On the Connecticut River
« All Posts by this Blogger
A street on Dartmouth's campus on a rainy fall day. The ground is covered in an array of orange and yellow leaves.

As we approach the beginning of a new academic year, I've been thinking a lot about my notions of success and failure coming into my first year at Dartmouth and how they've changed for the better over the course of my time here. I've got a year left, of course, so I can't guarantee that it won't change again, but right now, as I prepare to begin my final year at Dartmouth, I want to share my perspective on success, failure, and how Dartmouth has redefined it for me.

It's pretty common as a first-year student at Dartmouth to be fresh from a straight-A high school career, and if not, something very close to it—it's safe to say that if you're enrolling at Dartmouth, you're probably used to meeting high academic standards in one way or another. I didn't get entirely straight As in high school (you don't have to! I'm living proof!), but nevertheless, I was no exception, as I came to Dartmouth with a record of doing very well in my classes. Don't get me wrong, I'm satisfied with my academic performance at Dartmouth and the work I've put into it, but first year fall was a bit of a reality check—I finished the quarter with only one A, and no grades above the class median. To be frank, I wasn't used to performing this way, and it was a difficult adjustment to make—I had always placed so much stock in numerical measures of my academic performance, and until then, I hadn't realized how much of my identity I was tying to what my "achievements" looked like on paper. 

I tried to keep my head up, telling myself I'd do better in subsequent terms now that I'd gotten used to college life. In some senses, that was true—my GPA was higher for the second and third terms of my first year than it was in the fall. Still, I never found myself getting the same consistently high grades that I did in high school. In my sophomore year, I finally got COVID after avoiding it for two years. It hit me hard, and by the time I recovered, I was so far behind that I had to withdraw from a course after the withdrawal deadline, leaving me with the dreaded W on my big, scary official transcript. Even after that, I didn't have my first straight-A term, or beat a median, for that matter, until my junior year. 

A computer with an open document--an academic assignment--and a succulent plant on a wooden table in Baker Berry library
Working on an assignment in the library with a plant I got from a campus mental health event! I put my best effort into all of my academic endeavors, but I've realized at Dartmouth that the times I don't meet my own expectations often end up being the times I learn the most :)

Despite the successes I had in my junior year, I also ended a class with a C for the first time that same year. Yes, that means the C went on my transcript alongside the W from my sophomore year. This would've left me emotionally devastated as a high school student, though I'm not proud to say it. By this time, though, I understood that this is how Dartmouth is for many students, and it doesn't mean you're not smart or academically capable. That doesn't just go for Dartmouth, either. College isn't easy, and it's completely normal to not get straight As in college when you might have in high school! In fact, I just told someone the other day that getting a C in a class and failing a test here and there in college is actually the best thing that could've happened to me. Personally, I've yet to fail a class (though I know I included "failure" in the title of this post), but even if that happens, it's truly not the end of the world—it's just another chance for growth!

If you let failure remain a mystery because you're so afraid of experiencing it, it might be nice in the short term to not feel the disappointment, but the more I let myself fail in college, the more I realized that the need to succeed at everything all the time was actually holding me back. Now that I know I'm not going to get straight As no matter what I do, and that that's perfectly okay, I find it much easier to give myself permission to rest instead of staying up the whole night to make an assignment perfect, or to try new things I otherwise would have avoided for the fear of being "bad at it." Of course, I still put my best effort into my academics and other endeavors, and it's always my goal to do as well as possible, but my health and well-being benefit infinitely from being at peace with the fact that there is no way to be perfect at everything all the time.

So as the new academic year approaches—especially if you're about to start college, but no matter where you are or what you're doing—I really can't encourage you enough to remember that it's going to be okay. I can promise you that; I've failed to meet my own expectations way more in college than I thought I would, and I survived! In fact, my friends can attest that I've said many times this summer that I'm doing better than ever! Get some sleep, and put your own wellness first—failure is the best way to learn and thrive.

Posts You Might Like