A student writes:I’d like to get involved with some campus activities (maybe the newspaper), but I’m afraid it will affect my studying and my grades. I want to get some experience and meet new people, but maintaining a high GPA is important to me because I want to go to grad school in journalism. Is there a way I can do both?

Dear Student,

I understand how important grades are to you. When I was a student, I was one of the weirdoes who could calculate his G.P.A. down to four decimal points (I’ve since gotten therapy for that — just kidding). However, as a professor and an honors graduate, I can honestly say that my activities in school, be it work or participation in student activities, contributed more to my overall success as a student than my grade point average.

I constantly tell my students (and wrote in my “Tricks of the Grade” book), that grades are not important, but your character is. Don’t take that the wrong way. Yes, you should maintain a good G.P.A. — you’d be crazy not to; however, you should also work to keep your college life balanced.

I’ve been a professor for more than six years, and I don’t remember the students with high G.P.A.s; I only remember the students who were leaders outside of the classroom as well as in the classroom.

It’s a strange coincidence that you are planning to major in journalism, because that is exactly what I teach at my university. It is almost mandatory (written in stone) that you write for your school newspaper — employers really frown on students who don’t. Even if you don’t write for your school paper, write for anybody’s paper…anywhere. In journalism, publications are mostly concerned with two things, 1.) can you write well, and 2.) can you meet deadlines? They want you to prove this “real time” by engaging yourself in the journalism environment (not just the classroom).

Making good grades only reflects that you are committted to making a difference in the classroom, but assuming leadership roles in clubs and organizations (your newspaper) reflects that you are a student leader who’s committed to making a difference outside of the classroom as well.

In addition to giving you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills, outside activities (including work) allows you to build skills you will never learn in the classroom (i.e., networking, working with others, meeting deadlines, delegating, managing conflict, serving your community, etc.). They say it’s not what you know but who you know. But I would like to also add that it’s “who knows you” and “what do they know about you.” If all you do is focus on good grades, the only people who will know you are your professors (who will most of the time forget who you are after a semester) and your classmates (who probably hate your guts for getting good grades anyway).

I also think that involvement in student activities actually has the opposite effect that you’re afraid of. Student involvement actually helps you “improve” your grades (as long as you don’t overdo it). When you’re an active student, you have less time to procrastinate and engage in activities that are counterproductive to your success. I hope that makes sense.

I will just leave you with this last dose of encouragement. In my senior year in college, I was voted “Student of the Year.” As proud as I was to receive that honor (among 8,800 students), I didn’t win it because I had the highest grade point average. I won it because I managed to maintain my grades, work two part-time jobs, and remained active in three student organizations (president of one, vice president of another, and a committee member in the third). Excessive? maybe, but I have no regrets — and it impressed potential employers.

Be encouraged my friend, and don’t be afraid to take risks. “In order to get the fruit, one must be willing to go out on a limb.” — Anonymous. Take care and live purposefully.

Living Purposefully — Prof. Joe Martin

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