Academic Perfection Can Hinder Student Health

By Olivia Libowitz
Elm Staff Writer

I am an incredibly average student. There was a time in my life where this would have bothered me, induced panic attacks, and made me worry about how I’d hold up in the real world with a sub-par GPA. Now, I’ve almost reached the apex of my college career, and I can say that my GPA is the furthest thing from my mind when it comes to planning for my future.

Does that attitude reflect the reality of post graduate-life? Am I just slacking off with the best of them? First of all, I’d like to clarify that there is a difference between “slacking off ” and simply not having a 4.0. There are a number of valid reasons why a person couldn’t put all of their focus into perfect grades throughout college. For example, they just had more important things to focus on.

Students often spend hours in the library, sacrificing sleep.
Students often spend hours in the library, sacrificing sleep.

It’s the old adage you all got when applying for college: extra-curricular activities are key. That’s still just as true when you leave college for the outside world. Extra-curriculars in high school were often tools to seem more appealing to colleges, to show a variety of interests and an ability to keep commitments. Now, they mean something different: they mean you have skills. More than that, they show passion. You want to come out of college with something to provide the world with, and you can’t gift the world a 4.0; it’s not a tangible re- ward. You can, however, show the world what unique skills you have, the parts of your brain that can’t be printed in alphabetical order on a piece of paper.

According to a recent study by Teacher’s Credit Organization writers Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, where they analyzed the grades from 200 universities and colleges, 43 percent of letter grades given out in the U.S. are A’s. That percentage is only getting higher. When you consider that, and you take into account the increase in enrollment size across the board in the last two decades, there is a significantly higher number of 4.0, straight A students entering the work- force than ever before. In that light, the prestige of the perfect GPA is lessened. It becomes less of a rarity.

I want to point out that having a 4.0 isn’t something to scoff at. You’ve worked incredibly hard, and you deserve the credit for that work. That honor, though, and the pride in achiev- ing that goal, isn’t worth the loss of your mental health. I understand the stress that comes with perfect grades. For years in middle school and high school I tried my best for them, and despite many a homework-induced panic attack, I never could quite get all A’s. I didn’t know why; I was a good student. It just never panned out. So, I learned to put energy into the things I could improve at. I joined clubs, I volunteered, and I developed skills I brought with me to college that I honed here. Now I have skills I can bring out into the world as a potential employee, and as an individual.

How can we help prevent the anxiety that seems rampant in the academic environment? Eric Roberts, a Stanford professor, revealed in an article for the Stanford Report that most of his students who, in an annual anonymous survey, have confessed to academic dishonesty do so out of fear that they won’t achieve a high enough grade to be marketable. He’s tried several methods to help curb this, such as switching from standard letter grading to a gentler grading system. He also built “late days” into the curriculum to lower pressure. If a Stanford professor thinks we’re all too intense about grades, maybe there’s something to it.

This isn’t just a problem of college. Denise Clark Pope warns in her book, “Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic and Mis-educated Students,” that this stress and grade-based anxiety begins as early as elementary school. There is no need for this, and it fosters an environment where learning comes second to suc- ceeding. Students will always differ in their specialties. Some will excel at schoolwork, some in sports, some in part-time jobs they get to pay for textbooks and discover a passion for.

You, as an individual, have a responsibility to care for your- self. Focus on what you need to be successful. Provide yourself with interests, passions, and goals that you set, not just goals that are set for you. My father once said, “If you become a lawyer, no one expects you tell your clients how many tries it took you to pass the bar. They just expect you to win the case.” I say, as the new school year starts up, to take those words to heart. Try your best, whenever you can. If you’re happy and healthy, the successes you reach will be all the more satisfying.

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