Swamp Talk: My Grades Don’t Define What I’ve Learned

By Sarah Loftus

Every semester, I grow in ways I didn’t think possible, and this semester, I learned one of my most valuable lessons a few weeks ago.

In elementary, middle and high school, I was constantly told how important grades were. I have a high-achieving older sister, educated grandparents and parents.

My dad’s family puts an emphasis on never settling for anything less than perfection when it comes to accomplishments. And failure is and never has been an option. We’re definitely that family who says things like, “You’re a Loftus; you’ll be fine. Loftuses always succeed.” And “Act like a Loftus,” which is supposed to carry every positive connotation.

I never rebelled against this high-achieving mindset. In fact, it pushed me to never settle for grades less than A’s, even though I have had my share of B’s. Even as a senior in college, I still remember all the 89’s I’ve ever gotten since middle school; the A-’s that I wished were A’s and the twinge of disappointment I feel when I don’t have perfect 4.0 semester grades, which in college, has been every single semester.

In high school, my parents, teachers and friends told me how important my grades were, so my obsession with grades was justified.

But then I got to UF.

I suddenly had professors lecturing about how my grades don’t matter. “The internships you have and clips you get are the most important things,” they would say.

Whenever I get upset about a grade, a professor tells me not to worry because my grades don’t matter.

Really, my grades don’t matter?!

I know what they mean–grades don’t matter for jobs. But they matter to me, so doesn’t that mean they matter? In my opinion, yes.

This always frustrated me because I hated being told that something I deeply cared about “didn’t matter.”  Even though I knew what they meant and knew how right they were.

So for the past three years, I’ve tried to tell myself that my grades don’t matter. I should still work hard, but getting a B+, or even a B-, instead of an A doesn’t matter. But no matter how hard I tried to ingrain that in myself, I couldn’t escape feeling like my grades were so important, even though they weren’t important for my resume.

This semester, I enrolled in 17 credits, I work as a copy editor at The Independent Florida Alligator, and I’m the executive editor of this magazine. I knew it would be a lot, but I thought I could do it. But when it became too much and I was constantly falling asleep while studying and going to bed feeling guilty because I wasn’t completely prepared for the next day, I thought about dropping my French class; a class that no matter how much time I spent on an assignment, my grade wasn’t improving.

After getting a B- on a paper for another class that most of the class got an A on, I realized that dropping French would be best for my GPA and, more importantly, my sanity.

But the thought of having to drop a class made me cry on and off for about three hours.

I felt like a failure–exactly what I had always been told I wasn’t. And I couldn’t figure out why.

And then it hit me. I equated my grades with how much I learned because I guess in high school, there is a direct correlation between the two. But in college, it’s a much looser correlation.

And I never realized that until now.

I’ve finally realized that reducing my college education to one number and some letters is idiotic. I’ll no longer do that. Of course, I still care about my grades. But I no longer let my education and intelligence be defined by grades.

What I’ve learned and done in college goes so far beyond a GPA. I’ve witnessed how my writing has improved. I now have a much deeper knowledge of American literature, politics, even human sexuality and many other things.

But far more importantly, I’ve grown. My education and the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired have helped me become more open to others, new ideas and new opportunities. All infinitely more valuable than A’s on a transcript.

transcript photo- screenshot of my transcript

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One comment on “Swamp Talk: My Grades Don’t Define What I’ve Learned

  1. That’s a great perspective – -and one to keep for interviews. The experiences and skills go far beyond grades and with a little foresight, you can be sure you are ready to answer any interview questions concerning grades and GPA.

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