Getting straight As shouldn’t be a priority for a good career |

Singapore may have one of the strongest education systems in the world, with students constantly outperforming those in other countries in subjects like maths and science. Naturally, getting As is something that parents here tend to drill in their children’s heads.

While education excellence can get you into schools, what happens when you graduate and start your career? You may be surprised (or not) to find that academic excellence is actually not a strong predictor of career excellence. Just Google how many C students end up most successful, or how bad students often make the best entrepreneurs.

Why does an A student struggle with career?

If you’re an A-grade chaser, chance are you’ve joined the group that believes top marks are a ticket to elite schools and lucrative jobs. That is partially true if you’re a natural genius. But most of us have to work hard to achieve that excellence, so in the quest to be a straight-A student, you may miss out socially because studying means less time to start lifelong friendships (or relationships), join new CCAs, or even volunteer.

Even if your hard work rewards you with straight-As, your grades rarely assess other qualities like leadership, teamwork skills, creativity, as well as other human ‘soft skills’ such as social, emotional, and political intelligence.

Being successful at a career – as with life – is finding the right balance. When you spend your time cramming information and regurgitating it constantly; there is conformity, not creativity. A meaningful career demands originality in problem-solving. Sure, you may find many straight-A students nabbing lucrative jobs, but they’re not usually the ones shaking things up, or making names for themselves – they ‘settle’ into the system instead.

This is totally different for the ‘average’ spectrum of students – Steve Jobs finished high school with a 2.65 G.P.A., J.K. Rowling graduated from university with roughly a C average, and Jack Ma took four years to pass his college entrance exam.

Start shaking things up at school

Many students have a goal of graduating with great grades – some partially to parental or peer pressure. But for some, the desire to have straight-As could mean taking easier classes or staying within your comfort zone. This breeds conformity, and your mind doesn’t get challenged enough to take risks or be creative. This means your formative years are stuck with achieving grades instead of feeding and challenging your mind.

If you don’t want to be stuck in this rat race, you have to let go of control. Take up courses that challenge you – whether it’s something you’ve always wanted but never tried or think you could do, or something that you never thought you’d do. You’ll encounter failures and setbacks, but it will help you build resilience – something sorely lacking in today’s fresh grads. This will make you stand out in the job hunting world, and it’s a very handy trait for entrepreneurs.

Take the risk at school while you still can, because underachieving (getting not-so-great grades) in school can prepare you to overachieve in life.

Jack Ma once told his son, “You don’t need to be in the top three in your class, being in the middle is fine, so long as your grades aren’t too bad. Only this kind of person [a middle-of-the-road student] has enough free time to learn other skills. I think, if China’s economy wants to develop, it needs a lot of SMEs and individually-run companies, and that requires a lot of entrepreneurs with values and drive.”