Rock Bottom
May 21, 2007 11:00 AM   Subscribe

How can I feel better about grades when they're said and done? This semester was a rough one, with relationships, too many credits, and lots of other responsibilities.

The result is basically a B/B- average when I usually maintain a 3.5 - so my overall GPA is dropping 0.1 or more. I know, things could be worse, I guess. But it is still a massive hit to go from a 3.51 to a 3.3 something in one semester (halfway through college). It kills me, really. I can't get the semester dropped or anything, because I wasn't clinically depressed - basically, I had some relationship foibles (well, a relationship ended) around midterms, leaving me with some Cs and Ds which destroyed my chances of a great semester. I did what I could to make things better and I might avoid Cs in end of semester grades.

I'm already thinking about taking fewer classes next semester and getting a 3.8+ or something. But it's the summer, so I can't see myself making any progress for a while. Is there anything I can/should do? Also, how much impact does GPA have on life, you think? Having a 3.0 or lower GPA for one semester? I'm rather scared by things with permanent impact, and this seems to be one of them.
posted by anonymous to Education (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is not rock bottom.

This isn't even the middle.

Given two equal candidates, one with a 3.5, one with a 4.0, I will hire the one with the 3.5. My reason? Because they are more likely to be well socialized.

Unless you come across as a genius, for whom a 4.0 is natural, or you aspire to work in a field where social interactions are of minor importance, you have not harmed yourself at all.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2007

Five years after you graduate, neither you nor anyone else will remember your GPA.
posted by mkultra at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2007

I never considered grades to be something I 'felt' about one way or another. My college GPA has had no impact on my subsequent life (I was able to get into grad school despite the fact that one semester of my junior year I failed every single class. I did quite well apart from that, but it did bring the ol'
GPA down some). I wouldn't worry about having a GPA in the 3.0-range, or having it lower for one or two semesters (unless you have a scholarship or something that you have to make a minimum GPA for, of course). You have reasonably good grades.
posted by frobozz at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2007

I wish I had B/B-'s. :)
posted by SirStan at 11:19 AM on May 21, 2007

Your overall GPA is dropping 0.1 points? While Tacos may be exaggerating his hiring preference, the fact of the matter is that one tenth of a point from your 3.51 GPA would be a drop of something like a quarter of one percent*.

I remember in my second year I had a major drop in my GPA from 3.5ish to 2.5ish (for that quarter alone). This was largely caused by a sudden shift from High School Take Two style classes to Actual College Learning. I should have been so lucky for it to be relationship issues! In the end, I graduated with a 3.0, lost my seat in the honors program, but got a good job, and I know the material. In short, I had to do two things: buckle down and actually do my homework (this probably is not your problem), and just ignore the grades—after all I was going to college to learn Engineering, not to have pretty numbers in a book that my future employers will never see.

Of course, I don't know if there is much you can do to prevent something like this from reoccurring, but you can affect how you react to the after-effects.

* 0.284900285% to be exact
posted by Xoder at 11:24 AM on May 21, 2007

Did you learn lots? Remember what you learned instead of how you were graded on it. I find that I have on occasion learned more in classes I received a lower grade for because I knew less to start with.
posted by procrastination at 11:28 AM on May 21, 2007

It really depends on your field. I hear a lot about grades not mattering, but those are not people who are in especially competitive fields. The best you can do is pick yourself up by the bootstraps and get great grades. I remember the old joke around campus was the "Niederhoffer Curriculum", I don't know if it was true or not, but Victor Niderhoffer (supposedly) got straight As and a great reputation by taking incredibly advanced courses. The reasoning was the incredibly advanced courses mainly meant doing research for the professor. It was more like a job, in that the professor would give you a lot of research, detailing how to do it, and you'd go out and get the research done. Voila, straight As. Fancy way of saying "game the system", but it apparently works.
posted by geoff. at 11:29 AM on May 21, 2007

Grades are one of those things where you have to look back, identify what you want to improve the next time around, and just get it done. Sometimes you have tougher classes, sometimes you have less tough classes -- but college isn't always about the grades, it's about the experience you gain while you're going to college. Part of that experience is learning how to recover when the brown organic matter is hitting the rotary oscillator.

Where that actually comes down to the metal is -- If you have this big of a problem with grades, just wait until you get into the working world and you have a project that fails. And something like 2/3 of projects fail and need to be re-started from the beginning a couple of times before they'll be successful. If you can't just pick up and do better next semester, then you'll never survive actually working.

Grades aren't a big issue. I'm two years out of school and working at a university, and no one even wanted to know what I graduated from my BS program with ... in fact, I can't even remember, I'd have to pull my transcript from my old school.

If an employer does ask about your GPA and implies it is low, say you had a couple of bad semesters and describe what you learned about the bad semesters, how you recovered, and how you can apply that while working at the company. I guarantee that if you have a thoughtful response to such a question that you'll be hired over a candidate with a 4.0 who's never experienced failure.
posted by SpecialK at 11:34 AM on May 21, 2007

I had a bad semester that resulted in a 2.8 GPA - and trust me, 9 years on I am not obsessing about it and it has not stopped me from getting into grad school or getting any jobs. I just remain surprised that I managed to get the 2.8 - that semester was just plain awful and I really struggled. And I dropped an entire point; I had been at 3.8 the previous semester.

I think you are worrying about this way too much. Just chalk it up to a rough semester and try to identify where you went wrong (did you take too many classes? Party too much? Play too many video games?) so you can make sure you can do better next semester. It happens - everyone has a bad semester. But if you keep obsessing about it you're going to turn it into two or three bad semesters.
posted by sutel at 11:37 AM on May 21, 2007

1) you're only halfway through college. You have time to recover. And you will.

2) I'm in engineering, a particularly competitive field. I didn't have a fantastic GPA. There were a couple of semesters where I was on the low end of 3.0 and the high end of 2.0. No one asked me for individual semester grades; just an overall GPA and a major GPA (for grad school apps). I put my overall GPA on my resume for my first job, each potential employer checked it off as "yep, you have a GPA", and I got three great job offers. My GPA will never go on my resume again.

I completely understand how you feel like it's the end of the world right now, but I assure you it is not. I know someone I went to school with who insisted that maintaining one's GPA was extremely important because every job interview he had commented specifically on how great his was, and therefore we should all place equal importance on grades as he did. Well, every interview I had ignored my grades and spent lots of time commenting specifically on how great my internship history was, so by his logic, everyone should only focus on their internships and nothing else. Ridiculous.

It can be a conversation starter if you're really stellar, or if it's the only thing you have going for you - but in reality, there are lots of parts to how valuable you will be in "life", and your GPA is one of many. After your first job, it will be zero of many. So relax, plan out your next semester, and just keep going.
posted by olinerd at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2007

Making yourself well-rounded is more important to employers than your GPA. Your college GPA will affect further schooling, as they look at that in the application process. But beyond that...the type of degree(s) you earned and types of experiences you had during school are more important than your GPA. Someone who was in a lot of clubs, sports, did volunteering, that sort of thing, and has a degree which matches the job, will be more appealing to employers than someone with only a pretty number.

I know you feel bad now about losing some points on your GPA, but learning how to balance real life with schoolwork is important. Someday you might have more stressful things to deal with, and need to balance your job with those. Take note of how you got through this experience, learn from it, and move on. If an employer did look at the drop in your GPA, you can explain how it was an important learning tool for you, which may impress.
posted by veronitron at 11:43 AM on May 21, 2007

There is one thought that will get you past a difficult semester: There's NOTHING you can do about it now. It's over, done kaput. You got a "bad" grade, but there's nothing you can do about it now.

Instead of worrying about LAST semester, start getting your life in order for next semester. Sort out your priorities, pick classes that you want to take, and get your relationships in order.

Seriously, one "bad" semester isn't going to kill you. In college, I had a few C's, but as the years progressed I made sure my grades got better and better. I even pulled of a 4.0 one semester. Frankly, I graduated with an in-major 3.5 avg for the last two semesters, and I'm holding the same greate job as a dude who graduated with a 3.1.
posted by muddgirl at 11:58 AM on May 21, 2007

If you're this worried and stressed over a tiny shift in your grade then you're really going to struggle in life. This is not Rock Bottom, believe me this is a minor pothole.

What you should be concerned about is that the end of a casual relationship cause you to drop from your normal - I'm guessing 3.5 = B+? to a C/D, thats a hefty drop - if you were in a work environment you could not afford to let your personal life affect your performance so much.

It sounds to me like you take everything a little too seriously, you're young, have fun and stop worrying about your grades. A friendly, chilled out, confident person is more likely to suceed career-wise than someone who spent their entire time at college fretting over their grades to get a 4.0 (assuming you're not working in academia or hard-core science/engineering)

Instead of worrying and stressing about it, put that energy into making sure you work harder next semester to make up for it and into a bit of personal exploration as to why the end of a relationship affected your grades so badly. Learn from the past, then move on
posted by missmagenta at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2007

Listen: You just made it through an incredibly trying time, and managed to get Bs. That's bloody amazing! How many lesser people would have thrown up their hands, taken a withdrawal or even a "withdrawal F" when things went wrong around midsemester? How many people would have just given up, either because it was too hard or because there was no chance of getting "perfect" grades, therefore no reason to get any grade at all?

You persevered through trials and hardships, and kept at it, and you should wear your "bad" grades like a badge of honor. You worked harder for those grades than you've worked for many "better" ones.
posted by po at 12:24 PM on May 21, 2007

Yea, what everyone else said. 3.5 to 3.3 is nothing really, take heart that you still did that well with all the other pressures you had this semester.

Unless you are in a REALLY competitive field like engineering or advanced mathematics where you have to have a 4.0 for a good Phd program, or shooting for the absolute TOP law/med/business schools, it won't ever matter beyond your first interview.

Even still, it's possible to make it into a great law/med/grad program with mediocre-good grades and a strong score on the MCAT/LSAT/GRE. My grades were considerably lower than yours and I got into a very good grad school with good scores and a strong personal statement.

If you're planning on getting a job first and not applying to any kind of grad program, don't sweat it at all. Go drink some beer, it's summer.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:28 PM on May 21, 2007

You asked several questions. Two big ones were:
1) How much of an impact will your grades from this semester have on your future job prospects or grad/professional school candidacy?
2) How can you feel better about your grades?

My advice:
1) How much grades matter: This question completely depends on what your career goals are, whether you intend to go to grad or professional school (and if so, in what field and at what level of selectivity), and so on. If the things you want to do in the future require high grades, then grades matter; if not, they don't. If grades do matter, there are some situations in which a one-semester drop will be forgiven and other situations in which the overall GPA is all that counts. Can you contact a moderator with more information about your situation? This would make it easier to give you a useful answer.
2) Feeling better about your grades:
* If you're in a situation where grades really aren't very important, think about what exactly it is that you're upset about. What do grades represent to you? Have you been judging your intelligence, social status, or value as a person by your grades? If so, why have you been doing this?
* If you're right to be concerned, all standard advice for dealing with failure applies: Use this as an opportunity to figure out what you need to do differently in the future, don't beat yourself up about something it's too late to change, etc.
posted by barelylegalrealist at 1:50 PM on May 21, 2007

You are going to be ok. It's ok. I promise.

LOTS of people -- MOST people -- have one or two really bad semesters in college. It's the rare person who makes it through without at least one screw-up. Most of these people go on to lead varied, interesting, productive lives. It's ok. It's really, really, ok.

Here's what to do now:

Be realistic. Don't be hyper-self-critical.

A lot of high-achieving students put pressure on themselves, and a focus on their grades, that doesn't help them achieve their own goals. Now is the time to take control over your own path -- once you're in to college, there's no longer a "one size fits all" thing that every high-achiever needs to do. So from now on, you will need to evaluate your progress against goals that you develop for yourself. It may be that perfect grades don't matter for your actual goals, but instead just learning certain material, or developing certain skills, matters.

Think about what your goals are - what specific doors do you want your college degree to open for you? Then find someone at your school who knows about that path and can help you plan how to get there. You may be able to meet with them now, or you may be able to email with them, to get a sense of what courses to be taking and what outside-the-classroom projects to get involved with. This will help you feel more in charge next semester.

Meanwhile, make the most of your summer. Get a job that interests you, if you can -- whether it's something relaxing where you get to interact with people you might not meet in the college track, or a volunteer gig, or an internship or other goal-oriented job. Be sure you're getting out of the house and doing something with your time. In your off hours, enjoy your friends, read fluff books, do whatever re-charges you. Don't worry about grades.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2007

I'm already thinking about taking fewer classes next semester and getting a 3.8+ or something.

Sounds like a fine plan. You're identifying one of the things that went not-so-well this past semester (you overloaded on credit hours) and deciding how to make things go better next time around (take a more feasible course load). Apart from the grades, you'll probably get more out of your courses when your attention is not spread so thin among them.

But it's the summer, so I can't see myself making any progress for a while.

Oh, bull. Maybe you can't make active progress on your GPA, but you can make progress on your education and life experience. What does the GPA represent to you? Does it represent general informed-ness about the world? Read some books that people have recommended but you haven't gotten around to reading. Travel if you have the opportunity, even if "travel" is just a road trip to the next state over. Does the GPA represent employability? Look around your community for groups that need volunteers. All sorts of volunteer activities can end up being surprisingly strong bolsters to one's résumé. Does the GPA represent lasting achievement? Build something (see above re: volunteering). Make a piece of art, frame it, stick it on your wall. Cook up a batch of jam or a pie and enter it in the county fair. I'm serious about this.

Also, how much impact does GPA have on life, you think?

Very little.

I'm rather scared by things with permanent impact

Me too. But people like you and I have to remind ourselves that often times, things which seem "permanent" and momentous really are not, in the long view, such a big deal. And it's not the end of the world to make a mistake or two or several. Everything will come out in the wash.
posted by Orinda at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

It really depends on your field. I hear a lot about grades not mattering, but those are not people who are in especially competitive fields.

This is hilarious and stupid. There are no fields where a single 3.0 semester will change the fate of a 3.5 student.

There are a few esoteric jobs where you really need to be summa cum laude from someplace top-notch, but the OP wasn't in that position to begin with.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2007

I think most of this has been said, but I'll throw in:

Unless you are planning to apply to competitive grad schools as your next step in life, the GPA differences you are talking about are pretty tiny. Certainly, if you aren't going on to grad school, then once you've gotten your first job out of college, the significance of the GPA disappears. I wouldn't even list it on your resume. I am in the process of hiring someone and GPA did not even enter my mind as something to be concerned about.

As for how to recover, I guess I can speak from personal experience. When I went to college, I was too sure of myself and I overloaded with 18 hours of classes and lots of extra activities. I didn't have the discipline to get up at 8am every morning and keep up with homework that wasn't checked every day, and I ended up with a 2.79 GPA out of the gate. I was disappointed with myself (because I lost my scholarship more than anything, honestly). It took me a couple of semesters to figure this out, but just lightening my load: 10-12 hours of "real" classes and a few hours of blowoff stuff each semester, and I ended up getting close to a 4.0 for the rest of my career (okay, except for Physics 204) and graduating cum laude.

In the end, the best answer I can give is that it doesn't really matter outside the immediate post-college window, but take it easy from here on out and you'll be fine. Good luck!
posted by daveadams at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2007

Grades can be vital, but it depends entirely on the field you want to go into, and in what capacity -- for example, if you want to go into law after college, or a graduate programme, than yes, your GPA will matter. A lot. So everyone who is saying "GPA doesn't matter" are probably saying "GPA didn't matter for what *I* did." Certainly for me, GPA mattered a hell of a lot.

That said, there's really nothing you can do about your bad semester. Luckily, its only one semester, and therefore probably an abberation.

I suppose this may not be what you want to hear. Sometimes when we make mistakes we have to live with the consequences. If I were you, I wouldn't worry too much because one semester out of 4 years really won't impact that much on your GPA -- just buckle down again next year.

The best thing you can do is to turn this last semester into a learning experience -- figure out what tripped you up, and what you can do to avoid those pitfalls in the future.

Alternatively, if you are just going straight out into the world of work after college, yeah, GPA prob doesn't count for a whole lot (within reason, of course).
posted by modernnomad at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2007

modernnomad: or they are saying that a single 3.0 semester doesn't matter for a 3.5 student, and just speaking towards the original poster's concern.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2007

i got a 3.1 over all of my four years; I just finished my first year of med school. don't sweat it.
posted by uncballzer at 3:15 PM on May 21, 2007

Response by poster: Oh God, I wish, oh how I wish I had the kind of life where dropping point-one GPA points was so shameful I needed an anonymous AskMetafilter question to address my anxiety about it.

My God, man, this is one semester. You know, I have flunked so many college semesters I don't even know, I probably won't get my undergraduate degree until I'm 24 or 25, and I'm still not shitting my pants over it, and not because I aspire to naught more than winning the gold medal for wart-picking. But you know, life is short, and if you work hard and prove you're competent (and GPA is not the only way to do this), you will be cool, for serious.
posted by Anonymous at 3:33 PM on May 21, 2007

Speaking from a professor's/graduate coordinator's point of view: lots of students have an off semester here and there. It won't really affect anything in the end. (Also: while I know the students don't agree--and I certainly didn't agree when I was a student--most of us think a B-average constitutes perfectly good work.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:57 PM on May 21, 2007

If you want to DO something to make yourself feel better, register for an online summer course. Almost always 10X easier, and thus guaranteed to make up for the deficit. I boosted my GPA by about .25 by taking 1 class each for 4 summer sessions.

And seriously, when it's all over, all that counts is your GPA for your major anyways....if that.
posted by messylissa at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2007

Unless you're planning on going to graduate school or plan to work in academia, no one will ever care what your GPA was. A human resources department will only verify that you were enrolled in a school and finished the program you claim to have completed. My understanding is that your GPA can not be given out over the phone. You have to request that the schools send transcripts to an employer/grad school if GPA verification is required.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:57 PM on May 21, 2007

This was a while back, but when I got a bad grade in a class, I had the opportunity to take it again. My better grade (A) replaced the earlier grade (D) for the purpose of calculating my GPA. Both classes, and their respective grades, remained on my permanent records. It's possible this isn't done anymore.
posted by moira at 8:09 PM on May 21, 2007

I think a lot of people are being a bit harsh toward the OP. Yeah, for some of you it may be a fond dream to have the kind of life where a .1 drop in your GPA is a catastrophe. You may feel some derision toward the OP because your life is so much more difficult and challenging and your GPA is such a minor concern.

Nonetheless, the OP does have this kind of life and is apparently feeling catastrophic. I'm reading this question as "Hey, how can I chill out about my GPA?" and many of the answers I'm seeing are "Man, chill out about your GPA!"

OP, I also have trouble chilling out about my GPA. I was one of the "exceptions" everyone's mentioned; I wanted to get an advanced degree at a top school in a hypercompetitive science. However, after a year and change of college, it became clear that I wasn't going to get into the grad schools I wanted to get into, both because of my grades and how I started to feel about my subject, and I've been somewhat depressed about it ever since. I changed my plans because I realized that without more experience, more expertise, and more drive, I wasn't going to be competitive, and I didn't want to deal with it. I decided to get a job in industry and see if I could find a backdoor into studying what I wanted to study. Time will tell.

I don't have any advice for you, but you're not alone in your inability to put grades in perspective. Roll with the punches and don't be afraid to reevaluate your goals and ideas based on new information. It sounds like you just had a bad semester and it'll be okay; I don't think you're a permanent failure, and I don't think anyone who matters will think you are either. I'm graduating in 4 weeks and wish you the best of luck.

Part of the reason I'm not trying to go to grad school yet is because I still haven't learned to stop my grades from feeding back into my self-worth measures with no filtering in between. Therapy didn't help me, but it might help you.
posted by crinklebat at 9:07 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

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