Make More Than GPA

25% Drop in free playtime for 6-to-8-year-olds from 1981 to ’97, while homework more than doubled.  Time 30Nov, p.57.

My youngest son is a junior in high school, but won’t study for the SAT because he is too busy with classes; he won’t believe me that the SAT counts for as much as his GPA.  He does his own software projects, which is great, but mainly because he loves them.  My older son, newly at UVA, was too busy with classes, basketball and band to do his own projects or study for the SAT.

Most college students ignore my advice to take an independent study and really dive into something.  When I suggest that grad school applicants talk about their big projects, they say they were too GPA focused for those.  I tell grad students few will care what classes they took or grades they got; it is their degree and major papers that will matter.  Yet most still attend too much to in-their-face teachers and their grades.

Students seem overly obsessed with grades and organized activities, both relative to standardized tests and to what I’d most recommend: doing something original.  You don’t have to step very far outside scheduled classes and clubs to start to see how very different the world is when you have to organize it yourself.

For example, if you try to study a subject in depth without following a textbook or review, you’ll have to decide for yourself which sources seem how relevant to your topic. If you try to add something to the subject you’ll have to decide what changes are how feasible and interesting.  Doing these may feel awkward at first, but they will be very useful skills later in life.   Similar skills come from writing your own game or starting your own business or composing your own album.

Most of the interesting academics I know spent lots of time when young structuring their own “unstructured” activities; GPA fanatics usually have few interesting thoughts of their own.  Alas, today even structured activities reward dandelion over orchid abilities.  For example, the SAT math test once had harder problems, letting orchids shine on a hard problem, to compensate for missing easy ones.  Today’s SAT only rewards never ever making a mistake on easy problems.

Inspired by a conversation with Nicole Iannacone.

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