Changing the stigma around “bad” grades

Caroline Lobel, Managing Editor

We’ve all experienced the heartbreaking moment when we fall short of our academic goals even when we’ve worked our hardest. It feels bad — but here’s why it shouldn’t.

If you’re like me and are below the Dougherty Valley average of straight A’s and taking all weighted classes, don’t worry! Every student at Dougherty knows how insanely competitive of a high school we are, which is why we need to focus on the bigger picture. 

Even expanding our perspective to just the other high schools in our area, Dougherty outperforms those schools. When I first saw my score for the Oct. 5 SAT, I felt a huge wave of disappointment wash over me because I didn’t even break the 1400 threshold despite all of the studying I put in, whereas many of my friends at Dougherty were breaking 1500 on their first tries in their junior year with minimal prep. However, I felt better after talking to some seniors who go to California High School and Dublin High School because we all scored within the same range on the same test, and they were incredibly satisfied with their scores. 

From a national perspective, we all scored above the 95th percentile of SAT test takers. The Dougherty stigma of a 1450+ on the SAT literally represents the top 1% of test takers. The Washington Post writes that the national average SAT score for the class of 2019 was around a 1060 out of a perfect 1600. Yep, you read that 400 point difference right. 

Of course if you know you can do better, then by all means retake the SAT. But if you’ve felt you did the best you could, then you should be proud of your score regardless of whether or not it meets Dougherty unrealistic standards. 

However, many Dougherty students do not feel content with themselves until they’ve earned a near-perfect score. 

“I definitely beat myself up over [my grades] and the thing is, I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself, like [feel] so bitter over my grades because my parents [tell me] ‘Ellie your grades don’t matter that much,’” junior Ellie Yan said. “I can’t get that in my mind because constantly I feel like I’m peer pressured [into earning the best grades] by comparing myself to so many intelligent individuals here at Dougherty Valley High School and also my own expectations for myself. And when I don’t fulfill those expectations, I just feel really disappointed and angry at myself.”

Students beat themselves up over their grades because of parental expectations and personal standards. I agree that not meeting expectations is one of the worst feelings and that it is difficult to change your mindset. Many students at Dougherty believe “if it’s not perfect, it’s bad,” a “this-or-that” mindset which leaves no room for growth. While this article may not completely diminish this unhealthy mindset for you, hopefully it can reassure you about the grades you’re earning.

What you may see as failures, aren’t considered failures once viewed outside of Dougherty. The same goes for the grades you earn. Although the one “C” you earned in Honors Precalculus sophomore year may make it harder for you to get accepted into a top university, it isn’t going to diminish your chances of getting into a college. 

“[The GPA you need] depends on the schools [you’re interested in], of course, but there are over 3000 colleges across the country. One of the things that we highlight when we meet with our students is that there is a campus for everyone, and there’s so many schools out there,” Dougherty Valley counselor Ms. Sarah Campell said.

Many Dougherty students apply to the same colleges because of the reputations those schools have and parental expectations. The counselors at Dougherty try to have students explore colleges that they haven’t yet considered. 

“We want to encourage our students to think outside the box so that they’re not just all competing for the same schools because that’s just a rat race, and it’s hard and stressful … Colleges want to see all those things and all the things you’re involved in, in addition to the GPA and the test scores, so you are more than your grades and your test scores … There’s a school for everyone, you just have to look for it,” Campbell said. 

The grades you earn do matter to a certain extent because they help determine what college you get into but they don’t dictate how successful you are in the future. Contrary to what some students at Dougherty believe, going to a community college is not the worst thing in the world. 

Most students and their parents want them to be the best, but sometimes trying to be the best isn’t worth it. At the end of the day, your parents just want the best for you. Your parents probably didn’t attend a top college themselves and they turned out fine. And you will be too as long as you don’t mentally kill yourself over your grades.

We’re all familiar with the unhealthy toxicity of Dougherty’s academic environment. This poses a great harm on the mindset of students not taking all weighted classes and not earning all A’s because they are led on to believe that they are not good enough when they are actually doing quite well. 

“If a student is challenging themselves in honors and AP classes, but they end up with that B or C, they are making that effort to take the more rigorous course … [and if] the student is trying and doing their best and they end up with that B, that’s okay,” Campbell said.

Some may argue that beating yourself up over your grades is a good thing because you’ll learn to push yourself even harder to earn better grades. As true as the growth mindset is, you don’t want to push yourself beyond your limits. Too much growth too fast can be detrimental to one’s mental health. According to a PBS article, “Students push themselves daily to unhealthy and unsustainable limits … [This has] a harmful impact on student stress, depression and anxiety—including for those already enrolled in top colleges and universities.”

You should always strive to do your best, but know that there’s a time to stop and it’s not when you finally earn an A. Pushing yourself too hard leads to burnout, which can be even more harmful because you can end up doing worse in your classes. 

“I’ve been in those situations where I’ve been sitting with a parent and a student, and the student is at their wit’s end … [One junior] got to the point where she literally by before finals could not get out of it; she literally hit a wall,” Ms. Campbell said. “We kind of reassessed at the semester she was able to finish the year and she did okay, but we did have to look at her schedule and decide, ‘Okay, what are we going to drop? What are we going to keep? What are you really passionate about? How much time in the day do you have?’ We’ve gotten to that point where she literally couldn’t even come to school because she was so exhausted, and so depressed. And that was the end of her rope.”

Yes, it is frustrating when you earn a B in class, especially if it was an 89.5% and your teacher doesn’t round your grade. 

“Everyone around us is super competitive which leads to our own high expectations for ourselves,” Yan said. “For example, if we get a B, that could be a really good grade for someone else in another community, but for us that’s literally the end of the world because of the surroundings and the culture that we’re raised in.”

However, a B is a great grade because it’s still an above-average grade, even at Dougherty. The stigma that we fall victim to isn’t even an accurate representation of what Dougherty students are actually earning. Many students believe that the average weighted GPA at Dougherty is above a 4.0, but the current senior class’ average weighted GPA is a 3.7. 

Don’t beat yourself up over “bad” grades even if you were close to your desired grade because you earned what was your best at the time. Sometimes you get unlucky, but that shouldn’t get in the way of your academic success. 

“If you feel like this way, you’re definitely not alone. Even the people who are really high up there, they feel like they’re like not doing well enough either. Honestly we’re all in the same boat. We’re all gonna get through this together,” Yan said.