I have long wondered how much effort students should expend to achieving high grades. Dr. Philip Guo has a nice article about this that I found to be accurate and straightforward. Those applying to medical school and competitive law or graduate school positions need high grades. On the other end of the scale, students inheriting a family fortune need not worry about graduating with honors. As expected, the amount of effort and dedication a student spends on getting good grades is dependent on a variety of circumstances. Students should also understand that putting too much focus on doing well academically might mean they neglect other important aspects of preparing for the workforce.

One other thing I would like to add on is that the importance of grades also matters when considering a person’s skills in intermingling, networking, and socializing. Intuitively, the reasoning seems obvious: people who are the best networkers and orators can reach out to a broader audience and can translate those skills into benefits while on the job. If a student was not among the top half of his class in college, but absolutely dominated the work he did in a summer internship by taking advantage of his extroverted personality and social understanding, then he will be the one getting a full-time job offer after college.

This does not bode well for deaf students. Many people in the workforce will, unfortunately, have a natural tendency to worry about a potential deaf employee. This may be worse in jobs that require tremendous communication among workers. And very often, deaf people will have a harder time making up for that difference with social ability.

That is why I argue that deaf students should spend lots of effort towards their grades.

The claim that high grades matter can be supported by arguments that simultaneously show the benefits of attending a prestigious undergraduate institution, which Dr. Guo has also written about on his website. The biggest one is that they help recent college graduates get started. Here’s what Dr. Guo says:

Carrying a name-brand diploma gives you the largest boost in credibility right when you graduate, the proverbial “helping to get your foot into the door.” […] As you progress in your career and move onto successive jobs, then carrying a name-brand college diploma matters less: Intermediate and senior job candidates are evaluated mainly based on their prior work experience, so if you’ve done a great job and received positive recommendations, then that could more than make up for your lack of a name-brand diploma.

You can say similar things about GPA. It matters more to a 25-year-old candidate for his first software engineering job, but it matters less when interviewing for upper-level management positions. As a current example — literally, since the linked article was posted up seven hours before this blog entry — a math professor at my college was just named Southwestern University’s 15th president. Do you think Southwestern’s evaluation committee placed a heavy emphasis on his GPA? Not a chance, even though he did graduate summa cum laude from Connecticut College. (But wait … that might have gotten him in graduate school in the first place!) The selection committee probably highlighted his experience as a renowned innovator of mathematical education, as evident by his well-earned Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching.

Likewise, a high GPA can help make up for an employer’s initial negative impression of a deaf job applicant. (Notice that I’m not implying that people do this. I can only speak for my own experience and those of other deaf people I know. And this doesn’t imply that all employers do this, nor does this vitiate their recruitment process.)

Once people can successfully get started in a job, it’s up to them to live up to expectations.