As a campus tour guide and contributor to this admissions blog, I tend to get a lot of questions from undergraduates and prospective students about managing the transition from high school to college.
And as someone who has had a rollercoaster of an undergraduate experience, I do my best to pass on my knowledge learned the hard way.
Below, a (slightly edited) text conversation I recently had with a freshman friend as she experienced firsthand what makes it so hard to be "the best" among the Leaders and Best:
I think I flunked an exam. What do I do? I feel like crying.
If crying is going to make you feel better, do it. And then go figure out what you did wrong. That’s the only way forward.
Go through the syllabus and put in all the portions of the final grade, and put in the grade you think you can realistically achieve on the other exams, assuming you take the time to learn from this exam.
This is a super handy grade calculator. You'll put in the grades you already have, and then you can see how much you need to improve on your other exams to still get the grade you want.
You'll look over your exam, see what you missed, figure out why you missed it, and fix it for the next exam.
Are you in a study group?
I got in one for today.
Stick with it.
Sometimes it feels like a waste of time, and sometimes it is, but you may pick up a trick or two to help fix problems.
And absolutely you must go through the exam you just took so you fix whatever you did so you don't do it again.
Yes, I have to step it up I guess. It really hit me. I’m so used to getting good grades.
I get it.
I always got a B in math class because I hated it, but other than that, I was a straight-A student my entire academic career until I arrived at Michigan. Now, I’m a mostly A-and-B student with a C or two or five sprinkled in there.
That’s the thing about Michigan. It’s one of the best public universities in the world for a reason.
EVERYONE here was the best in their high school. So, now not everyone can be the best here. But a 3.0 at Michigan is FAR more impressive than a 4.0 anywhere else.
Seriously, getting an almost-B on your first exam in a class that is notoriously difficult isn’t bad at all.
You’re going to have to learn to be okay with not easily floating at the top of the class.
It took nearly two years for me to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t the best anymore. And it’s still hard for me.
But as soon as I accepted that it was ok to not be perfect, it actually got a lot easier to just enjoy class and enjoy the process. And my grades improved by nearly 0.6, which is SIGNIFICANT.
It’s impossible to do well when every second you’re second-guessing yourself, and every exam you feel the pressure to get an A or you’re not good enough.
I’ve so, so been there.
And it sucks.
But you’re going to be just fine if you let the pressure off a little and accept that it’s hard here.
Maybe you’re going to be one of those superhuman 4.0 students here, and that’ll be awesome. But first, you have to learn how to be a college student, and that’s not easy
It’s going to take time to figure out how things work here, and in the meantime your grades aren’t going to be perfect. That’s totally okay.
Thank you so much!
You don't know how much your advice means to me.
Trust me, I understand the pressure.
My first two years, my parents said get perfect grades or you’re transferring to a state school back in Montana.
It was actual hell.
I had always been a great test-taker, never had test anxiety, sailed through school.
But the weight of their expectations crushed me.
Every single exam I felt like the fate of my college career rested on each question. I started getting such severe test anxiety that multiple times I would stay up vomiting the whole night before an exam.
It was too much. I had a literal breakdown because I couldn’t handle it.
And it wasn’t even like I had bad grades. I had something like two As, a B, and a C, which is an acceptable transcript for somewhere as good as Michigan.
And I completely cracked. I considered dropping out. I almost didn’t come back for my junior year.
I spent the whole summer talking with my parents about what had been going wrong and whether I should come back to Michigan.
TWO WEEKS before the first day of junior year, after talking all summer, my parents and I sat down and agreed to what ground rules needed to be in place for me to succeed.
They stopped holding my tuition over me and told me they were all-in, no matter what, because they believed I could do great things.
I dragged myself back to school, and without that awful, horrible pressure hanging over me with every exam, I bounced back and nearly had a 4.0 the first semester of junior year. I missed it by an A- and a B.
Moral of the story: A little pressure to succeed is good, because it’ll motivate you to do well.
But you can’t expect yourself to be perfect every single minute of every day. No one should have to deal with that kind of misery.
Give yourself a break, share my story with your parents, and take a deep breath.
This exam sucked. The next one will be better.
Maybe not perfect still, but you’re learning, and you have to be okay with that.
If you are a student struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns, or you know someone who is, there are resources available to you. For more information, visit caps.umich.edu.