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First-year university grades do matter

Guest posts

Faculty: Science and Engineering
School: Computing and Information Science
Course: BSc (Hons) Computer Science
Category: Computing and digital technology

19 December 2014

For many university students, the grades they receive in their first year do not impact their overall degree classification. ARU Computer Science student Max explains why it's nonetheless worth taking your first-year marks seriously.

‘Oh for Agapius’ sake, it does matter!’

That’s what I think all the time when first-year students ignore their grades, as they does not count towards the final one. And I can hear the rumbling from Elysium when a second-year student says the same. So why do I disagree?

You're not just a number

If your main (or only) reason to go to university is just to get a good final grade, I would agree that in mathematical terms your first-year results do not matter.

But I doubt that people would come to university just to get a ‘number’ printed out in a fancy format. It’s like going to the gym just to achieve a number on the scale, which eventually does not represent your fitness level or shape. Both of them are aggregate numbers, summaries and just maybe indicators.

So why do you come to university? Depends. Most people I talked with ended up with the buzzword ’employability’ as the answer. OK, so that is your goal. Is the final grade the perfect metric to measure your employability?

If that was true, probably people would just draw that number on their head and there would be no more need for writing CVs or going to job interviews (and HR departments would be much smaller).

Is it maybe a good metric, then? Well, I think it is certainly a good indicator if you are on the lower or higher end of that scale (being an outlier of the distribution), but if it is closer to the midpoint, it just does not carry any information about you.

ARU has an army of employability advisers on campus dealing with how you can differentiate yourself in a positive way. One of the things they recommend is to show all the studied modules and achieved grades on your CV (of course, they explain in much more detail when it is a good or bad idea to do so). As you can imagine, this tip does not work well if you just passed the first two years.

All knowledge is valuable

Also, there must be some really good reasons why the university decided to teach you those modules in your first years: they all aimed to give you skills or knowledge that can increase your employability in those specific fields.

Yes, it is open to argument whether some of the modules are the best for your own personal career goals. And yes, they may never be perfect or completely tailored to the individual. But when I hear something like, ‘I don’t care about my programming grades, I want to be in networking’, I just wish that person would do some more research about networking job role requirements.

If a pattern can be identified, I guess that module grades can reflect an individual’s attitude.

Give yourself a head start

Interestingly, I often hear the famous, ‘I need some relevant work experience before graduation’ from my coursemates. This usually refers to applying for an internship rather than creating a start-up (or maybe a position through connections).

In such an early stage of your career, it is even harder to differentiate yourself. So it is up to you if talking about your grades during an internship interview will be a pleasant or a rather sweaty conversation.

What is it all for?

Philosophical bells ringing. If you are not enjoying the majority of your course, then why are you doing it? Do you really want a (not so great) degree in a field that does not satisfy you? Tick tock.

Finally, a conclusion from the dark side. The more people who ignore their grades, the easier it is for you to get a better one. Your work is being compared to average work. But what is average? I don’t know, but would be very interested to see the calculation.

By Max Mihaldinecz
BSc (Hons) Computer Science

Max studies Computing and Information Science at ARU in Cambridge. Find out more about this and other degree courses at one of our Open Days.


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