I used to take school too personally. I resented the mindless drones who seemed to only commit their time to memorizing facts and figures. I lamented the vacuum of creativity. I distracted myself with busy work, such as part-time jobs and organizational administration, ultimately diminishing the value of my hard-earned tuition money.
Overall, I neglected to treat school strategically. Those who understand the value of school never present it as an end-all to your life's self-actualization. Rather it's a ticket to buy-in to "the system." Getting a degree is the epitome of "shoot for the moon, and you'll land upon the stars."
School legitimizes you in the eyes of employers and people who can give you opportunities, according to someone I know. In other words, it's a career lubricant. Even though grades aren't a measurement of how capable of a team player you might be (because the relationship between grade-point average and job performance is not tenable), it shows that you are able to achieve objectives that are important to the social structure you live in.
We hear too many stories about people like Dav Pilkey, who even with ADHD and a slew of other behavioral problems, created the massively popular Captain Underpants series. Or college-dropout founders like Zuckerberg, Wozniak, or Dorsey. These stories become deeply anchored in our logic, and a disproportionate number of people begin to chase the unicorn dream, when your typical value/hour of college work yield is actually higher (concept demonstrated in video titled The Magic Economics of Gambling).
If you look at the pedigree of those who fill the upper echelons of society, you'll see that most of them are of top college pedigrees: Framebridge's Susan Tynan, Wayfair's Niraj Shah, Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Ohanian, Obama, just to name a tiny few. If not college pedigree, they're likely alumni of top consulting firms (like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, which hire top-performers from top colleges): Sandberg, Gorman, Pichai, Rice, Romney, Donahoe, Scott Cook, etc.
Rather than saying pedigree determines success, doing school well likely signals to such people that your professional values likely align with theirs. Success is social, and school is an indicator that you buy into the same system they have. Your schooling is an attention hook. Even though pedigree is overrated in many cases for filling out specific job functions, there's something in the brew that is churning out internationally aclaimed leaders.
With the advent of technology and resulting democratization of education, this paradigm is surely but slowly shifting. This structure is gradually being shaken up with the likes of accelerator programs or self-guided learning via MOOCs, but the prevailing system is still largely one based on the old institutions and norms.
If anything, doing well in school is a proxy for how good of a strategist you are. Perform in school tactically, and separate your emotions from the process. Even admissions are point-based. The people of the law admissions sub-reddit frequently discuss the statistics of admissions and nuances of different applications required for different schools. Rejection shouldn't be taken personally, but rather as a strategic deficiency in your application. (From that perspective, your average law student is already good at telling people what they want to hear, which itself is a predictor of business success.)
Doing school is somewhat like participating in numbers game. It was useful for me to impersonalize schools by thinking of them as businesses. As a grossly oversimplified example, the American Bar Association restricts the numbers of lawyers in America to keep quality and salaries high. The phenomena also occurs in other professional specialties. For instance, residency caps exist in medicine because that funding comes from combinations of negotiations between private insurance companies, teaching hospitals, and government, not from the demand doctors we need as a country.
Yes, academia is riddled with problems. The college-industrial complex makes it hard to extricate financial interests from policy and moral interests. Academia has a high-barrier of entry for those deprived of access to education and mentors or those saddled with family problems. And sometimes certification requirements may seem arbitrary. For instance, one of my friends had no problem filling the responsibilities of a payroll administrator once properly trained. However, that job would have ordinarily been only allowed for those with the proper certification.
But for my conscientious objectors of the system, if you want to advocate for a change in the system, you understand it inside-and-out to help transform it culturally and legally. Bad Genius, a Thai heist movie, does an excellent job of critiquing an academic culture heavily contingent on exam performance. This movie features Lynn, an academic genius who helps her friends pull off the biggest cheating scandal for a large sum of money. Lynn's decision at the end of the film demonstrates how best to effectively take down the system that this movie satirizes.
For now, school is the most egalitarian (barring socioeconomic nuances) tool towards a better life. There is a reason why international students aspiring towards upper social and geographic mobility (a) emphasize the importance of education, and (b) tend to major in STEM. In that discipline, there is a stronger correlation between grades and success. The field speaks a universal language and tends to be respected and demanded internationally.
Today, doing well in school can only set you up for future success. For anyone that eschews school, maybe there's an intrinsic fear of failure and rejection that needs to be addressed. Maybe it was a simple lack of perceived relevance. Both were true for me. I lacked existential confidence in my studies during my undergraduate years, and in retrospect, I wish I had seen the bigger picture earlier.