The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Deconstructing the straight-A student mindset


Students return to UNC-Chapel Hill's Libraries before the start of the fall semester. The system has changed its building hours, added self-service checkout stations, and it has reduced overdue book fees.

I didn’t have to work hard in high school.

Academics came easy to me, and I loved the high of seeing a grade in the 90s when teachers handed my assignments back. My love of academic excellence started out innocent enough, but by the time I entered community college, that need to attain perfection slowly took a hold of me.

It wasn’t long before I began to look down on myself if I didn’t get the grade I wanted. I told myself I had to prove my worth in college or it would be pointless.  

The sick thing is, no one ever told me growing up I had to get perfect grades — I put that pressure on myself. I remember telling a friend a couple years back that I felt like anything below a 95 was a “half-ass A.” 

In a university surrounded by brilliant minds and self-described overachievers, I know I’m not the only one that falls prey to this mindset. Having this perception of academics linked to self-worth can cause serious damage to a person’s physical and mental health. 

Everything crashed and burned when the pandemic heavily impacted college campuses and their students. 

Online classes made me reevaluate everything I knew about how I functioned in an academic setting. I could no longer connect as well with my professors or be surrounded by other classmates. I was alone in my room, cut off from the outside world. 

The way I would typically schedule my time no longer worked once the barrier between my personal and academic life disappeared. Hours on my computer looking through a screen slowly demolished my passion for school. I couldn’t focus. Nothing was clicking, and turning in assignments felt like just barely checking a box each time.

I had lost one of the very things that had long defined me — my motivation to learn.

As I wrapped up the fall 2020 semester, only minuscule amounts of information actually stuck with me. I reached a breaking point and knew that if I was going to be able to get through another semester, I needed to rework my thoughts, mental blocks and deeply engrained labels that I defined myself by. 

I realized that I would have to let go of seeing myself as a straight-A student. 

There is nothing wrong with working toward good grades, but it's pointless if you’ve forgotten how to learn along the way. We are here at UNC to soak up the wisdom offered to us — and make mistakes during our time here.

It’s true that academics often give the false perception that grades are everything. A lot of UNC culture is based around rising to the top by being the best or setting ourselves apart in some way to matter.

But we are not here to lose ourselves in this academic system. 

As we come back to school, remember to take it a little easier on yourselves and take time to separate yourself from your student identity. This semester, I’m still learning to deconstruct my straight-A student mindset. I'm not holding myself back by stressing over a letter or grade percentage. 

This doesn’t mean you’re letting your GPA go. Instead, it’s important to redefine what it means to succeed in school and cut ourselves off from that innate, toxic desire to use grades to prove our worth. The more we slow down and deconstruct that mindset, the more we will be able to enjoy our classes without that added pressure and truly appreciate the learning process and integrate the information into our lives.


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.