What is the correlation between grades and success in life?

February 20, 2017

by LIOR ZOREF @lior

I want to share some insights from lectures I recently gave to high-school students

I was invited to speak with outstanding high-school students. I insisted that all students participate, even (and especially) those with low grades.

I told them that having low grades does not mean you cannot succeed in life, and could instantly see how surprised and happy they were.

It’s important to study at school. Those who succeed – good for them. But the sad truth is that many of those who receive low grades think they are unsuccessful and lose motivation to succeed later in life….

The second lecture took place last week. The audience was high-school graduates at one of the most challenged high-schools that receives students who think they can’t succeed. They are an amazing group of young people thrown out from other schools until they came to this school.

(Photo: Moti Mordechai Elhanati)

At the end one of them asked me whether he had a chance of succeeding in life.

Many studies have examined the relationship between grades in school or college and success in life. Success is measured in many ways, such as job success (salary, seniority), personal success (happiness and meaning), the degree of contribution to society and more.

All the studies I read found no correlation between grades and success in life. The only correlation found was between grades and academic success. In other words, for those who aspire to academic studies, scores predict success. However, it has nothing to do with success in life. Numerous students who fail school become CEOs of major corporations, leaders, etc.

Back to the question I was asked. I replied: “Of course!” and added, “And maybe someday I’ll work for you”.

There are many other examples of people who failed high school or college and turned into amazing successes, such as Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Robert De Niro, Elton John, Ronald Reagan and many others.

And the last story is about John Gurdon. Many years ago, when he was in high school he dreamed of becoming a scientist. Yet he failed his science class. This is what his teacher wrote on his term sheet:

In 2012 John Gurdon won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

I wish someone had told me all this when I got low grades …

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