Striving for all A’s?

Here’s a tip: Be mindful

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This past semester was a rough one for most students, particularly those aiming for A’s in all of their classes. In my case, I was ready to accept a B or C in Health Psychology despite my efforts in the class. But this helped me realize something: I have become obsessed with the notion that I need to make all A’s to succeed. And in my opinion, this isn’t an uncommon habit; within an individualistic society like the U.S., competition runs high and fierce, forcing students to meet unrealistic and downright unhealthy demands in the hopes of attaining their dream career. But while that is disheartening, it would be difficult to change those societal expectations. Instead, we can focus on changes at the individual level. So, how can we accomplish that?

Firstly, it is critical to acknowledge that no matter your diligence in a class, there is always the possibility that you won’t make an A. This can vary from the challenge of the content matter combined with the time constraints with learning to the professor assigning grades. But what’s important to focus on here is that we should shift our focus from that single letter to our comprehension of the material–to what we actually gained from the class. Do you now know the muscles of the human body? Do you understand the process of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis? Did you become more introspective and inquisitive? Do you understand as much as you possibly could given the class, time, and structure? It’s difficult to wrench ourselves from the attachment to the worth of a letter grade, but what truly matters at the end of the day, after that semester, after college even, is what you drew from that class–be it knowledge, a skill, or some personal factor like patience or passion. And even I struggle with this through my time in college, but simply reminding yourself of this is significant in influencing your successive efforts in your classes, in influencing how you interact with and benefit from them.

Another point I’d like to touch on is that if you find that your desire for A’s is putting your health at risk, you should slacken your efforts–but don’t give up of course!–to allow for personal care. I am a firm believer that no matter the importance of education and work, neither should ever ruin your health or health habits. In fact, going off of the World Health Organization’s definition of health, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Your endeavors to make A’s shouldn’t be causing the development of health disorders, but they also shouldn’t be taking away from physical activity, diet, time with friends and family, and (for some) a spiritual life. Easier said than done, as usual, but being mindful of this harm is the first step to bettering yourself. Think of it this way: If you’re working toward being a nurse, what effects will neglecting your health now have on you and your patients in the future? Will you have enough energy to efficiently provide care? Will you have to take time off work for health issues stemming from that neglect? Will you already be burnt out from pushing yourself too hard in college? These are some things to consider before you decide that A’s are the only acceptable grade. And yes, I am guilty of not following my own advice here, but over time, I have begun loosening my grip and turning more attention to self-care. The key is to be patient with yourself, to weigh the costs and benefits, and simply to be mindful. 

For my final argument, I’d like to stress that grades are only a fraction of what determines your competitiveness; there are several other factors that we often forget. In fact, depending on your level of involvement and the characteristics of the other factors, your grades may not matter nearly as much as you think–which isn’t to say you should intentionally ditch A’s but is something that will provide wiggle room should you score a B or C in a class. Out of these factors, I can condense them into two categories: extracurricular involvement (clubs, organizations, jobs, shadowing and volunteer experience, research, publications and presentations, etc.) and personal traits. The first is straightforward, but keep in mind that quality usually takes precedence over quantity there; don’t join four different organizations and put in little to no work or commitment. Spending months–even years–in a position (and especially with promotions or graduations) with experience to show for it is far more impressive. As for the latter category, think of your typical interview. If you were faced with two interviewees with similar extracurricular backgrounds, one with all A’s and one with a mix of A’s and B’s, how would you choose the one most suited to the job? Well, you would judge their personalities and measure them against the “ideal personality” for someone in that particular field. For example, is the person polite and even-tempered? Is he or she open-minded? Adaptable? An effective communicator? Does that person even genuinely care about the field–does he/she speak with passion and dedication? All of those qualities are meaningful to the people in charge of your admission or hiring, and even if you have perfect grades, if you lack the qualities that they’re looking for, you’re likely to be passed up in favor of someone who does possess them.

So, for those of you hoping and working for all A’s, I commend you; it’s certainly no easy feat. And it can be advantageous, especially if you’re looking to be more competitive. However, there are other ways to be competitive, and at the end of the day, if your goals are costing your health, you may want to reflect on your current habits and adjust them accordingly. It may not seem worthwhile now, but keep in mind that the damage caused by chronic stress and bodily neglect can be largely irreversible. Preventing those health problems ahead of time by earning a B in a class may very well be worth the sacrifice.


Stay healthy and well, my friends.

Nursing students unite!