have excellent people skills.

    If I ran an average company I would be deciding between those two. But in running an exceptional company I’ll take the guy who is at the top of his class and also has top-notch people skills. Sure they are harder to find, but they are often that much more rewarding when found b/c they’ve shown not only do they have the ever-so-important communication skills, but they can also exhibit critical thinking and have shown discipline and commitment to work.

    Too many of those “2.0 but good people skills” types are great communicators but lack true discipline and commitment.

  100. Meg

    One thing that always bothers me is that people don’t seem to connect what they want to do with real life salaries and everyday life in their fields. Don’t study Philosophy and then whine about how there are no jobs or they pay peanuts. I recently saw a study where they talked to teenagers about how much they expected to be paid, and it was wildly out of line with their desired professions. Pick a field that interests you, take internships or co-op jobs to see everyday life in that field, talk to people who have that job, do research on the web to find out starting salaries, and change your field if need be!

    Best idea I had – get a job in an engineering field that interests you, then get your employer to pay for the Master’s degree, then take community college courses in the low paying field you’re interested in – philosophy, history, english lit, 14th century Russian poetry, whatever.

  101. Kat

    This is a great post.
    I went to school for a degree in Architecture and had a 3.3. I actually use all of my knowledge from my classes on a daily basis, except hand drafting. Of course it is expanded upon in the real world.
    My profession is all about whom you know and real world experience you have. No one asks about your grades, because they really do mean nothing. Grades can be given because of good work or sucking up to the professor or because you are good looking. I had a female professor give all good-looking males A’s even if they hadn’t done the work. So A’s can mean nothing.
    Those who are so convinced that a 4.0 is the only way to measure if someone is hardworking tells me they don’t know what they are looking for in a candidate while hiring.
    Overall, this post is spot on. It isn’t solely what you know, but whom you know. Every job I have had in my profession (which has been 4 since high school) has come from me knowing someone who knew someone who needed what I could offer. Not because of my grades.
    I have several good friends who are teachers. They all wanted to work in the same district because it is the best in the area. They didn’t get their jobs because of their grades. They got their jobs because they knew someone in the district.
    My sister is a lawyer and got her job because of whom she knows as well. One of her good friends is currently working in Paris because his family knows people there.
    So family connections don’t hurt either. I wish I had some.

  102. ChrisR

    On some level I agree, while on another I disagree. Sorry Ramit.

    Let me break it down for the other intelligent college students like myself:


    Grades are important to a degree, but only to the point where you understand the material (which is where 3.0’s and higher usually have). And of course, you have to pass your courses. Even still, all this b.s. about “social life” and extracurriculars are fine and all, but it’s mostly just that: b.s. Now, I won’t discourage you from doing these kind of things: by all means, go ahead, but only if that’s what you actually want to do (i.e. not because you feel it will look good on your resume, so you do it regardless). Employers, as has been said before, want to know one thing: What can YOU do for ME?

    You want to know what to do? Get internships. Every summer as early as you can. Produce physical results for whatever major you happen to be in, in your spare time (work on open source projects on Sourceforge, write for the local newspaper, whatever you can get your hands on or learn on your own that can actually be used). For someone like me, as a Computer Science Major, it’s easy since I love to tinker with stuff so I can learn about how to build or repair a computer, or compile a Linux/UNIX system like Gentoo from source. Do stuff you can point to and say “here, this is what I can do, this shows what I have learned, and it applies to what I want to do. I’ve actually DONE something, instead of just saying that I can.”

    You know how they say actions speak louder than words? Their right. Get real world experience in the safety of college while you can, because it won’t last, so the more you learn about the real world before actually entering it, the better off you’ll be. Do you know how much companies need to spend to train new employees a lot of the time? The quicker you can get started, the less money they lose and the more you accomplish, and thus the better you look.

    If I can leave you with only one thing, I’d say coursework isn’t everything, theory isn’t everything, it’s all about what you can apply and how you can apply it to what you do in whatever field you’re working in.

    DO ACTUAL WORK! You’ll thank me for it later 😉

  103. Jason

    I’ve been reading the comments on the post and a few things come into mind, especially when people limiting their views on the topic. If I were to market myself, I’d probably aim for the person with a 3.0 and has accomplished a lot in college outside classes. People talk about who they’d hire and such, and if I was hiring people, I’d hire the 4.0 to be a clog in the machine and the 3.0 with outside accomplishments to handle jobs with decision making. And it truly depends on what you want to do for the rest of your life. If you want to be a scholar, you would need the grades. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to need other things going for you. I just don’t see your clients or your banking asking for your report card.

  104. Heather

    Give me a break! Yes, it is important to have experiences outside of the classroom while in college, but good grades DO mean something. A huge segment of my graduating class pursued graduate school, and the ones with B averages did not make it into competitive programs. Also, an A Average says to an employer, “I took my job as a student seriously.” Plenty of us managed to get A averages while still managing to work, volunteer (I tutored low-income children), and have friends. No, I did not go out and party every night, and yes, I spent a lot of time in the library.

  105. Jonathan

    Ramit, I’ve been reading a lot of these comments, and it amazes me how many people seem to lack reading comprehension. They totally misunderstand what you said in your article.

    Let me try to sum it up it more simple terms. Ramit is not saying “be mediocre and just get a 3.0 and you’ll be fine.” No, Ramit stated that you should try to get the best grades that you can, but you need to make sure you get out there, meet people, and experience things. Don’t just sit in a library all day.

    It’s about balance. That’s all, people. It is much more impressive for me to tell a future employer how I started my own successful startup with some friends and how I will use that experience to help the company grow than just going in there with a “4.0” (or a 3.9 in my case) on my resume. But if you can have both, then do it. 🙂

  106. Ramit Sethi

    Jonathan: Exactly.

  107. David

    Here’s another take for those who are taking the post way too literally. Ramit’s telling a story. Captivating stories often include controversial statements because they are an extremely effective way to convey a point, and also to get people to remember what the writer is trying to say.

    We should understand these guidelines, and think about how they apply to our own unique situation. If everyone took my words literally, I would be a damn rich man. Just like in a job interview, it’s about the meta data. She did this project and got this GPA, Ramit said having a 3.0 is better than a 4.0, but what’s beneath that exterior? Don’t judge a book by its cover.

  108. Jeff

    Agreed. Some people here at Stanford are always asking, “but what sort of job are you going to get with THAT major?” I don’t look at it that way. I chose my major so I can take classes I enjoy, and I’ll make projects on my own. I can MAKE my own career if I want to – I don’t have to be pigeonholed into a career that “fits” my major.

  109. Barbara Saunders

    Ramit, I love this post. I went to Stanford also and had similar priorities. Sad to say, I wasn’t thinking in terms of my own business then!

    1. Friends
    2. Exploring “the great, big world”
    3. Classes

    Twenty years later, I have no regrets about that D in stats due to skipping too many classes to see Grateful Dead shows. When I had to learn stats on a recent job, I picked up a book and learned! The alternative experience I chose in 1985 is no longer available.

    I majored in psychology and have “used it” in every career and workplace, not to mention in my personal life. I often have to restrain my laughter when various nuts I come across ask, “Are you sorry you didn’t use your psych degree?”

  110. tumelo

    Howzit. You have a point. However remember that the current private sector worships degrees from “top universities”. And people are constantly are fed with the propaganda that they need a degree. Therefore a possible solution to exploit this madness, is for drop-outs to control the economies of the world and hire other excellent drop-outs as managers. In this way conventional business methods may not be able to compete on the drop-outs’ level because some people learn, some people remember most people do nothing. Hence the majority of degree-holders will be like a ready supply of local gold mine-workers. This I have concluded is the purpose of university in South Africa.

  111. E

    Let me back up this article. I was hired by a Fortune 100 straight out of college with a 2.4 GPA and a BA in Theology. Soon after I was bought out by another firm who actually didn’t ask me once what my GPA or Degree was in. Instead of focusing on getting A’s (or B’s in some cases 🙂 I started a concert promotion business, ran a political campaign, and started an investments club, all while playing college basketball. Relationships & networking got me into multiple interviews and continue to get me clients/business. I value education a great deal, but let’s be honest, “education” has become ‘can you cram an enormous amount of information into your brain in a short time frame?’

    Great article Ramit!

  112. Rachel GT

    Thank you for this article! It was very very encouraging.

    I am here at college for 1. the relationship and networking 2. the leadership opportunities and then 3. the classes

    Yes this does show with my 2.4 GPA (although I am an engineering major at Georgia Tech…) and I do want to bring that up. But I have gotten WAY more experience from being the president of my sorority, starting a business in wedding planning, being publicist in the a cappella group i was in, being a recruiter for the football team, and more!

  113. Tom

    I’ve been a “senior” now with 124 hours of credit and it doesn’t look like I’ll be out of school for another 3 semesters (last one will be an internship). I’ve had to deal with a lot of self serving people, administration, and people that just don’t know what the hell is going on. I’m caught in a tough place. Finish school for a degree that doesn’t mean a thing (music), just to say I finished. Or take a break, possibly dropping out, to pursue an entrepreneurial career as a disk jockey, studio owner, or the dream of performing in a rock band and going on tour etc. I feel like my life can go 2 ways at this point. I think if I finish school I’ll be setup to work for someone rather than do my own thing. Which in the end I would like to be on my own anyways. So I really question what finishing really means other than “you didn’t quit, you stuck it through, and here’s a piece of paper that may help you with a job.”

    I really enjoyed the article and wished I had this perspective earlier about meeting more people and making mistakes etc. We are all brainwashed into focusing hard on grades and missing out on social activities. Just about 95% of the time I feel restricted to a high school mind set in that I can’t say what I feel. When I do say what I feel even if addressing issues in a “professional” manner inside or outside of class I get grilled for it. It felt real good to know that I’ve been doing some of things you mentioned in the article. Starting a business (DJ occasionally), started a songwriter’s circle, created a website designed to promote musicians for free with articles to keep bringing fans back. I learned about affiliate marketing and a ton of web design even though I used a WYSIWYG.

    It is true that you can learn most of anything you need in a textbook independently. A lot my time in school was spent half asleep because the professor teaching clearly was not meant to be a teacher. Here’s a question. Do professors who teach education courses (or teach period) have to have an education degree or some experience? I find that ironic because you don’t, at least not here. Education degrees are required to teach in public schools.

    Anyways, so I have a bunch of options. Thanks for the article. It brought me at the very least an enlightenment to a new approach to college.

  114. Roy Samperi

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  115. Lisa

    I returned to school after raising kids, so to me, grades were like reviews for a job. Plus, I wasn’t going out to do the partying that the kids were doing, so I was good staying in and studying. To me, the good grades and experience total a good package to present to an employer. But, I’m on the mom side of all of this! 🙂

  116. Delta School of Business and Technology

    Great advice! While grades are important, they are not the only factor to measure success.

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