Megan Flynn / Gavel Media

Higher GPA or Harder Courses?

The ever-present question "Higher GPA or harder courses?" is neither a timeless nor a valid question. I doubt my mother would have encountered this dilemma during her high school and college days (and she was quite the nerd). This catch-22 is the result of an increase in the number of courses offered, the availability of thought-provoking and innovative courses, the number of majors and minors available, the fact that getting a 6.7 GPA and offering up a kidney no longer seems to cut it—the list goes on and on. In all honesty, how can this be considered an unsolvable question when a simple Google search yields thousands of articles and essays by numerous college "experts" and professionals dedicated to this specific topic? 

I would say that the reason this question has so many different answers is that there are so many different students. In a way, there are a million answers and yet none at all. Each student’s decision regarding courses is an unpredictable experience, no matter how many other students before them have done it. I will not be telling you the “answer” to this question, but rather giving you real information (not “alternative facts”) that may help students find their personal answers to this question.

The consensus online seems to support finding a balance between maintaining a high GPA and taking more challenging courses. Of course, we all want to have a 4.0 and gain priceless knowledge from renowned professors in interesting courses. However, that simply is just too difficult to manage with extracurricular activities, self-care, relaxation, and social life (i.e. Netflix). Sometimes taking a harder class will lower your GPA and sometimes taking an easier class may not be as appealing to college admissions or future employers. Finding the right balance depends on each person, his or her career goals, and his or her major. It also takes trial and error. With my luck, I will probably figure it out on the last day of my senior year of college.

Lori Murray, a writer for College View, advises students to not sign up for all hard courses or all easy courses. She claims, “Consider what’s going to be your biggest challenge and make sure you mix it up with something less intense.” College Article Central offers the interesting benefits of taking difficult courses in college. Vicki Nelson, the founder of College Article Central, claims that student who take interesting yet hard courses will get their money’s worth out of college, avoid boredom if they are intellectually challenged, discover new abilities that challenge their limits, feel good about themselves when they succeed, learn how to cope with failure, and impress future employers.

While all of this information seems handy-dandy, I know that, at the moment, taking difficult courses can feel like a never-ending hell. So if your plan is to avoid the toughest courses and focus on your GPA, remember that grades are only one piece of the puzzle of a successful future. Compensate with things such as extracurricular activities, volunteering, or internships where you will gain hands-on experience. If you plan on taking harder courses, my advice is to take challenging classes that are interesting rather than hard courses that you may just think will look good on your transcript or resume. Just think about it. Wouldn’t you much rather get a B in a class that offered you insight and experience than a class that made you just want to cry?

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