5 Problems With Being a Straight-A Student

Getting good grades teaches you all the wrong things about success.

by Andrew RanzingerLast updated: 08/04/2020

When you’re in high school, the pressure to get good grades is real. It comes from family, friends, teachers, and society. The message is clear: good grades are the path to future success—and a lot of us carry that understanding into college. 

But that message is very misleading. For one thing, multiple studies show that academic excellence is a very weak predictor of career success. A high GPA doesn't mean you will be good at your job—or enjoy it.

More importantly, getting good grades can actively hurt your preparation for life by giving you a faulty belief system that is counterproductive to success. 

Here are five problems with being a straight-A student.

1. It teaches you to value results over effort

Grading rewards you for getting the right answer. 

You aren’t rewarded for effort.

You aren’t rewarded for how well you understand the material. 

You aren’t even rewarded for if you actually knew the information, or just copied it from someone else.

All that matters is if you wrote the right answer on the page.

So, if you’re someone effortlessly gets straight As, you might start thinking success will always be this easy, and miss out on developing the work ethic you’ll need later. 

And if you bust your ass for your 4.0, you might start thinking that the grades are what validate your hard work. 

The problem is, in life, you’re going to have to work hard, even if you didn’t have to in school. And sometimes, that hard work won’t get you the results you wanted—but that doesn’t mean it was wasted. 

Unlike a classroom, life is full of ambiguous situations where the right questions aren’t even clear, let alone the right answers. 

Measuring yourself on your effort will allow you to adapt and figure out the answer, no matter what situation you find yourself in. Measuring yourself only on results will make you frustrated as soon as your old approach stops working.

2. It measures the wrong things

Here are a few things being a straight-A student measures: 

  • Your ability to turn in assignments
  • Your ability to memorize large amounts of information 
  • Your ability to take good notes (or make friends with the people who do)

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but they are nowhere near the most important ingredients of a successful life or career. 

Here are a few things good grades don’t measure:

  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Emotional intelligence

Those are things that textbooks can’t teach and grades can’t measure, but that life rewards. They are far more important to your long-term success than how much you can memorize. 

We tend to focus on what is measured—and grades measure the wrong things, or at least not the most important ones. 

3. It makes you scared of failure

Straight-A students are used to winning consistently. Every test, every quiz, and every report card is another little trophy to add to the collection.

In life, however, you rarely get such consistent validation for your effort. Life is full of failures large and small, and they are a necessary part of trying to achieve anything worthwhile.

But instead of preparing you for life, grades make you afraid to take risks and try new things. They teach you to view failure as a shameful defeat instead of an important part of the learning process. 

Imagine for a moment that you had to get 10 Fs before you could get one A. Fs wouldn’t be seen as such a bad thing, would they? Just a necessary part of getting an A. 

That’s what life is like.

4. It can become your identity

In any area where you are rewarded for performance, success can become your identity. Getting good grades is no different. 

After enough praise from parents, teachers, and other students, your ego can start to revolve around your identity as an academic high achiever. It becomes your source of self-worth, and that’s very unhealthy.

This can lead to intense stress over grades, neglecting your health and relationships, unhappiness, depression, and abusing prescription medication like Adderall and Modafinil as “study drugs”—all very real, very unhealthy side effects of believing your value is based on academic performance.

You matter because of your unique perspectives, experiences, and views. You matter because you are creative. You matter because of what you want to contribute to the world. You don’t matter because of what grades you get.

5. It can make you miss the important things

If grades are your focus, you will likely miss out on a lot of more important things. 

Time spent studying is time you can’t spend doing other things. Things like:

  • Working
  • Volunteering
  • Teaching yourself a skill
  • Staying healthy
  • Traveling
  • Making lifelong friends

These are all things that are more beneficial long term than getting straight As. 

Besides, good grades don’t even guarantee you a good job. There are other, more important things you’ll need to do to get a good job. 

Should you get good grades? 

There is nothing inherently bad about getting good grades—but making grades your primary focus can leave you frustrated and unprepared to succeed after graduation. 

If getting good grades comes easy to you, by all means, do it. But realize that your schoolwork is not teaching you the habits and mindset you’ll need to be successful later. You’ll have to do that on your own, in other ways.

And if getting good grades doesn’t come easy, put in the time you can, but don’t prioritize them over everything else in your life. Realize there are more important things—both personally and professionally—that you should be doing for your future, and spend time doing those things too.

Use your time intentionally, and if that means getting Bs or even a few Cs, that’s okay.