Risk and Reward in Your Undergraduate Career

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Grades are important, right?
More important than anything, right?
No, wrong. Sometimes you have to take risks that may result in a slightly lower grade for a bigger post-college reward. It’s easy enough to cram all the stuff you need for a multiple-choice exam. It’s a lot harder to weave a basket. The distinction is critical. In college, you are most likely to be handed a multiple-choice exam because they’re easy to create, easy to grade, and the grading can be done by a machine or that machine called a teaching assistant.

After college, no one is going to give you a multiple-choice test. You will be expected to weave exceptional baskets in huge quantities in very short times. If you’re in computer science, you know the enormous difference between regurgitating syntax rules and writing a program that actually works. If you’re in math, you know the enormous difference between spouting back an old theorem and discovering and proving a new one.

Even in the allegedly “softer” fields, the distinction applies. In some staff departments in some corporations, you may be asked to write research studies, but in most of them most of the time, you will be managing for results.

The upshot: work on mastering the material, even if cramming and forgetting will get you a slightly better grade right now. You’ll trade a few tenths of a point for a much more solid career.

Finally, if you want your prof to notice you, make introductions for you, find you internships, and so on, master the material. Most profs are good at spotting “skaters” and will not go out of their way to help them.