GPA is an Unrepresentative Measure of Student Ability

GPA locks doors for many students, underrepresenting their full potential.

Imagine you are seated on a high city balcony watching the people below pass by. To get a better look, you take out your binoculars. When the lenses come into focus, you let out a gasp. One individual passing by is a president of two service clubs. Another plays volleyball, soccer and football competitively. A third is extremely charismatic and is able to build a good repertoire with just about anyone in a matter of seconds.

Amazed by the individuals before you, you let down the binoculars to see them with your own eyes, at which point you stand there puzzled. Instead of a deeper look into their lives, seeing them for who they actually are, all you can see above their heads is a number: 3.96, 3.24 and 2.88.

Unfortunately, the world we live in today loves to look at people in this way. They are broken down from actual human beings into numbers, preparing them to enter the world as just another cog in the machine. We see this with standardized testing and traditional examination, but the greatest purveyor of this gargantuan injustice spans only three letters: GPA.

For students of all ages, the grade point average has always held a commanding role in their lives. Some days it sings of hope and happiness, while others it doles out broken dreams and crushed confidences. Luckily, this beast is more bark than bite, as GPA is one of the most destructive, ambiguous, underutilized and overrated things in the world. As a summation of one’s academic success, GPA is meant to be used as a key to unlock future educational or career opportunities. However, in reality, GPA locks doors for many, underrepresenting their full potential and destroying their resolve. Getting a bad grade on a test is one thing, but having your hours of study and dedication and hard work culminating in nothing more than a number is harmful. It belittles people’s self-confidence and can prevent them from applying to certain colleges or career opportunities because their number is one tenth smaller than someone else’s. It also underrepresents students entirely. GPA rewards work in the classroom but ignores work outside of it. There is no GPA for athletic achievement, extracurricular involvement or personality. In this way, GPA devours our sense of self and can be harmful to our futures.

GPA is also highly ambiguous. A 4.0 at one institution means something entirely different at another. Some students are on a 5.0 scale while others aren’t allowed GPAs higher than a 4.0. When faced with such diversity in evaluation, it makes no logical sense to use a number like GPA to evaluate all students.

Although in high school and college GPA is “everything,” in the working world, it plays a much smaller role than many realize. According to CNBC, “Most career experts say to only keep [GPA] on a resume if it’s over 3.5.” Many other jobs don’t even ask for GPA on applications, and others only ask whether one’s college GPA was above or below 3.0.

“After your first job, is anyone asking you what your GPA was?” American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson asked. “No, they don’t care. They ask you: Are you a good leader? Do people follow you? Do you have integrity? Are you innovative? Do you solve problems? Somebody’s got to do that homework and redesign the educational system so that it can actually train people to be successful in life.”

So then, without GPA, what else do we have to hold up to the rest of the world? While the idea of a grade point average is not far off the mark, we need to incorporate a more holistic approach in evaluating students, embracing their differences and reworking the system to fit them rather than trying to force them into an outdated system because it is convenient. We saw the first steps toward this, with many schools deciding to become test optional for the 2021 application cycle. It is up to our generation to take the next step.