What do we hope to gain from our time at this university? Are we looking for an education or merely the ability to get a good job or get into a good professional or graduate school?
All of us would like to be educated during our time here. However, that does not mean merely having a high GPA, but more importantly having character qualities like innovative problem solving, communication and the ability to work in a team.
Have you ever done well on an exam but not remembered any of the material two weeks later? When this happens often, your GPA is high — but have you really been educated? On the contrary, if you understand the material for a class, the good grade will come by itself without you having to work specifically for it. If we understood this, we would not worry about our grades but rather about whether we learned the material; that is, if we were educated.
While a high GPA helps to open the door to graduate or professional school or a job, it is not enough by itself. As it is possible to get good grades without truly being educated, a high GPA indicates that you may be educated, not that you are definitely educated. As a result, employers or admissions committees look at more than just your grades and qualifications to tell if you are truly educated. Before (and after) you get accepted, these executive figures will evaluate your attitude and work ethic.
For example, last summer I applied for a job at a veterinary hospital as an undergraduate with no professional training. I was told that there were no openings, but I asked to volunteer there and was accepted. Even though I had no formal training, the staff saw that I was highly adaptable and learned quickly; I became the unofficial fix-it person for whatever needed attention at the moment, whether it was a nonfunctional fax line or monitoring an anesthetized patient. After two weeks, I was on the payroll.
In contrast, a few weeks after I started working there, a new technician was hired. He had completed a two-year formal technician program, but we quickly realized he struggled with basic techniques such as drawing blood. More importantly, he lacked self-direction in his work: we had to continually tell him what to do, which made him an ineffective worker. Finally, his arrogant attitude and resentment towards being told what to do made him miserable to be around. He was fired after a month on the job.
Unfortunately, many of us students care only about our grades, forgetting the many other things that matter: recommendation letters, experiences, personal statements and interviews. Each of these other factors helps evaluators see what a GPA cannot show: your integrity, work ethic, attitude, intelligence beyond mere knowledge and teamwork ability.
In fact, these attributes are more important than rote knowledge; if you have them, you can easily be trained in any field you desire to enter. However, if you have the training and knowledge but not these character traits, you cannot be trained to obtain them. As a result, employers and schools value those character qualities just as much as, if not more than, knowledge.
Of course, knowledge is essential as well. If you do not know something, you cannot use it to solve a problem. However, you can know something but not be able to apply it to a new situation. Thus, knowledge is a means to an end, but not an end in and of itself. Unfortunately, many of us see knowledge as the ultimate purpose of education, an attitude beaten into us by tests in high school and college that ask us to merely repeat what we heard in class.
Most classes test only our knowledge because they cannot test anything else. How could a professor with 500 students evaluate each student’s attitude and work ethic? In addition, how could that professor teach those traits? Those traits cannot be obtained through someone giving a lecture; we must attain them ourselves through experience.
As a result, in order to get this experience and develop the character traits schools and employers look for, we must do more than take classes and passively listen to lectures. We must actively educate ourselves through means such as taking internships or jobs, joining clubs or doing research. The opportunities are out there, but we must seek them, not expect them to come to us.
To share what you hope to get from UC Davis, contact WILLIAM CONNER at firstname.lastname@example.org.