University Mistakes #1: Prioritizing GPA Over Experience

This 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in University blog series is for any students who are still in school, or about to attend university, so that you can make the best out of your academic career!

Thank you to the dozens of people from around the world who have anonymously shared their biggest regrets in hindsight and what they thought were the biggest mistakes that people make in university. Originally, I wanted to share all 10 at once, but I received so many great responses that I wanted to do a deeper dive on each of the Top 10 mistakes.

Don’t let your grades dictate your future. A degree, on its own, will not land you a job.

In this day and age, a 4.0 GPA means very little if you don’t have people skills or relevant experiences. In my first year of university, many of my older peers told me how they wished they had joined more clubs and activities earlier on instead of waiting until their final years of university. Although academic achievement can still be important in many aspects, try not to be blindsided by your grades because they do not follow you into the corporate world.

What Can You Do?

Get involved around campus as early as you can. Attend University Club Fairs and find new opportunities that interest you. Instead of joining many different clubs and contributing little to each one, it is more valuable to show your loyalty to a handful of opportunities and drive more meaningful impact. Since you may not know what you like at the start, I recommend exploring different options in your first year and then narrowing your focus afterwards.

An early start will give you more exposure to operations management, teamwork and politics, and access to bright and ambitious peers who will challenge you to grow. While you establish your credibility as a reliable team member, you may naturally gravitate towards leadership positions throughout the rest of your university career. Afterwards, executing well in these roles will result in impressive bullet points on your resume and in interviews (which will help you land internships). This means you should not join clubs and expect to do the minimum—you want to make valuable contributions that will stand out to recruiters and hiring managers.

What Did I Do?

A couple months into university, I became a junior executive at 2 different clubs and enrolled in the Ernst & Young Leadership Program to improve my case study and presentation skills. By the end of my first year, I chose to stick with one of these (and eventually became the President of the International Business Students’ Association). In my second year, I joined AIESEC and loved that I got to attend conferences across the country and meet students from all over the world. Before graduating, I took on several leadership positions and managed a $200K event budget and planned a National Leadership Development Conference for 300 students and industry professionals across Canada.

To balance my extracurriculars with a high GPA (good grades still mattered to me), I learned effective Time Management. I planned out my entire semesters, studied for my exams at least one month in advance, and spaced out my study sessions using the Pomodoro Technique and other methods. I also learned how to study anywhere and everywhere, whether it was in a study group at the library or at home in my bustling kitchen. This ability to focus in the face of distraction meant that I did not need to waste time, on the weekends, commuting to the library or to school to study (this was precious time that I could dedicate to studying).

The least you need to know

When I asked dozens of hiring managers whether GPA mattered, the majority claimed that experience (e.g. extracurriculars) is much more important because it proved you could execute.

  1. Your GPA is not the be-all-end-all of your career: Make sure to focus on developing your skills and experiences to become more well rounded.
  2. Get started now: The earlier the better, but it is never too late to get started! There are tons of opportunities to get involved, volunteer, and learn new skills.
  3. Learn how to manage your time and energy: It’s not easy, but it is a skill that will help you throughout the rest of your life and career.

Stay tuned for University Mistake #2 and remember to subscribe!

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