Transcript
Photo: Alana Shukovsky

And there, proudly, it stood: a big, fat C on my transcript.

Who knew a single letter could conjure up such a range of emotions: shock, disbelief, anger, and slowly, after emailing my teaching assistant and my professor for explanations, acceptance. In a student’s life, few things are scarier than the thought of a C — barely good enough to scrape by, not bad enough to properly retake a course and forget the previous failure.

My first thought, after confronting this monster, was how it would affect my GPA — and more importantly and perhaps dramatically, how it could affect my future. Thoughts can quickly spiral into panic, and as many students receive their grades after just a week of winter break, I’m sure I’m not alone.

It’s strange to think how much of our lives has been defined by our GPAs, and even now, amid thoughts of potential graduate schools, this number still dictates our academic careers. We get into email fights with our professors, begging to be rounded up to the next grade, confident that each precious hundredth of a point on our transcripts is worth every battle. Professors complain about how students feel entitled to good grades after constantly being the best before college.

They’re not wrong — at a school where 97 percent of admitted students were in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class, we are used to being the best. But perhaps more importantly, we are students obsessed with quantifying our self-worth and intelligence, made to believe that these numbers are the only way to validate ourselves and succeed. GPAs are no longer just what they should be — a numerical summation of the grades we earn — and are, instead, viewed as indications of our intelligence.

In reality, however, GPAs in college do not reflect how smart we are. They’re designed to reflect how much we are willing to work for each class. It isn’t simply a number we can manipulate so we can land an impressive-sounding job. Being mindful of our GPAs should allow us to shape our work ethic and hone our self-discipline, so we can be mindful and hardworking wherever we are in the future.

Grade inflation is a real concern. According to The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University’s median grade is an A-minus and the most common grade is an A. Professors and other leaders in academia have railed against softer and softer grading curves, arguing that students have been coddled to expect and demand As without doing the work that truly merits one. As a whole, I agree with this statement: As students, we have forgotten the true purpose of our grades.

I admit, it’s hard to see this from a professor’s point of view. When I saw that C on my transcript, my first thought was to fight, tooth and nail, for a better grade — how could someone like me get a C? However, when I think deeper about the purpose of grades, and what the true purpose of a GPA is, I re-evaluate how much I truly worked in this class and what I truly deserved. I put myself in the perspective of a professor handing out grades, and the work I would expect. The reality of this situation is that the work I produced was more average than exceptional, and though this wasn’t the grade I wanted, it may have been the grade I deserved.

So, fellow students looking at a rough semester of grades, I am here for you. I know what you are feeling. But before you hit send on your carefully (or perhaps not-so-carefully) worded argument as to why you deserve that higher grade, think critically about the work you produced — and resolve, whether you succeed in getting it or not, to work harder next year.

JESSICA LI is a College sophomore from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology. Her email address is jesli@sas.upenn.edu.

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