Rachel del Valle | A class for class' sake
Duly Noted | I’d rather get an A- than an A, minus what should be a big part of the college experience
February 25, 2013, 10:43 pm·
Rachel del Valle
When I was a kid, the concept of graduate school didn’t occur to me. I thought that people entered college and, four years later, emerged as doctors, lawyers or unemployed basement dwellers. The whole thing seemed like the second half of eighth grade when your report card was just a formality.
So you can imagine how excited I was to get to college already. Once I was admitted, I would be able to study the subjects I liked, explore new ones and not worry about grades. Also, dining halls seemed much more appealing when I was 11.
I wondered silently to myself, “Why does anyone care about college grades? Isn’t just going to college enough? Why do people even study?”
It wasn’t until I hit middle school I discovered that there was, in fact, an incentive to do well academically in college. I can’t really pinpoint a moment, but gradually, an awareness developed. I started to notice that some people had multiple degrees — they’d gone to “med school” or “gotten their Master’s.” I began asking questions.
It hit me pretty hard when I figured out that there was a whole world beyond the four-year college experience. The grades you accumulated mattered. Sometimes, you took more standardized tests after you graduated. Sometimes, you went to school for another 10 years. It would never end.
This was a sobering realization for a preteen.
I was reminded of my middle school misconception this past week when I overheard a conversation on Locust.
The exchange was between a pair of friends — one complained while the other one listened. The gist, according to the chatty one, was that A-minuses aren’t good enough.
“I just don’t want to get another one — it’s disappointing.” It took a lot of self-restraint to not turn around and roll my eyes.
What’s wrong with an A-minus? If you avoid anything less than an A, you avoid taking academic risks. Grades are important — there’s no disputing that. But they shouldn’t define your college experience.
I’m not advocating we all pretend that transcripts are irrelevant and we’re just here to learn. It would be nice to think that everyone takes classes in the interest of knowledge (as opposed to sector requirements or major requirements or because geology’s easy). But more often than not, we enroll in certain classes because we have to, not because we want to.
So what’s the solution to playing it safe and structured when it comes to choosing classes?
Maybe we should just be more open. The fall 2013 courses are up on Penn In Touch, and as I scan over the hundreds of listings, I’m trying to temper my graduation requirements with my intellectual curiosity.
Signing up for a course doesn’t commit you to it. Embrace the shopping period, the add/drop, the pass/fail option. These choices are there for a reason. Taking advantage of them doesn’t make you flaky — it just gives you more options. And who doesn’t like more options?
So why not take econ pass/fail or art history or maybe acting?
Up until recently, I’ve had this misconception that taking a class pass/fail is a cop-out. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize how untrue that is. If I’d taken one class a semester pass/fail, I’d have an extra semester’s worth of learning by now.
We’re all paying the same amount of tuition for a regular semester course load, so why not give it more texture? After all, once you graduate, when’s the next time you’ll be surrounded by so many different ways to learn?
I only have two semesters left at Penn, and I so wish I’d done more to take advantage of the resources offered — especially now that I’m allowing myself to imagine what life after graduation might look like.
It’s only now that I see how much the things I’m exposed to in the next few years will shape my future. It’s a little frightening, but as far as I can tell, it’s true.
So naturally, the only way to prevent a life of mediocrity and misplaced enthusiasm is to learn everything about everything.
Or maybe I’ll just go to graduate school.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.