I remember worrying in middle school about this insurmountable goal that high school seemed to be. Was I going to keep the same friends? Would I do well? Turns out, high school wasn’t that much harder, and it was much more fun and less embarrassing than middle school.
But I worried because the older siblings of my friends always complained about how everything matters now and how this or that might affect their chances of getting into college. So of course, as soon as I got to high school, and especially during sophomore and junior year, I began worrying about that stuff, too.
Do you see a pattern developing here? Every time I (and I don’t think I’m alone) pass the seemingly insurmountable obstacle in front of me, another one rears its ugly head. I spent a lot of high school working hard (not as hard as I probably should have but that’s beside the point) in order to better my chances of getting into different colleges. I felt so sure that no matter what I did, I would never get to go to a good school.
Then, as soon as I got to a good place with my grades and extracurriculars, I became beset with worry about whether I would be accepted to the school that I wanted to go to—the school that was right for me.
When finally accepted into Boston College, I allowed myself a short reprieve from worrying during the summer after my senior year of high school. There was nothing left for me to do then. I was going to school, I basically just couldn’t get arrested or die and I’d be fine. Right?
Stepping on to campus and going to class, the cycle began again. Rinse, repeat. I worried about doing well in college. How could I find success here so that I could land a job or go to grad school so that I would be successful in my career so that I would be successful in my life so that I could retire in my old age to my books and movies.
I was a little ahead of myself.
Now deep into my time at college, I am starting my junior year. And I finally think that I’ve got a handle on this whole “being successful in college” thing. Reading that sentence back to myself, it sounds easy. It was not.
I was first clued in to the idea that getting good grades in college was very different than getting good grades in high school during the first semester of my freshman year. A month or so into the year. we were finally getting some grades back in my classes. And I was getting A’s and B’s and C’s. This was not going according to plan.
I was always an A student in high school. I didn’t have to try all that hard. (I know, woe is me that now I need to actually work at school). But college is very different than high school—who would’ve thought?
I figured that if I studied like I did in high school and paid attention in class, I’d turn out fine. But what I didn’t realize was that being successful academically in college needed a redefinition of success. I ended the semester with all B’s and I felt distraught. How could I have not gotten all A’s? I spent a lot of time that winter break upset with myself about this.
And I think I would have felt upset for quite a while longer if I hadn’t opened up to my family about it. They, of course, asked me how I’d done at school. When I quietly told them that I earned all B’s, they congratulated me.
I was confused—all throughout high school it was impressed upon me that I should be getting A’s. But my parents insisted on being proud of me. And basically, this is what they told me:
“We wanted you to get A’s in high school because we knew that you could. If you weren’t getting those grades, we knew that you weren’t trying your hardest or doing your best. But we know that college is much harder and that you’re doing your best at adjusting to an entirely new way of working and living. If this is your best, and you tried your hardest, then we are proud of you. And you should be proud of yourself too. B is not a bad grade—it’s not even close. A B is a great grade that will get you a degree. That’s what college is for.”
And they were right. Success in college means doing the things you need to in order to get your degree. Take your classes, study and prepare, do your best, and you’ll be fine. It might mean that sometimes you must make hard decisions between going out with your friends and doing your homework or between watching Netflix and studying for that test. But it is possible.
In my experience, learning how to study and changing my major around until I took classes that I was actually interested in helped bring up my grades. You don’t need to live in the library or be a genius. The key to success in college is setting reasonable expectations from yourself and mastering time management.
If you know your abilities, you can work to exploit your strengths and soften your faults. If you can manage your time wisely, it will be possible (on the whole) to achieve academic success without forfeiting sleep and friends too often.
It’s easier said than done, but believe in yourself. You’re capable of success. So set yourself up for it.