Grades in High School

I’ve always been told that grades are the most important thing in the universe since I was very young. Maybe it’s because I have Indian parents whose success stems from high academic achievement. Through my elementary and middle school life, grades were quite important, leaving me disappointed if I received a poor grade on an Math or English test. However, once I got to high school, my outlook on grades changed. While I don’t entirely slack off, I keep a consistent 3.5 GPA alongside developing apps, composing music and learning new things about the world. Unfortunately, this laid back attitude is not common among my classmates.

Finals were a couple weeks ago, and recently our teachers published our final grades. Students were all over the place. Many had “clutched” their classes, just over an A-, while others were far from one. While I received roughly the same semester GPA as many of my classmates, they were all depressed over their grades, complaining to their respective teachers in hopes of raising their borderline grades. Having read a chapter in David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell about colleges and the “Big-fish–little-pond effect” a few weeks prior, I knew that these grades weren’t the be all end all of my life and that I would have many opportunities in the future to excel.

The big-fish — little-pond effect is an interesting idea in which we tend to excel when we are the most superior in our own “little pond”. Conversely, the effect states that we tend to fail even if we are average in a “big pond”. Many students want a high GPA in high school so they can go to “better” and “more superior” colleges like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc. However, these schools are examples of big ponds where even being in the 75th percentile of your class can solicit feelings of inadequacy. In David and Goliath, Gladwell talks about a college student who abandoned her passion for science at an Ivy League due to feeling inadequate at the school. A high GPA is only useful when applying to Ivy Leagues and very high-tier schools and it’s possible that a slightly lower GPA can help you follow the career path you’ve already paved for yourself.

Students in high school have been taught to worry too much about grades and college admissions. It causes too much stress and anxiety over a fraction of a number. So next time you get a B in a class, don’t worry, you might find yourself a big fish in a little pond.

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