I graduated college with a 2.5 GPA. People who know me are surprised when I tell them my college GPA. I suppose it’s because nobody expects a C-average student to intensely advocate ambition and achievement, have held the keys to nuclear missiles or have spied for CIA. Go figure.
The truth is that my 2.5 GPA haunts me everywhere I go. Even now, 14 years out of college, my GPA is a continual headache as I apply to Graduate Schools around the country. The conversation with most recruiters goes a little like this:
“Andrew! It was great to get your application – you have a very impressive background!”
Thank you. I appreciate the kind words. I am interested in your Graduate school – can you tell me about your programs?
“Sure – one small thing first. All of our Graduate programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. I see from your application you have a 2.53. That poses some problems for us.”
Yes, I am aware that I do not meet your preferred minimum requirements. I was hoping that my professional record and work history would help give a sense of who I am now rather than the student I was 14 years ago.
“Yes, that does help. Even so, you may want to consider maximizing the GRE or GMAT to offset your GPA. It is difficult to support a candidate with your academic history.”
And so it goes, for about 30 minutes each time, where I try to highlight my real-world achievements and a school administrator keeps reminding me that my ‘empirical scores’ are not well suited to their program. I’ve had 25 year-old grad school interns and 60 year-old admins give me the same speech. I’m beginning to think there is an online training course called, ‘how to deal with empirical dunces applying to grad school’ – the arguments I encounter share much in common.
While my recent experience is with academia, similar stories permeate American culture. We put so much value in numbers that we often lose sight of the purpose behind why we starting counting at all – to build a better future. Whether it’s a grad school recruiter fixated on a 3.0 GPA, a hiring manager hung-up on an applicant’s years of work experience, or a doctor firing off prescriptions based on partial diagnoses, too often we sideline common sense and current assessment in favor of historic trends. But why?
I challenge that our habitual reliance on numbers is less a matter of preference a more a matter of programming. We live in a world of inputs and outputs. Bank accounts, social media profiles and ‘personal branding’ is at the forefront for most people and requires constant cultivation. We are a culture obsessed with controlling how we are perceived by others rather than simply being who we are. As a result, we lean on past studies and documented trends to guide our current decision making. Consider my graduate school example: I am certain that it was ground breaking when an enterprising scholar in the 1970s identified the relationship between undergraduate GPA and graduate school completion rates. But since then, multiple competing systems have come into play – college rankings, school profit margins, research/grant awards, and many other metric-derived priorities. The original purpose has been so diluted that scientific journals and leading edge companies now REJECT traditional academic ranking altogether as a predictor for future success!
We have the option to build our lives based on where we want to go instead of where others think we come from. It is difficult when we encounter someone who refuses to value our potential over our past. Take heart in knowing that innovators have already started to leave behind notions that the past can predict the future. History is a tool for learning, not a road map for the unknown. I believe I am an excellent candidate for any Graduate Program I choose to attend because I genuinely want to succeed. Any institution that thinks they can predict my success tomorrow based on who I was yesterday is failing to account for today. Your potential is equally as valuable to those who have vision.