Let's Talk Grades and Measuring Success
The differences between high school and college are innumerable, but there's one aspect of college that's been dramatically different from my high school experience. To put it broadly, I would say that the definition of success, either from a career or academic perspective, is entirely different in college. More specifically, I truly believe that Dartmouth promotes a unique environment that highlights these differences. Whether you measure your success in the grades you get back on an exam, the amount of knowledge you retain from a class, getting honors in a class, winning a football game, securing an internship, etc., I promise you'll learn a lot about your definition of success in the next few years.
In high school, failure was never an option for me. I measured my worth against the grades I saw on my transcript and not much else. School was "my thing" and if I was performing poorly in something I continually measured my success against, then I was having a bad time. It was always about doing better than someone else for the purposes of "getting ahead" or studying all night purely with the intention of getting an A on the next assignment. It was exhausting, and this was certainly not a sustainable way to live. Dartmouth has allowed me to sort out my priorities from an academic and career perspective, and a lot of my first year was about this journey – figuring out what truly makes me "tick" and what I care about.
Through the interactions I've had with many classmates, the conversations I've had with professors, and the guidance I've gotten from my advisors, I've learned that the definition of success should never be what numerical grade you get on an exam, how well you are performing compared to other people, or how much "stuff" you are involved in. From my perspective, I've begun to measure my success by how much I'm actually learning in a class compared to whether I get an A minus or A plus. When I'm studying, I do so with the intention of learning the material instead of trying to member niche concepts to regurgitate them on the next exam. I think this is partly due to taking courses that I'm genuinely passionate about, but I think the people here at Dartmouth make that obvious as well.
When I collaborate with my classmates here at Dartmouth, it's always about helping each other learn the material instead of seeking out answers from one another. When I ask a professor for help, it's always about truly understanding the content at a conceptual level rather than selecting the right answer choice. When I fail, I get constructive feedback and I figure out the ways to improve in the future. This is a breath of fresh air to say the least. I'm finally understanding what's important to me in the realm of academia. For the longest time, measured my worth by numbers – GPA, test scores, rank, etc. At Dartmouth, those things are still meaningful, but there are other, more pressing priorities.
When my professor was giving a talk about the honor code, he said something a bit unhinged, but it gave me a lot of reassurance, "Whenever you think about cheating, just remember that you're already in college. It's about getting educated instead of getting ahead." That taught me something. My priorities have shifted to figuring out what I'm truly good at and what I love doing rather than succeeding in something that may give me recognition for the sake of recognition. I've learned that opportunities should be sought because I'm interested in the position, not because the name of the internship is prestigious. I've learned that, at the end of the day, I need to focus on what makes me happy and what fuels me. I've begun to truly appreciate an education, and I've grown as a scholar, a friend, a mentor, and a person as a result.