Bad grades? No problem. Here's why you shouldn't worry

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If you're not a A student, don't panic. Lacking stellar grades won't prevent you from finding success in business, according to research by Tom Corley, an accountant and financial planner who studies wealthy individuals.

Corley surveyed 233 high net-worth individuals, many of whom are self-made millionaires. Most of them did not graduate with top GPAs. According to Corley's survey, 41 percent of self-made millionaires say they were B students, 29 percent were C students and just 21 percent were A students.

"Real education is a lifelong endeavor," Corley tells CNBC. "What you learn in the real world is far more important that what you learn in any classroom."

Tom Corley, financial planner, best-selling author and accountant.
Photo by Eric Vitale
Tom Corley, financial planner, best-selling author and accountant.

More than 60 percent of self-made millionaires in his study say they learned their skills from mentors, including their parents. In addition, a high number, nearly 90 percent, report reading daily as a way to educate and improve themselves.

Corley's survey also suggests that many individuals were able to find success after school without great grades simply by working hard. And while talent does play a role in success, there is significant psychological research that supports the importance of effort.

Psychologist and MacArthur Fellow Angela Duckworth, author of the bestseller "Grit," says that talent is only part of the equation for success. Without persistence, talent is nothing more than potential, she says.

Several studies have found that praising a student for intelligence, as opposed to effort, can actually undermine their academic progress, and suggest that students be rewarded, and reward themselves, for their best effort, regardless of outcome.

Social psychologist Carol Dweck, who has spent more than 10 years researching improvement, wrote extensively on this topic in her book "Mindset."

"It's not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest," she writes.

While aiming for good grades can help motivated students, researchers say students should place more emphasis on working their hardest.

"Overcoming pitfalls is a daily habit for individuals who struggle academically," Corley says. "This is important, because success is built upon a mountain of failure and mistakes."

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