University students tend to believe that GPA (Grade Point Average) is the most crucial element in their university life so they put much emphasis in maintaining high GPAs. GPAs may be important since companies do look at their applicants’ GPAs. However, some university students go too far as to becoming obsessed with them. What these students do not realize is that good grades do not directly lead to employment. Some companies that they will apply for after graduation might not consider GPAs as the most important factor when they assess their applicants. Some personnel manager of a company might consider extracurricular activities or diverse experiences as the biggest factor in choosing their employees. So, WHAT is important? What should university students spend more time on? If a person puts emphasis on grades, it may characterize that person as a book worm. On the contrary, if a person focuses on taking part in various extracurricular activities and having diverse experiences, that person may seem to throw away important things and focusing on trivial things in life. Some students worry a lot about these matters. Therefore, in this issue of the Cover Story, we would like to give you a guide to your somewhat vague future.
The UOS Students’ thoughts
We conducted a survey of 100 students of the University of Seoul (UOS) to find out how they feel about GPA. First, we asked whether GPA is important or not. 60 students said it is crucial and the rest said other things are more important. From the 61 students who said GPA is important, 69 percent of the students claimed that grades are important because they are directly correlated to getting a job after graduation. Eighteen percent of the students chose scholarships and three percent of the students chose prestige to be the biggest reason. Ten percent of the students chose different reasons other than job, scholarship and reputation. One female student said that GPA is important in that she can assess what she has accomplished by herself. She said that getting a high grade means that she took that class earnestly and proves that she has actually learned something. Other students said their GPAs are important because of self-satisfaction. Above all things, job was the reason why most students considered GPA to be important. From 42 students who said grades are not important, 79 percent of the students said having diverse experiences is more important. No student said that getting awards is important. Two percent of the students chose club activities and five percent of the students chose getting certificates to be more important than GPA. Nine percent of the students said preparing for examinations, such as state examinations, is more important. Five percent of thestudents said that they have reasons other than diverse ex perience, awards, certificates, and examinations.
GPAs vs. others
Since we are still students like you, we may not be qualified to tell you what you should do. So, we listened to the opinions of the person in charge of the Career Development Center, a professor and seniors to give you a guide to the complex university life. We also met exchange students studying at the UOS to find out how different Korean university students’ life is from that of students in other countries.
The Career Development Center
The Career Development Center is mostly visited by juniors and seniors.
Some students believe that good GPAs lead to getting a job. Thus, they become obsessed with getting good grades. What do you think about these students? GPAs are just one of the criterions to measure one’s integrity like the scores on TOEIC tests. Therefore, you might get into trouble if you focus only on GPA and regard other things as unimportant. The safe line of GPAs to get a job actually differs according to what you are majoring in. That is because fields related to natural science and engineering recruit more people compared to Humanities and Public Affairs and Economics. Therefore, students who are majoring in Humanities and Public Affairs and Economics should get higher GPAs than those majoring in natural science and engineering to be safe in getting jobs.
Do companies specifically look at particular grades of the applicants or courses they took? Not really. If the tasks that companies ask for are directly related to one’s major, applicants are required to write down the classes they took in their major and what grades they got from those classes. For example, fields in financing and accounting require their applicants to write down what grades they got from classes related to management, economy, and tax.
How can students spend time worthily during their campus years? It is important for you to have various experiences and participate in activities outside of school when you are freshman and sophomore. Each activity you did can be resources when you write a letter of introduction and a resume. For instance, the experience of working at a mall and arranging things in a warehouse or at a moving company can make you more competitive when you apply for the field of distribution. Although you did these works for money, you can still put them in your letter of self-introduction as valuable experiences. Students at the UOS tend to be less involved in activities out of school than those in other universities. This leaves much to be desired. Studying to get a good GPA as well as doing diverse activities will make you more competitive for the job you are trying to get.
What foreign language skill is often asked for by companies? These days, Chinese skills are often demanded from various companies. Also, some companies look for applicants who can fluently speak specific languages such as Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. However, you should bear in mind that all companies require their applicants to fundamentally have English skills.
TOEIC, TOEFL, OPIC, G-TELP. What test should we take to be more competitive? Since so many students get high scores on English tests, there is no particular standard as to how high the scores should be. The interesting thing about English tests is that, non-foreign-affiliated firms do not usually ask for English test scores such as TOEIC. However, they prefer TOEIC Speaking, OPIC or G-TELP scores to measure one’s real, practical ability. Large companies such as Samsung take only TOEIC Speaking test scores into consideration. You had better prepare for speaking tests instead of studying for TOEFL, if you are not planning to go abroad for language studies.
There are so many variables when it comes to finding a job. Therefore, what I said above is not exact criterions for getting jobs. They are just tips from the examples of the seniors who have graduated from our university. If you want more information about jobs, visit the Career Development Center.
Professor AHN Se Hyun, Department of International Relations
Some students believe that good GPAs lead to getting a job. So they become obsessed with getting good grades. What do you think about these students? Being too obsessed with getting a high GPA is not good for you. Instead, you need to build many different skills. For example, do what other students are not doing. Doing an internship and having interaction with professors or seniors are also very important. Through these experiences, you can learn how to cope with different situations and people, which will be beneficial to you later.
To get a job after graduation, how should students maintain a balance between GPAs and extracurricular activities? Fifty-fifty is the best. When I say that students should do some extracurricular activities, I mean that they should build new experiences through going abroad as exchange students and learning a foreign language. By learning another language besides English, you can become a person with a special ability. This will broaden the choice of jobs that you will be able to apply to by allowing you to apply to more job positions abroad.
How can students spend time worthily during their campus years? First, learning a foreign language is very important as I said before. Also, learning how to research data is important. In order to find a job, one needs to know how to find valuable data. You should recognize that those who can do it the best will be successful. Moreover, building presentation skills is important. Presentation skill is considered as the ability to express your opinion. Thus, some companies choose their employees only by looking at their presentation skills. Last but not least, making a long-term plan and sticking to it is crucial. You need to make a plan of your own in the fall semester of your freshmen year. If you do this, you will be able to spend your university life worthily.
Kim Ye-seul, a student who graduated this year, got a job at Nonghyup. She applied for a position at this company because she wanted to become helpful to union members and farmers, and thought she could feel rewarded at Nonghyup. Nonghyup is a quasi-public organization so it does not set a limit on one’s academic background. Moreover, it does not place limits or guidelines on TOEIC or English speaking. Ye-seul implied that the most important thing is to appeal to the interviewers by telling how you will show your capabilities after you get hired. Though she was applying to a monetary institution she did not have any certificates in finance. She was inconvenienced by this because her competitors had these qualifications. However, by convincing interviewers with her experience of an exchange student in Russia and working for The UOS Times, she was able to enjoy the happiness of being employed.
Another student that we interviewed is Kim Ji-young, a senior majoring in Department of Business Administration at the UOS. She got an internship at L’Oreal Korea and she is going to work in the sales department. Because she had formerly had interest in this field, she applied for the position. The qualifications for her position were based on TOEIC score and her GPA. In addition to this, she had to play a business game that was uniquely made by L’Oreal. After finishing the business game, scores came out and they were added together with the applicants’ GPAs. Ji-young said that if you carry a GPA over 3.5 it is safe for you to apply.
When freshmen enter university, their seniors tell them to have fun and travel a lot during the first year. They also say that there will not be enough time to use in the way they want when they get older. After listening to this, freshmen wonder how much emphasis they should put on having fun. Is it okay for them not to worry about their grades and just to have fun? Or should they strive to get high GPAs and have fun at the same time? Kim Ye-seul: If the curriculum of your university fits you, you can focus solely on your GPA. However, there are some things in life that you cannot learn from classes. Therefore, making a choice between GPAs and extracurricular activities is not the answer. During class and exam periods, you need to focus on your grades. During the times when you have plenty of time such as during summer or winter vacation and after exams, you can spend some time doing extracurricular activities.
Kim Ji-young: It would be perfect if students were to get high GPAs and have diverse experiences at the same time. However, everyone knows that it is hard. Here is a pointer for those who are frustrated about how to manage their college life. Maintain a GPA over 3.5 and experience as many things both inside and outside of the university as you can. I would like to highlight that having diverse experiences in the field that you are interested in will be very helpful when you write a letter of self-introduction when applying for a job. Just having many experiences will not do you any good. When you have experienced something, it is important and necessary to make a list of what you did and what you have learned through it. If you make a habit of this, you will be able to express yourself more easily and successfully on your letter of introduction and also in your interview.
What would you like to say to the students who are going to become seniors this year? Kim Ye-seul: I have heard that the twenties are like a buffet because you are given a chance to taste many different foods. Since it has become harder and harder to get a job, students tend to build their skills by studying for a CPA or to become a public official in their freshmen years. However, I think that it is better to choose your job after you get a better understanding of yourself through diverse experiences. If you choose your future career without putting enough thought into yourself and challenging yourself to a new dream, you will regret your imprudence in the future.
Kim Ji-young: When you apply to companies and constantly fail, do not be discouraged and keep challenging yourself. Just think that the reason why you did not get into a certain company was because it was not just right for you. Then it will be much easier for you to move on with your life.
Exchange students at the UOS
After several interviews, we wondered whether or not the pressure of getting perfect grades and also being good at things non-related to grades also applies to university students in other countries. Therefore, we interviewed two exchange students studying at the UOS in order to learn more about what the lives of university students in other countries are like.
First, we interviewed Tim Chu who is from San Francisco State University (SFSU) in the U.S.A. He is a junior majoring in Korean History. At SFSU, he did extracurricular activities such as working as an intern for the local newspaper and volunteering for the community organization. We thought this was similar to the life of Korean university students. But clearly we expected that something must be different between American and Korean University students.
The answer to this curiosity came as we asked him if Korean university students seemed obsessed in getting high GPAs. He said “No, not really. But, I do think that Korean students do study harder because of the fact that the requirements are higher in Korea than that of the U.S.A.” Then he said that there is a saying among university students in the U.S.A. “C’s get degrees.” Since C is a minimum passing grade, it means that as long as you get C’s and not below that, you will get a degree. This is mostly because of the fact that companies do not look at applicants’ specific grades. They only check whether or not the person graduated and have a degree and look at criminal records and job experiences.
However, this saying cannot be applied in Korea because some companies in Korea look at applicants’ specific grades. Furthermore, university students in Korea are pressured to acquire several English test scores and expand their skills because certificate holders are given preferences. In contrast, companies in the U.S.A. do not require specific scores on tests. They just have a couple of interviews and if they like the person, then they hire him or her. Thus, it can be said that the pressures thrust upon university students in Korea are caused by the high and strict requirements set by companies in Korea.
After talking with Tim, we had an interview with Warren Christopher James Feltmate from Saint Mary’s University in Canada. He is a sophomore majoring in the Department of International Relations. The university students in Canada also did many club activities like the students in the U.S.A. and Korea. We also asked Warren whether or not he feels that university students in Korea are obsessed in getting high GPAs.
He said that he would not exactly use the word ‘obsessed,’ but he does feel that the Korean culture, Korean parents and companies pressure students to study hard. He said that Canadian students are less concerned about grades so they study and have fun at the same time. In contrast, he feels that Korean students have less fun while studying because they have high standards to meet. Canadian companies only require applicants to submit a resume, a degree and a cover letter, which are much lighter qualifications than U.S.A. and Korea.
Through our interviews with two exchange students, we have concluded that the tension that university students in Korea have is caused by the high standards that our parents and companies set. This may imply that Koreans companies may be more competitive around the world in that the employees were discreetly selected through high qualifications. However, it has become a stress to students.
Consequently, we have found out that maintaining a balance between GPAs and extracurricular activities is the best way to spend your university life worthily. We always hear people say having diverse experiences is good for our future, but some of us just regard it as a rumor and thought that GPAs and certificates are more important. Companies believe that applicants learned valuable lessons through diverse experiences. Therefore, companies look for applicants who have diverse experiences besides high GPAs. Having diverse experiences through activities in and out of school is a good way to prepare for employment and our future. During the freshmen year, make an effort to try everything in different fields and broaden your perspective. Though it may seem like a waste of time now, it can be of practical use in your future. Also, you can find out who you are. Then, in your senior years, you would be able to save much time by focusing on few activities that you have discreetly picked out. So, how do you feel having read this article? How you should spend your years in university is not so vague anymore, is it? We hope you have smooth sailing throughout college.