Getting A’s are bad for your work ethic

Photo Courtesy of psychologytoday.com || Prioritizing time over the grade will improve your mental well-being, Cas Sweeney ’19 writes.

Photo Courtesy of psychologytoday.com || Prioritizing time over the grade will improve your mental well-being, Cas Sweeney ’19 writes.

Cas Sweeney ’19
Associate Editor

As much as Smith students like to say, “C’s get degrees” and “Done is better than good,” we still have an enormous stress problem on campus. Students stay up later, and wake up earlier than they should, cut class to finish assignments, pass on job opportunities and internships to have more time for their classes, all in search of a perfect 4.0.

Recently there have been pushes to destress the campus: stress management classes, group counselling sessions, encouragement from Student Academic Advisors to take extensions if you need them. All these programs and initiatives are sorely needed, but they miss one aspect of college stress: the need to do your best.

Often Smith students strive to go above and beyond their workload: the perfect paper, the advanced project, the entire reading. Of course, they would, because at a competitive school like Smith, that’s how one gets an A, and an A is what you must get to prove you can do good work.

However, the definition of good work is very different in the classroom than in the workforce. I first noticed this disconnect when working on a group project with a very dedicated student.

We went to plan out our project and quickly finished the first step. As I went to move on to exercise two, my partner started talking about what to do next for exercise one. Confused I pointed out to her that we had already done everything the question asked us to do. Her response was that we could do more based on the task we’d been given.

The additional tasks she suggested were items that were similar but not identical to other exercises in the assignment. Doing more than she was asked to do would potentially get her a better grade, but it also would be a repetition of work that she’d already been assigned, and therefore, redundant.

In the context of that group assignment, there was no harm in her expending the extra energy. The only sacrifice was her time, and potentially it would help her remember the material better later.

In the workplace, that spirit to drive beyond what had be asked of her may not be as fruitful as it is in an academic setting. One measure of job success that is not measured or practiced often in college is the ability to do what is required of you as quickly as possible. Time is money after all, and the sooner you complete the work, the more you can do for other assignments.

The pressure to get the highest grades possible at the cost of other types of achievements does nothing to teach students the skill of putting in the amount of work necessary, and that is something that more students should try to do.

It is not possible for many students to sacrifice their grades for other things, because of graduate school applications, competitive internships, the stress that doing “badly” puts on their mental health. This is a problem on a societal level, and is generally out of students’ control.

I suggest, however, that if you get the chance, try getting a C in at least one class. Take it S/U and challenge yourself to make that grade with as little time put into it as possible. Don’t slack off but make your time the priority rather than the grade.

It will feel wrong at first, like you are letting people down. It will be stressful to see other students try harder than you, and you will worry what people will think of your ability.

However, the skills you will gain from the attempt will put you in a competitive position once you leave Smith and find yourself in an environment that asks of something other than the best.