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February 19, 2008

Bouncing Back From ‘Bad’ Grades

By Sumeera Younis

When considering how you feel about the grades you received this semester, keep in mind that 90% of you will not be in the top 10% of your class. Let’s face it, the numbers are stacked from the beginning. Perhaps even more reassuring is what Professor Steve Croley often tells his first year Civ Pro classes: “People who get A’s become professors, people who get B’s become judges, and people who get C’s become millionaires.”

Die Ego Die

If the Spears family is where sanity goes to die, perhaps law school is where egos come to die, and that is not a bad thing. Before I received my first set of grades in law school, one friend put it this way: he was going to be happy with whatever grade he got because there were a lot of really freaking smart people around us. Getting an average or below average grade doesn’t mean you are dumb, it just means that someone else did better on an exam. Professors or law firms might try to convince you that letter grades mean something more than that, but whether you did really well or really terribly, don’t delude yourself into thinking that grades are more than what they are. Let’s face it, we know morons who get all As, and some of the best people we know get Cs and we know everything in between. Grades are just one part of many, many parts -- they are by no means the defining element of your intelligence or your worth.

We go to Michigan,
We are Kind of a Big Deal

As jack-assy as that may sound, it should offer some sense of perspective. We are not some higher more refined being because we attend Michigan -- anyone who has been to Rick’s on a Thursday knows that -- but the reputation and respect of our school does help us out. As I was researching how people across the country cope with bad grades, I realized that a lot of them talk about us ‘top tenners’ with a great deal of contempt., because they face a ton of problems we don’t. For them, being in the top 15% isn’t a matter of having one more line item on their resume, it is the difference between being employed and unemployed. Even with low grades at Michigan, you have a strong likelihood of getting the job you want if you just learn to highlight the many other things that make you awesome. Maybe doing moot court or writing for the RG are more your thing -- use your energy to focus on those aspects as well, while still trying your best in school.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

No, seriously, just be happy. Studies show that there is no correlation between higher grades and/or salaries and actually liking life. Try to keep the endgame in mind. At the end of the day we are all searching for something that will leave us satisfied, that will make us happy about life. If that thing happens to be a Supreme Court clerkship, just keep in mind that the steps to get there should also make you relatively happy. I recently read an article that said “Law students began with higher subjective well-being than comparison samples of undergraduates and other new professional students, but by the end of their first year that had plummeted. Meanwhile, the law students became more motivated by externals—grades, appearances, money—and less by intrinsic values such as personal growth and contribution to the community.” Chances are if you are miserable all through law school, just fighting to be on top and not having any regard for the people you are around, you are setting up a crappy template for the rest of your life. You don’t just get to that dream job and hit the off switch and become an amazingly chill and loveable person. This doesn’t mean that being smart or good at school automatically qualifies you as sucking at life, it just means to keep things balanced today, so they stay balanced tomorrow.

And if all else fails, remember this. A friend of mine always asks, “What do they call the guy who finishes last in his law school class?” He smirks and responds, “A lawyer.”