Editors Note: This article is a part of “Swat Takes,” a curated conversation between two authors about a contentious topic. This article is in conversation with an article written by Jason Kim entitled “Your First Semester Grades Do Matter”
Due to my frequent appearances in McCabe Library, whenever my upperclassmen friends see me, the first thing they say is something along the lines of “why are you here? You’re a freshman, go to bed!” One of them even went so far out of their way to threaten to take my laptop away just so I would consider not finishing my 200 pages of reading and go to sleep before midnight. Perhaps the repeated advice from these kind upperclassmen has unconsciously convinced me, as I am halfway through the first semester and I have completely stopped any attempts at A’s in any of my classes. Instead of trying to achieve good grades that don’t matter in the end, I believe that it is better to prioritize my health and social life in the first semester.
As a first year, one of the first things I heard about college life is the “choose two” diagram, which suggests that the fragile balance of social life, academic, and sleep can only be achieved by choosing two and sacrificing one of these necessities. Fortunately, Swarthmore has kindly provided us with pass or fail grades for the first semester, which means that first-years will have the chance to learn the navigation around college life. Nevertheless, because of the hardworking nature of Swatties, most of us still try the hardest to achieve A’s, even if they are just “shadow grades.”
I started the semester also thinking that I would work very hard and get used to the rigorous coursework of Swarthmore in the first semester, so that second semester would not suddenly become impossible. However, a lot of upperclassmen have pointed out to me that they regretted working so hard first semester.
I have nothing to lose by just passing, instead of having A’s, in all my classes. The insignificance of our first-year, first semester grades is the reason we have pass/fail in the first place. Unless you choose to reveal them, they have no effect on the overall GPA. Neither employers nor the admission officers in graduate schools look to these grades for proof of an individual’s excellence.
In college, not only do we gain knowledge for our future careers, we also ought to learn how to cooperate and lead others to succeed in workplaces. By taking advantage of the pass/fail semester, I have gained the opportunity to participate in multiple extracurriculars, taking leadership roles in them, which is crucial in developing my leadership skills. When I prioritize my extracurriculars and social life, I get to become a part of the Swarthmore community and deepen my friendships with my fellow classmates. Therefore, next semester when grades do matter, I can have friends by my side to support me for the rest of college experience.
From my experience of joining many extracurriculars and activist groups, I learned my own limits and gained the knowledge to navigate just how many courses I can allow myself to take and just how rigorous some extracurriculars are. Knowing that I won’t have any regrets in my following years for not participating in any activities that I liked but was too busy for, just because I spent all of my time trying to achieve a perfect A record that doesn’t matter in the end.
I believe that the pass/fail semester is also an opportunity to challenge myself by taking classes outside my comfort zone, in case I never get to learn about a subject that I would have liked but that I was too afraid to take. In this case, even if I end up hating this new subject, I don’t have to beat myself up and study until 3:00 a.m. every night for something that I don’t actually like, just because I want a perfect GPA.
To the first years that are still overworking themselves, I believe that academics are not the most important part of your college life. Your grades really do not matter in the first semester, and you may regret it next semester when you lose the chance to have fun, expand your range of extracurriculars, and make new friends. In the words of my wise upperclassman, “don’t work, go to bed.”