Ask LH: Do My University Grades Matter?

Ask LH: Do My University Grades Matter?

Hey Lifehacker, I was just wondering: after university, how important is your average grade? What do employers take more into consideration: your average, marks in individual courses, or or if you already have real-world experience in the field? Thanks, Grade Runner

Student picture from Shutterstock

Dear GR,

The simple answer: it depends on what you plan to do. Here are some typical scenarios:

  • If you're planning to go on to post-graduate work, grades absolutely matter -- a better academic performer is almost always going to be picked ahead of someone who has only produced average results.
  • If you're applying for graduate positions before you've actually finished, grades also matter -- they're one of the most obvious ways to distinguish between candidates. This is often the scenario where you'll encounter specifications like "Applicants must have a distinction average". Good grades alone won't be enough -- relevant experience will count too -- but they're often the price of entry.
  • If you're applying for general roles, expectations vary hugely. Some employers will only look at graduates, but don't care what the individual outcomes are as long as you have finished the course. Some place far more emphasis on practical experience. Some won't care about your results in every subject, but may be worried about specific courses. And some won't worry about academic performance until after the interview, when it might be a useful way of choosing between similarly appealing candidates.

Just as no-one much worries about your high school scores once you've reached university, employers aren't massively concerned about the minutiae of your transcript. But equally, just as people with better high school results have more choice about where to study, people with better university grades will have a broader range of options.

Our conclusion? Having bad grades is never going to be a disadvantage. While many employers won't pay much attention to the specifics of your course performance, you never know when it's going to come up. At the same time, a single pass in a generally solid university career doesn't mark you down as unemployable. Good luck with the job hunting!


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  • I think it really depends on what sort of job you want to get. If you want to score a job in one of the top companies in your field of study, then definitely grades matter because of the level of competition. Mediocre grades won’t even get you in the door for an interview in a lot of those places. If all you want is a decent job, any job, then sure, grades aren’t as important.

  • As someone who has been part of the decision making process for new employment, I can tell you that if you are only fresh out of University and don’t have real world experience, your grades will be your biggest indicator of performance and will be evaluated. With someone who has gone on to have a few years of experience, the grades make little or no difference.

    Ultimately, unless you are using your degree as your only ‘experience’, the fact that you have the paper is often enough. I universally consider extracurricular study/certs/projects to be a bigger indicator of effort and skill (ie. Microsoft/VMware certifications, custom code projects etc).

    I’ll also point out that I negatively regard people who have achieved quite high grades at Uni, but clearly haven’t work part time or extended their skills during the degree. Generally indicates that they are supported by mummy and daddy and they haven’t bothered to take on the responsibility of the real world.

    • @ quantex, you just seem like many other caucasian men have self esteem issues. trying to be cool and independent.
      did you know asians tend to live with their families until they get married?
      the part where you said supported by mummy and daddy, clearly demonstrates your lack of sensitivity and how other families culturally work.
      obviously no one wants to sit on their ass but at the same time many don’t have your judgemental mindset.

      at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, don’t put your personal feelings into this, if the guy is good he’s good, put your personal differences aside. some people bloom late in the twenties or thirties. work is work at the end of the way.

      • I thought quantex made a really good and insightful comment. A lot of caucasian men live at home due to the cost of housing in the major cities these days, so its not a cultural thing at all. Living away from home is sometimes necessary, for instance if you don’t have a house near your chosen university, and sometimes not. It is certainly not always motivated by esteem issues or a desire to be cool.
        If you are evaluating someone, the fact they are capable of getting good grades whilst also living away from home and supporting themselves through part time work is a positive piece of information about them. As is extending their skills outside of their course of study. You have so little to go on when someone is newly graduated that you take what you can.

      • Speaking as someone of Asian descent, most Asians are supported by mummy and daddy until they get married and move out (a trend I thankfully mostly avoided). It’s generally frowned upon for an Asian student to move out of home and rent a place while they study. Sure, a lot of Asians perform better academically than their Caucasian peers, but in terms of general life skills and experience, many of them wouldn’t have a clue until relatively late.

      • Hi Asianguy,

        By “supported by mummy and daddy”, I don’t mean living at home. Living at home is not only a financially logical solution, but can also be a sign of maturity in itself. I studied by distance education and lived at home during my own degree.

        Funnily enough, my statement was more targetted at those living away from home. I’m referring primarily to people who have had their parents pay their way through, and haven’t taken a part time job or any related work during uni. I have seen this a lot with students who have moved away from home and their parents have paid for their rent, food and constant party lifestyle. Likewise, I have seen students who have been paid for at home who can’t make it in the real world because they are sheltered little blossoms who haven’t had to really work for anything either. Both situations I have been handed a transcript with good grades which have reflected little of that person.

        I have done this many times. I wouldn’t exactly state that I am letting personal feelings interfere, but I obviously make judgements based on my feelings (professional feelings?) that are dictated by my experiences. You probably shouldn’t assume so much from one comment.

    • I would have thought the person that lived with their parents and still only managed average grade was more of an issue. Anyone with outstanding grades busted a gut getting them, to just dismiss it shows a lack of insight.

  • I would say that, for most positions, actual high grades are not all that important but the life skills that give you the ability to get high grades *are* important.

    Getting assignments done on or ahead of time, managing your timetable, prioritising your work, clear communication – all things that will assist you in getting high grades, and all skills that are absolutely essential when working.

  • No it shouldn’t matter if you pass you pass. if you don’t know the subject matter you won’t pass? secondly NO employer could possibly have known what was happening in your life at that particular time. for instance missing class or dropping grade because of a personal mishap or loss of a family member. it is none of the employers business. The fact that you stuck with it and saw it to the end should be proof enough. ESPECIALLY if you had bad grades then got good grades. Experience always trumps grades guys. get average grades and spend the extra time volunteering in your chosen field instead.

  • Have been in the workforce for over ten years and worked a number of different positions in different industries. Have only once been asked to show my degree (which does not display grades) and have never been asked to present grades.

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