Reasons A Student Fails in Business and C Students have a Better Chance

C students learned to collaborate | Ken McElroy Image

It seems pretty straightforward that “A” students and people who graduated at or near the top of their class will fare better in the business world than “C” students. Surprisingly, this assumption is not reflected in the workforce. As it turns out, students who have more of an academically average grade history are projected to do better in the business world. There are several reasons for this, but a lot of it can be attributed to attitude and work ethic.

The talk versus the walk

In the working world, students who graduated at the top of their class are happy to broadcast all of the things that they’re able to do. Their perceptions are colored by the belief that they’re typically the smartest person in the room. Because of this mentality, they’re less likely to ask for help from colleagues and can fall into the habit of promising things they are not able to fully deliver on. Students who were not academic superstars understand the benefits of under-promising and overdelivering.

“Me” Mentality

Students that got the highest grades in school were the best of the best and
were rarely team players because they didn’t need to be. It’s great to be academically gifted, but bringing that individualism into the workforce can be isolating. As adults, their collaborative problem solving may be impaired because of a need to rush ahead of themselves and solve whatever the issue is in order to demonstrate their exceptionalism. Students who received average grades in their formative years learned out of necessity how to work with others and to even out the workload as much as they possibly could. In group projects, they often learned to work smarter and not harder. They did homework together, studied together, and worked in groups to get everything passed in their classes. This academic background translated better into working in teams than the experiences of A students.

Credit vs. Blame

The individuals who are still riding the high of a 4.0 GPA are seldom the first ones, if ever at all, to take the blame. They have less experience in having to answer for doing something that did not meet the highest of standards but is generally the first ones to take credit when something goes right. Academically average students are more experienced with taking responsibility when something was not done correctly. They can receive blame when it is warranted.

Taking the High Road

It’s an important quality for anyone working in the business to be able to take the high road. One of the places that this is clearly seen in how they respond to negative feedback. Taking the high road is knowing how to hear criticism and being able to extract something useful from it or decide that it’s unwarranted and move forward without counterarguments or retaliation. “C” students have been criticized, sometimes erroneously, and understand how to take it in stride.


While it’s natural to praise students who do well in school, how they apply what they’ve learned is extremely important. Intelligence is useful, but not without people skills. Building your identity around your academic history can keep you separate from your colleagues and limit your ability to thrive. You need to know how to work as a team, take constructive feedback and work for the better of the entire group. You cannot expect to grow your career while being a celebrated alpha in every situation. In the end, a collaborative, “We” mindset will benefit anyone in the workforce.