Grades Don’t Buy Happiness: Study Reveals Surprising Indicators of Success

Backs of graduates

As we approach graduation season, employers (or, more likely, HR managers) will be tasked with filtering through stacks of applications from newly-minted degree-having young adults, ready to join the workforce and launch their careers. But instead of looking at transcripts and GPAs, a new study indicates that looking at what students did outside of the classroom may be a better way to gauge whether or not they’ll be a good worker.

The inaugural Gallup Purdue Index report, which looked at 30,000 college students and new graduates and rated their earnings, feelings about their education, and their well-being post-graduation, found that the most reliable factors for a meaningful education and a happier, more productive adult included engaged educators, and other signs of aptitude — like whether or not the students participated in extracurricular activities.

This seems to be because regardless of how much student spent on their education — Gallup compared expensive, private, and top-ranked schools with public schools — most students got more out of their college years outside of the classroom, exploring personal pursuits. Nearly 70% of students surveyed felt that schools did not prepare them for life after graduation. Additionally, more than two-thirds either disagreed or did not strongly agree that their professors had their best interests in mind.

Once they were out of school, the students with the highest reported well-being were also found to be better employees. Students who had professors and mentors who they found to be engaging and interested, and those who participated in extracurriculars were twice as likely to be engaged at work, and were even more likely to be invested in their jobs. Unfortunately, schools don’t seem to be fostering engagement in outside-of-the-classroom pursuits; only 20% of graduates said they were “extremely” involved in extracurriculars.

School type and GPA, however, had little impact on workplace engagement.

“The data in this study suggest that, as far as future worker engagement and well-being are concerned, the answers could lie as much in thinking about aspects that last longer than the selectivity of an institution or any of the traditional measures of college,” write Julie Ray and Stephanie Kafka at Gallup.

“Instead, the answers may lie in what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it.”

In the end, this poll shows two things that plenty of creatives know: That a good education can come at any price, and that it’s what you pursue on your own that counts.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.