Logging onto the college portal to check your grades seems like the most intense 60 seconds in your college life. This feels even truer when you know your friends ace their courses with ease and UCLA’s students set the bar competitively high. But finding out I received a C when I should’ve gotten an F didn’t feel any better.
As I scrolled down the screen, two C’s for my required English courses blinked back at me from my laptop screen in pretty black ink. I felt inadequate or unfit to call myself an English major. When I previously attended Long Beach City College (LBCC), I passed English courses with A’s or B’s regardless if I struggled with certain parts of the material.
But at UCLA, it’s a completely different story. LBCC and UCLA have a similar course load, but the professors at community college are more responsive to students’ questions after class and continue discourse with students. So if a student struggles with part of a section in the course, the misunderstood section can drastically impact grades.
For the first month after seeing those grades, I shifted off the blame onto other things. Maybe I hadn’t prepared enough during community college or the professor graded harshly. I also blamed my housing situation, which became difficult when my parents needed help at home and when I had difficulty reaching a compromise with one of my roommates or following the housing agreement contract.
Later I would realize I caused my bad grades when I decided to catch up on some needed sleep during my lecture, “History of Aesthetics and Critical Theory” because philosophy bores me and last night’s marathon of The Walking Dead was too good to postpone.
I didn’t feel comfortable sharing grades with my friends because of the competitive environment we create in the honors program, interning with a senator or gaining admittance to a competitive pre-graduate mentorship program. We have high expectations for one another to excel academically so how could I share my low grades with them? Everyone expected me to receive high grades like everyone because we were first generation transfer students and minorities with low incomes. Anything less than a B creates a stigma or guilt of being ungrateful of your slot in a four-year institution for a minority student.
Because of this, I avoided telling my friends the truth. If someone asked about my grades I would re-direct the question to them or drop a little white lie about how the professor had not inputted my grade into the system yet. I steered away from conversations about grades, and my friends never noticed whether I mentioned my grades or not. I was always tempted to tell them, but felt too scared (which feels silly now that I look back on it).
I felt that the environment would criticize and judge me rather than provide support. To make matters worse, my low grades meant I was at risk of losing my scholarship. How could I tell anyone that? I wanted nothing more than to cry when all of my friends and colleagues were accepted into research programs or funded internships while I struggled with my grades.
I finally decided to confide with my roommate about my GPA’s massive plummet and she confessed she too struggled during the quarter. I finally had someone who understood me. Most importantly, I didn’t have to feel alone anymore. Telling my roommate I got low grades for two of my required classes lifted a weight off my shoulders I didn’t know I carried.
Realizing I wasn’t the only transfer student to receive low grades during her first semester at a four-year university gave me the courage to start telling my friends about my two C’s when asked. Don’t get me wrong- I would still get an awkward “oh” moment, but after my friends and colleagues would encourage me to do better next time or emphasize that I check out bruinwalk.com (UCLA’s version of ratemyprofessor.com).
I decided to set goals to make an extra effort to succeed in my classes and actually attend office hours during the upcoming quarter. I planned my class schedule around during times of the day I wouldn’t feel tired and could have snacks or coffee in-between. I decided to write in my notebook rather than on my laptop to avoid texting or surfing through the web.
I still got a C at the end of the quarter when I made changes, but for me getting one C was an improvement. I also proved to myself I could commit to a goal regardless if it changed from long-term to short-term.
I did end up losing my scholarship, but I’ve made peace with that because I learned to be comfortable with my own potential outside of academics through other accomplishments. I submitted an essay about one of my favorite novels to a conference on campus, and I began to help myself by joining a mentorship program that helped me build confidence through that program’s encouragement to reach out to previous professors from both UCLA and my former community college. Now, I feel that students should take pride in all low grades whether it’s a C or an F because it can become a learning experience once a student starts experiencing other positive outcomes.