Straight-A student stereotypes aren’t always accurate

Students who maintain 4.0 GPA's still prioritize their time to have fun on the weekends. As the semester goes on, it may or may not be easy for students to achieve their original goal of ending the semester with a 4.0. (Photo Illustration by Kendra Smith | The Collegian)

Getting good grades, maintaining an already high GPA or simply passing a class are all thoughts that commonly occupy the minds of college students. As we push through second week of the spring semester, the question of “How can I be a successful, straight-A student?” may be pondered by many.

The first thing we may consider is to become someone that is smart, dedicated, over-achieving and has no friends, family or any time for a social life. While little thought is given to the realities behind the life of a high-achieving student, society can tend to focus on what it believes to be the consequences of such devotion to studies. Straight-A students are expected to be boring; that they work too hard and play too little. Straight-A students never take the time to let their hair down and relax, they have to constantly push for that A.

Many of these perceptions can often be found with what has become an almost stigma-like association of students who dedicate themselves to achieving a 4.0 GPA.

Alexa Faber, junior in life sciences and straight-A student, rebukes these kind of assumptions.

“Some people think I’m insane, but I feel like for me it just became how I did things,” Faber said. “I still went out; I still had a good time every weekend. I prioritize time differently, but there is always give and take.”

Faber gives testimony to the fact that not all straight-A students are total bores. Faber said on average she studies 15–20 hours per week, but still finds plenty of time to hang out with her friends and be an active member in her sorority Zeta Tau Alpha. According to her, maintaining a 4.0 has not affected her social life whatsoever.

Do they walk with their heads held higher or with an extra bounce in their step? Most likely not, but that doesn’t mean they are not full of pride on the inside.

On the other hand, not all the perceptions of straight-A students are totally off. Amanda Sales, junior in agricultural communications and journalism with minors in Spanish and agronomy, can attest to some of the struggles and challenges of maintaining a high GPA.

“It becomes stressful when teachers begin expecting a lot out of you, like at busy times of the year or when they assign huge assignments,” Sales said. ”It also becomes stressful when I am holding onto a grade by the skin of my teeth, which happens in so many classes.”

Pressure to achieve or maintain high grades is something that most students feel at some point, whether it be from an academic standpoint or from family and friends. Many students rely on scholarships to help with tuition, which can make achieving high grades a necessity.

“In high school, getting A’s to earn scholarship money was my job,” Sales said. “So many times I just wanted to get a B and get it over with, but I stuck with it.”

Faber also attests to the increased pressures that accompanies scholarships.

“Having a scholarship definitely adds to the pressure to get good grades,” Faber said. “I don’t do it just for the scholarship, but it most definitely contributes to my determination.”

This talk of pressure is only one side of the conversation, however. Imagine walking down the sidewalks of campus, can you tell which students get straight-A’s? Do they walk with their heads held higher or with an extra bounce in their step? Most likely not, but that doesn’t mean they are not full of pride on the inside.

As she talked about the personal reasons behind getting a 4.0, Faber sat a little straighter in her chair.

“A lot of times it comes down to being on a borderline,” Faber said. “If I get a B I will still be fine with my scholarships, but it’s more than that; I also do it for myself.”

Sales also takes pride in her academic achievements.

“Getting A’s in college became a point of proving it to myself and others that I was capable of doing such a thing,” Sales said. “I set a goal to graduate summa cum laude, just because I want that feeling of accomplishment.”

With that amount of pride and sense of accomplishment, there is bound to be some big disappointments. Sales finished off last fall semester with the knowledge that she would not receive A’s in all of her classes. In fact, two of her final grades were B’s – the first B’s she has received in seven years.

“It does honestly feel like failure to me,” Sales said. “This is something that is permanent, and I just don’t like that. I don’t think I can ever agree with my friends that a B is an acceptable grade because I still want to be an overachiever.”

Despite the stress, pressure and negative stereotypes; the perceptions of straight-A students are certainly not without their positive elements. Most people view students with high GPA’s as very smart, dedicated and determined individuals. But some may wonder if it’s all really worth it.

According to Josiah Dowding, sophomore in mechanical engineering, the answer is no.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Dowding said. “Everyone admires a student that gets straight-A’s, but it seems like few people actually want to give up the time and effort it takes. No one wants to be that boring student.”

Dowding said he has an average GPA of 3.5 and is perfectly content to keep it that way.

“I have a lot going on, I work a job and take some pretty difficult classes,” Dowding said. “I don’t really feel the need to get straight-A’s.”

Dowding’s achievements show that straight-A’s are not the only indication of a student’s achievement and success. Many students are highly successful without a 4.0 and feel no less superior or intelligent.

“In a lot of cases, I honestly think it’s more of a personal decision than a reflection of intelligence or anything else,” Dowding said. “Straight-A’s just aren’t for everybody.”