With academic standards as high as Hillsdale’s, maintaining a high GPA can seem as impossible as giving College President Larry Arnn a satisfactory definition of the good. Since 1977, however, 48 students rose above their peers to graduate with a 4.0 GPA, according to Registrar Douglas McArthur. What are the secrets of top students, and where did they end up?
According to the Career Services Office, alumni with a 3.9 GPA or above have ended up in a diverse range of fields and careers. Last year’s crop of high-achieving Hillsdale graduates are pursuing careers in the military, journalism, the Peace Corps, and secondary education.
Nicole Ault ’19, who graduated with a 3.99 GPA, now works for the Wall Street Journal as an assistant editorial page writer. In this role, she copy edits, fact checks, and writes opinion pieces.
Ault said though her high GPA may have helped, it was her experience that landed her the job. In particular, she credited her experience working for The Collegian and taking the Advanced Writing class taught by Director of the Dow Journalism Program John Miller as contributors to her success.
Though academic achievement is important, Ault advised against chasing high numbers for their own sake.
“Don’t make GPA a priority. It will make your life out of balance,” Ault said. “My goal is not the ‘A.’ It is to do my best and honor my professor by doing my best. The GPA should be secondary to that.”
Catherine Bodnar ’19 echoed that GPA is not the most important factor in a thriving career after college. The first-year medical student said having a 4.0 certainly helped during the application process to the Medical College of Wisconsin, but grades are not the be-all, end-all.
“Having a heart for people, being teachable and willing to learn, living intentionally, and not compromising on what matters most — these are more important things,” Bodnar said.
In her role securing jobs for students, Assistant Director of Career Services Jessica Malcheff found that GPA must be paired with work experience for competitive job applications.
“The GPA you have sometimes eliminates hurdles, but network well and intern. If a 4.0 finance major without experience and an English major with a lower GPA and two business internships go for the same job, the English major will beat out the finance major,” Malcheff said.
Malcheff also said that personality, temperament, and drive to succeed contribute to the probability of a student achieving success.
Assistant Director of Career Services Rebecca Galvan said 75 to 85% of jobs are found through networking, so she agreed that GPA is not always a reliable determiner for future achievement.
For students looking to follow in Ault and Bodnar’s footsteps, the pair offered advice from their experiences at Hillsdale and life after college.
Ault said that the straightest path to academic success is to simply work hard.
“A lot of it is just being disciplined with your time and dedicating yourself to the work. I am not a genius, but I think really caring about your classes and meeting with your professors when you have questions or are struggling is so important,” Ault said.
Bodnar also emphasized the importance of hard work and meeting with professors during office hours. She said she took ownership of her own learning by writing detailed notes, visiting her professors, and managing her time effectively.
Ault advised students to be careful about which extracurriculars they pick up. To make the most of her time, she said she tried to only join extracurriculars she really wanted to be involved in which, in her case, was mainly The Collegian.
Bodnar agreed with the importance of managing time intentionally.
“If there is one word to describe life at Hillsdale, it would be intentional — making the daily, conscious decision to be actively engaged in lectures, be fully present for friends, make time for orchestra, piano, volunteering, and clubs, and just pour heart and soul into every situation and moment, trusting that God will take it from there,” Bodnar said.
Rather than taking credit for their success, Bodnar and Ault singled out family and faith respectively as reasons for their high achievement.
“Many thanks go out to all the professors whose passion made learning a true joy, to family and mentors whose insight and wisdom pushed me to deeper reflection, and to all the people along the way whose friendship helped me become a better person,” Bodnar said.
Ault credited her faith as important for her academic accomplishments. When asked how to earn high grades, Ault said that besides discipline, prayer is the most important.
“Pray through the hard times. I owe a lot to unexpected grace,” Ault said.