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Academic Self-Talk
September 22, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

How Can I Care Less About My Grades?

I will break my shell of anonymity to say that I was the person who asked this question (please read it so that this post makes sense). I am now a junior, still at the same school and still struggling with my need to do my very best with my academics. As I stated in my previous post, schoolwork takes up every minute of every day not dedicated to work, class, and meals. How can I stop caring so much about doing well?

This summer, I had my first restaurant job, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was wonderful working in such an interesting environment with people my own age, as opposed to working a previous office job that paid well but wasn't fun at all. In spite of myself, I've taken a lot of what my mother has said to heart:"Do well in school so you can get a good job and make good money," etc. I have come to realize the flaw in her line of thinking, but when you grow up with that advice all of your life, you tend to internalize it, whether you mean to or not. But this summer job led to an epiphany: there are other ways for me to grow as a person and have a fulfilling life besides making good grades. There are other things for me to learn besides topics that are strictly academic, such as how to come out of my shell more and become better at interacting with people. Feeling high on life from my summer experience, I returned to school, determined to enjoy myself more by caring less about academics.

Well, that determination has gone down the toilet.

Besides the factors mentioned in my other question, I guess part of my motivation stems from the people around me. The student body here is so intelligent that I feel the intense need to keep up with my peers, or at the very least make my teachers think that I belong here. Another thing motivating me is the fact that everyone says a liberal arts education is supposed to endow you with the ability to think critically, and since I feel that I am especially lacking in that area, I need to do everything I can to make sure I develop it, so I never skip or skim readings. The frustrating part about that is a lot of my fellow classmates will have all these intelligent, analytical things to say in discussion and I rarely finish a reading with the same level of insight. I really need time to reflect on what I read before I come up with something intelligent, and there’s the rub: I don’t have the time to do that because I have other readings or work I need to complete. It’s very disheartening that I have to work this hard to do what comes to others so naturally, and even when I do speak up in class, what I have to say isn't as deep as what others have said.

I acknowledge that I should seek counseling, and while I do intend to talk with someone about this issue, the counseling center at my school isn’t very accessible. It’s difficult to make appointments for the same week that you call, so I’m never able to deal with my anxieties right away. I’ve also heard that students are only allowed a certain number of visits. That’s why I’m posting this here. Dear MeFites, please give me your words of wisdom!
posted by AndGee to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I acknowledge that I should seek counseling, and while I do intend to talk with someone about this issue, the counseling center at my school isn’t very accessible. It’s difficult to make appointments for the same week that you call, so I’m never able to deal with my anxieties right away. I’ve also heard that students are only allowed a certain number of visits.

The food is terrible- and such small portions! Make an appointment with the counseling center now, for whenever they can get you in. Keep a journal from now until then so you know you'll have lots to talk about with the counselor at your appointment. Cross the bridge about the appointment limit when you come to it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Your life is your own. How can you care less about grades? If you really don't want to care about grades, drop out of school, then you won't have any grades to care about. That is not a sarcastic comment; higher education is not always the right option for everyone. It is very expensive, very time consuming, and has no guarantee of any useful result. Sometimes having academic qualifications only means that you will be unemployed at a higher level; in other words, the job that you don't have is better paying than the job that a less qualified unemployed person doesn't have. But you're both unemployed.

However, as ThePinkSuperhero wisely recommends, do speak to your academic counselor first. No need to rush into anything.
posted by grizzled at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2010


As someone who used to care a lot about grades but no longer does, I would advise you to find something else that you enjoy to fill your time first. i.e. instead of focusing on trying not to care about your grades, find something else you enjoy that takes up some of your time and you may find that because of your enjoyment and time spent on this other activity you naturally focus less on grades. This is somewhat what happened to me. You may find a group of friends who likes to go out a lot, or a new hobby or some school group/club/team or whatever.
posted by Diplodocus at 2:13 PM on September 22, 2010


The frustrating part about that is a lot of my fellow classmates will have all these intelligent, analytical things to say in discussion and I rarely finish a reading with the same level of insight. I really need time to reflect on what I read before I come up with something intelligent, and there’s the rub: I don’t have the time to do that because I have other readings or work I need to complete.

Have you considered that perhaps you have some perceptual bias here? Imagine you have a class of 20 people and for any given reading assignment 10 of them are skimming, 5 of them stop when they come up with a good idea or two, and another 5 of them effortlessly read the text and come up with brilliant ideas. The resulting discussion seems like everyone involved is brilliant, but in reality only a few people have been engaged by the essay. The rest don't pop out in your mind because they're being quieter and have established themselves as intelligent when dealing with other assignments.

Also, you sound like you're putting a hell of a lot of pressure on yourself. You ask what you should do to not care about your grades so much, but may I suggest a different approach? From an economic perspective, the liberal arts BA isn't useful beyond getting a rubber stamp from HR, so could you find an activity that would help you get employment post-graduation? A 10-hour a week internship or volunteering for a non-profit might give you something else to think about and the drop in your grades would be totally worth getting some contacts in the outside world.
posted by ayerarcturus at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2010


AndGee: "In spite of myself, I've taken a lot of what my mother has said to heart:"Do well in school so you can get a good job and make good money," etc. "

For what it's worth, you are missing the entire point of liberal arts education. You are supposed to come out as a well rounded person with good critical thinking skills. Employers don't hire perfect grades; they hire people with skillsets. You don't seem to be gaining any besides the ability to perfectly regurgitate facts for papers and tests.

What is it, exactly and concretely, you think these perfect grades will get you? Think about that question. If it's a job, I suggest you test that theory. Go look at entry level jobs for graduates. Look at what employers are seeking. How many of them ask for straight As? How many of them are looking for attributes you're not developing at all?

Unless you take the lessons you learned this summer and apply them to your school-year life, you're failing.

Last year you posted more or less the same question. You got advice to seek help. You didn't take it because you couldn't get it immediately, but a year later you're in the same boat. If you want a year from now to look different, what is the logical thing to do now?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 PM on September 22, 2010


We have a saying in Australia for people like yourself, and any student discouraged at handing in work that is not their usual standard. It's a mantra I found very useful when I was at uni. In Australia "P"= passing grade, i.e between 50%-60%.

The saying is: "P's get Degrees!"

Remember this. In life, going forward - unless you're planning on entering academia - no one will care what your grade was. Really. They will care that you got a grade, and a pretty certificate with your name on it, but no one will care what it is. And they will almost never be arsed checking, so if you're really hung up on it, you could probably lie if you wanted (I don't recommend it; there's no need).

University isn;t just what's taught in class. It's a special time of life - older than a teenager, but no mortgage, no kids, no 9-5, - and it's unlikely you will ever experience anything like it again. So remember, if the choice is studying for an exam you're well-placed to pass versus going out to a new concert with new friends, just tell yourself: "P's get degrees, now I gotta do work for my elective unit, university life 101." And enjoy yourself.
posted by smoke at 5:02 PM on September 22, 2010


"For what it's worth, you are missing the entire point of liberal arts education. You are supposed to come out as a well rounded person with good critical thinking skills. Employers don't hire perfect grades; they hire people with skillsets. You don't seem to be gaining any besides the ability to perfectly regurgitate facts for papers and tests."

Not true--the only college subject in which I've had to regurgitate anything was a foreign language class. If the papers for my classes required that sort of recycled information, then I would understand your point. But since they're not, I must argue that good grades are indicative of good critical thinking skills.
posted by AndGee at 6:25 PM on September 22, 2010


This:

In life, going forward - unless you're planning on entering academia - no one will care what your grade was.

And if you are spending so much time worrying about getting good grades, you are probably not having much FUN learning. And enjoying learning the material leads to those awesome insights you talk about---you start playing around with ideas and you get them into weird arrangements and you come up with something really cool. And then it seems effortless.

Anywho, so nth'ing counseling to get past the 'I must get As'. Take a class or two pass/fail or as a listener if you can; then there is no pressure to get good grades and you can have FUN learning.
posted by chiefthe at 6:42 PM on September 22, 2010


I think you might have missed DarlingBri's point. The brain development that you are currently acquiring is great and all (and far exceeds high school regurgitation), but work is NOT like class. You will not be required to write papers in the same way. There won't be a professor or a course title to point you in a general direction. No matter how wonderful you may be at the analysis you are currently acquiring, book smarts alone with not make you a well-rounded individual (aka, the goal of liberal arts education). No matter what career you pursue, even science and engineering, people skills are tremendously important. And if you can't feel the overall vibe of a staff meeting or read the subtle cues to your boss's current mood to know when to ask this or jump on that opportunity, your As and the degree you hang on the wall will NOT help you succeed. Mind you, they'll get you through the door, but then the lack of people skills might keep you stagnant. Get some people skills! It's a great investment.
But that being said, good grades are good too. But maybe taking a step back and breathing might be just what you need to reach the analytical level in which you deem your peers to be.
posted by Neekee at 9:05 PM on September 22, 2010


I've heard it mentioned that people who tend to get straight A's freak a bit once out of school. It makes perfectionism a more intensified problem. That is not a good thing.

As someone who got straight A's, I admit this happened to me (I have slooowly gotten over it). I also pretty much wasted all my college years studying and getting straight A's when what employers REALLY wanted to see from me was personal projects that I could have made if I had used all that straight A time doing things more important to me personally. So it would have been win-win for everyone if I'd just chilled and chased my interests on the side.

You might want to look into the idea of the 80/20 rule (20% of your effort results in 80% of your output, and the reverse is true). While I doubt the numbers are that extreme in actuality, I've found the general idea true. You can get a B with a great deal less effort than an A (and so on), and that time is ultimately going to be way, way more valuable to you than a high GPA on your resume. (Haha GPA on your resume. Nobody cares about those. /cries)

Don't compare yourself to other people while you're trying to learn. You have your own values, priorities, and pace to learn things at and they have theirs. Focus on YOU, not them, and the skills you personally find important or interesting. Not what everyone tells you that you "should" know, or how fast you should know it.
posted by vienaragis at 9:55 PM on September 22, 2010


As somebody who always had to get High Distinctions (not sure what your equivalent is - first class honours? A+?), and always got them, I can't tell you what a relief it was to get a Distinction one day. The weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. My only regret was that it was my second last subject - I could've been getting Ds the whole time. I still remember my workmates asking how I went. 'Distinction.' 'Really? That's awesome!' 'Yes, I see that now.'

So my advice is flunk something - by which I mean, do a really half-arsed job and pass anyway, maybe even get a Credit (a B+?). Stand very still and notice that the world hasn't actually ended. It's quite exhilarating.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:08 AM on September 23, 2010


University isn;t just what's taught in class. It's a special time of life - older than a teenager, but no mortgage, no kids, no 9-5, - and it's unlikely you will ever experience anything like it again.
Sort of off topic, the military is like this also, in many ways, but I note that if you sign for a certain job and find you absolutely hate it (not the people or work environment but the job itself), it is far, far more difficult to change your "major". I note also that one still has to do quite a bit of book work, at least as far as I've experienced, which is due in a much shorter time frame.
For example, a course on how computers work, how to troubleshoot them, how to know everything about every part, how to understand the "innards" as well as the software, how to fix printers, laptops, speaker setups, etc......this would normally take one semester of actual class. I basically had three weeks that were supposedly planned for the class, but two weeks in reality, and about 20-25-ish days of studying.

So if you decide to use the military as a different option, be forewarned that unless you already have some background in that job, or that job is rather simple itself, you might find it more difficult.

Other than this though, I'm seconding Diplodocus's advice, especially if you do decide to quit school. Find a hobby or two to make yourself expand your horizons as well as working a job or two to keep yourself afloat. As far as hobbies go, I recommend something you have honest interest in, that doesn't have too expensive of materials or tools, and is most likely to also help you learn and/or possibly make you some money in the future.

For example, while I doubt photography now-a-days could do too much on the financial side of things, I'm trying to teach myself some of this (my temporary graphic design degree and artsy family background doesn't hurt either). I'm also interested in learning how to skin fresh roadkill and sell the furs, as the surrounding area seems as if it could be profitable for that. But then again, I'm weird. Find something you like, that you can really enjoy, and use that to keep your brain active.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:49 AM on September 23, 2010


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