Dealing with Failure in College

If you are anything like me, you had never gotten an F on anything in your life prior to starting college. While I was a fairly good student in high school, I was used to getting the occasional bad grade, but anything below a B was an absolute nightmare. This all changed after the second semester of my first year at Kenyon when I got my first Organic Chemistry midterm back from my professor with a big fat red F marked on the top.

Saying I cried would be an understatement. I was full out sobbing, on the phone with my mom trying to figure out what went wrong. It’s not like I didn’t study; I had spent the whole weekend studying for that exam, including spending my entire Saturday night in the north mod working on Organic problems with a classmate. In my philosophy, I had assumed that if I studied hard, I would have to succeed no matter what. Since then, I have learned much about how college is nothing like high school in that aspect.

Now, as a sophomore about to finish off my third semester at Kenyon, I am proud to say my F count has gone up to a whopping three. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel terrible every time I’m handed back an exam with a number in the 50s scribbled across the top. I’ve actually cried almost every time I’ve gotten a terrible grade, but I’d say it's just my way of coping. I’ve come to realize that college is more than just making the effort, whether you study for four days or you study the night before, quality is just as important as quantity. 

I’ve also realized that I still have a friendly relationship with my professors that give me my poor grades. For the first time in my life, I am really realizing that grades are not a reflection of my intelligence. I am confident in my abilities, but I am willing to admit my mistakes and improve. At a place like Kenyon, sometimes you have to let go of that and get the help that you need, whether it be from your classmates or your professor during office hours. Something we all have to realize, as the perfectionists our high schools groomed us to become, is the inevitable fact that failure is normal. We’re human, and mistakes are going to be made. Concepts are going to be misunderstood and it is when they are misunderstood that true growth occurs.

I’ve learned to value the idea of growth in college as well. At the end of the day if I feel like I’m learning, then the letter on my transcript is not going to matter. Professors also recognize when you’re learning and growing as well, and most of mine take that into account when determining final grades as well so that the grade you receive in class is reflective of your commitment to your learning.

And I know that many of my fellow grad school seeking peers will counter with the fact that GPA is a huge part of admission into education beyond Kenyon. I also understand because I am a pre-med student, and medical school admissions in this day and age are super competitive. To say I am not concerned about my GPA at all would be a complete lie, but while I strive to keep my grades high, I constantly remind myself that grades are not a complete reflection of my abilities and self-worth—I am worth more than a number on a scale from 0-4.0. 

The moral of the story is yes, grades matter to a certain extent, but if you obsess over your transcript and stress over every detail, you’re missing the point of college. I’ve had to learn that the hard way and there are still times of weakness, where I start thinking that I’m a failure and that I don’t belong here. Those times are valid, but after wallowing for a while, the immigrant spirit in me grabs college by the bootstraps and embarks upon the next challenge. After all, I am here to learn and grow not only as a student but also as a person in the bustling world of possibility.


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