Partying or studying hard? The road to financial success

Author: Daan Schrage
August 2, 2020

If you are Dutch, you have probably heard the following statement in some form or another, be it from your parents, your uncle, or perhaps even one of your teachers: “Grades don’t matter, my employer has never asked to see my grade list.” You might even know a few friends who are satisfied with just barely passing, or perhaps you even employ this strategy yourself, so that you have more time for other things, such as work, student associations, and partying. The idea that, as long as you pass, the grades you received during your education will not impact your future career is one of the underpinnings of the Dutch “zesjescultuur” (“sixes culture”). But does this common wisdom of the Dutch actually hold true? Not necessarily, according to research done by Monique Bijker (Open Universiteit) back in 2013.

Bijker did research on the salaries of 4000 economics and business administration graduates and interviewed 20 large companies. What she discovered was that for every half point increase to a person’s GPA, they could expect their monthly salary, measured one and a half years after graduation, to increase by around 70 euros. This is because companies assume that they are able to spot ambitious students based on their performance during their studies. Note that the aforementioned increase is purely based on grades, as Bijker’s research did not look at whether or not students had participated in a university’s honors program or if they graduated cum laude.

However, grades do not tell the whole story, Bijker admits. Not everything can be learned from books, and there seems to be a big gap between the competencies obtained over the course of a university degree and the competencies that potential employers are looking for, as university graduates often have trouble applying their theoretical knowledge to a real-life work environment. This sentiment is reflected in research done by UniPartners, a consultancy bureau run by students. According to UniPartners, 35 percent of employers rate relevant work experience, which means work experience in a field related to your degree, as the most valuable asset to the CV of a fresh graduate starting out on the labor market. And while relevant work experience is preferred, any kind of work experience is greatly appreciated. Do you have a diploma full of sixes, but did you work alongside your study, even if it was just delivering pizza? You just might have an easier time finding work than your fellow student who spent all their time studying to get a diploma full of eights, but did not obtain any work experience, UniPartners states.

However, sometimes good grades are needed just to even get your foot in the door. Big companies, like Shell, Unilever or Philips, get swamped with applications, so somebody with mediocre grades is not likely to be considered for a position at big industry names, as the first step to slimming down the applicant pool is often to sort the applicants based on grades.

All in all, there seems to be strong evidence to suggest that grades do in fact matter when it comes to determining your future salary, contrary to the common Dutch wisdom. But if you are not much of an egghead, fear not, as work experience will always be in high demand as well. So, what is one to do then, if they want to set themselves on the road to financial success? Study hard or work? Perhaps the real answer is to do both, even if that means having to skip out on a party every now and then.

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