Work Ethic Matters!

Years ago, many elementary classrooms contained a billboard with a quotation from Thomas Edison: “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The message from this prodigious inventor is clear: Effort counts! In a previous article, I mentioned the perils of praising a child for intelligence rather than effort. Doing so often has an effect opposite to the one intended. “Precocious” children often avoid activities and subjects that they feel they won’t master instantly. Progressing through school, these students may choose an easy course in which they know they will excel, rather than a more demanding one that can pose an intellectual challenge.

According to a commentary by Amy Shales in recent edition of, “Grades can matter, especially for those students and parents who live for the next round of applications to graduate or professional schools. But there’s a problem with the grade emphasis. Math or science graduates earn more than students majoring in the humanities.” Those “gifted” students who avoid these courses because of their workload, or who switch because the course might affect their GPA, sometimes choose a humanities major that can cause them to earn substantially less throughout their careers.

Furthermore, while those perfect SAT scores might provide entry into an Ivy League school, the diploma from a top university doesn’t guarantee professional success. What really matters is how much effort an applicant puts forth. “Those old entrance-exam scores matter more than the school’s name in the longer run, conclude authors Kevin Lang of Boston University and Erez Siniver of the College of Management Academic Studies.” Alan Krueger of Princeton University published a study in February that indicated that, “The prestige of a university is less important than the student’s test scores and the fact that he or she aimed high when applying to colleges.”

So, anxious parents awaiting college returns need not fret if their children aren’t admitted to a top university—in the long run, it’s their long term efforts that matter.

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