Originally written April 29, 2020 in response to a conversation with a student, for my past self and anyone else in her shoes.
I heard your struggles. So, you just got an A-minus on a one-credit lab course and that means the 4.0 GPA you worked so hard for is now unreachable. You worked so hard, this one class included, didn’t slack off at all, studied your booty off, but you just couldn’t name enough anatomical parts to earn that A once the models and dissections were placed in front of you. You knew you were on the edge but looking up your scores and tallying the points has confirmed it: A-, 3.7 quality points. Right now, you’re kind of devastated. You don’t want to talk about it with your friends because come on, one credit hour of A- in a sea of A’s? Who could really complain? But in your inner narrative, you say that it doesn’t matter to them as much as it matters to you. This means you have officially fallen short, your greatest fear, and there is written record to tell everyone about it.
Friend, I’ve been there too. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I can openly and genuinely say that I learned so much more from my “tarnished record” than I would have learned if I earned the A that I hoped for.
Literally everyone is still over-the-moon proud of you.
Seriously. And I’m not just talking about your parents (sorry, mom). Your professors are actually proud of you, especially your advisors and the ones you’ve worked so closely with. Your best friends admire your intelligence and work ethic and they didn’t stop when your GPA dropped from 4.0 to 3.997. The people you’ve asked to write letters of recommendation for you are hoping that you ask them to send letters everywhere because they want to tell everyone how they got to be involved in your success.
This will not keep you from later successes.
I know you didn’t know about graduation distinctions when you set your eyes on that 4.0, but did you realize that you can still graduate summa cum laude with one A-? Even with one B? Even with three B’s?! You get the best cords and as you walk the stage at graduation, absolutely no one will know that you faced anything but pure success. You get to put “summa cum laude” on your resumé. As for later, I’ll tell you right now, you will get into graduate school, be funded, and even have professors asking you if you have found a lab to work in yet. You know a handful of people who got into medical school with lower GPAs than 4.0. You know someone who got into audiology school, a class of only a dozen students, who didn’t have a 4.0 either. And as for the job market, a 3.95 looks pretty much the same as a 4.0 when you round. You’d be surprised how many times an online application forcibly rounds your GPA- you couldn’t report your 3.997 even if you tried! You will be fine and your future will be bright because you didn’t change into another person when you got your A-.
Your GPA does not define you.
Do you know why you will be fine? Why others are still proud of you? Why you will still wildly succeed in the future? It’s because a number on a transcript is not your identity. This is not to discount the overall meaning and impact of your GPA; it is important to maintain a generally good indicator of your academic success. The thing is, there’s a whole lot that your GPA can’t say about you. It cannot say how much effort you put into your education. It cannot say what other challenges you balanced throughout your schooling- a job, clubs, leadership, community service, church, friendships, caring for others, maintaining a home. It cannot say how you work as a teammate or what kind of collaborator you are. It cannot say that you are (or aren’t) self-motivated and self-disciplined. It cannot say how you persevere in the face of setbacks. It cannot say how you treat other people or how you respect authority or how you value feedback. All of these things contribute to who you are and honestly, the things people really care about when they consider you for a position or evaluate your skill set have nothing to do with that one number on your transcript.
You were never going to avoid falling short forever.
You are human, right? If so, you need to see this whole GPA situation in the context of your humanity. (I know you can think critically because you wouldn’t even have this struggle otherwise.) Humans are the best at messing up. You see it all around you every day. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The word “sin” literally means “miss the mark” in the original language. I know I miss the mark all the time. Only God gets to be perfect. The rest of us will fall short and we will do it over and over and over again.
The good news is that God knows this and loves us so much that He sought to rescue us from our sin and failure. While we were imperfect, full of flaws, sin abounding, with all our failures on record, God came to earth as Jesus Christ and died on our behalf so that we might be called His children. Then He rose from the dead, proving that He was God. His death forgave all our sin, all of our missed marks. That record is wiped clean. In the eyes of God, through Jesus Christ, you are flawless. So friend, let’s live like that. We cannot avoid falling short, but we can accept the sacrifice and forgiveness of God.
Do not place your faith in your GPA.
Your GPA does not deserve your faith. It does not hold ultimate power over your life. It doesn’t deserve your undivided attention. It doesn’t deserve your worship. Maybe you’ve never noticed but take a step back and observe yourself. Are you worshipping your GPA? If you are hurt by the loss of your 4.0, it’s likely that you have made it an idol. Let me remind you one more time: your GPA does not define you and it does not determine your future success. Only God can do those things- place your faith in Him instead. God is the one who brought the whole universe into order. The Bible says that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). He will make certain that you get into graduate school, professional school, or the job you seek if that is His will for you, 4.0 or not. And if those things don’t happen, it is not because you failed. It is because God has a better plan for your life. In His hands, you will never be able to fall short enough to miss out on a successful life.
You should probably evaluate and re-define “success.”
I am the queen at picking apart absolutely everything to find every flaw so that I can fix it. Some call that perfectionism, some reference the enneagram “type 1,” some compare it to OCD. So, for me, anything short of the best was considered failure. Notice I used the past tense verb there. When I looked my work in the face and saw anything less than what I intended to do or create, I couldn’t see it as success. I’m still tempted to see things this way (like every single day). That mindset did not produce fruit in my life. Maybe out of fear I earned a long string of A’s but in the meantime, I also often chose my education over my friends’ well-being and my own. I chose studies over serving my community. I chose earning A’s over growing in my faith. None of that was healthy and no life without value in people and faith is a successful life. When I realized this, I realized I needed to redefine “success” for myself. This is what I came up with:
Success is fulfilling God’s will for my life. It is meeting Him regularly and prioritizing my relationship with Him above all else. It is loving those around me. It is respecting those with authority. It is doing my best at whatever I do, working as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). It is seeking God’s glory, not my own. It is living like I have been freed from my failures by the blood of Christ. When I have these things, I can say without a doubt that I have success.
Let God use this to your good and His glory. You won’t regret it.
Julia R Migliore