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F is for failure

November 3, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

It’s November, which means spring course registration is officially upon us. Students—hunched over their laptops, brows furrowed as they figure out what classes fulfill major requirements—are beginning their annual song and dance. On top of questions surrounding distribution requirements and class interest, one genre of question seems to reign supreme on the minds (and YikYaks) of students: “Is this class easy? Is the professor hard?”

We urge you to ask another question: “Why does it matter?”

According to this year’s U.S. News and World Report, the middle 50 percent of Bowdoin matriculants scored between 1460 and 1560 on their SAT. If these numbers don’t spell “high-strung perfectionist,” we don’t know what does. You’ll hear stories from Bowdoin students who spent countless high school nights agonizing over acing BC Calculus or IB Spanish, going to taxing lengths in pursuit of a 4.0. For some, this pressure is internal. For others, it’s familial. In any case, it’s easy to let that pressure carry over to Bowdoin, and for many it does.

It’s not hard to see the link between these anxieties and a reluctance to take academic risks, even if they’re risks that are worthwhile. The most rewarding experiences, however, are often the most challenging ones.

We all came to a liberal arts college for a reason. We all—deep down in our soon-to-be-frozen hearts—value challenging ourselves academically. How can we lose ourselves in generous enthusiasms when we do not explore the academic unknown? Embrace the idea of a liberal arts education. Take that seminar with the “hard” professor. Take calculus even though you struggled through it in high school. When you explore academics, you often learn more about yourself than you could have ever imagined.

Bowdoin allows students to take four classes Credit/D/Fail to encourage this attitude of exploration, but some students view this option—which is designed to assuage students’ fears of low grades—with suspicion. We’ve heard friends worry that employers will reject applicants if they see a pass/fail on the applicant’s transcript.

Remember, Bowdoin affords students the leeway of two Add/Drop rounds to try out different classes and see which courses best tailor to their learning styles and interests. If you don’t like it, drop it.

We recognize that, for students who are interested in graduate and professional schools, grades often do matter. Plus, doing well in your classes is rewarding. However, there is a big difference between caring about your grades and prioritizing a 4.0 over a well-rounded, intellectually stimulating education. During your four years at Bowdoin, you will take 32 credits. Getting a “bad” grade in a couple of courses isn’t going to tank your GPA. Despite what your most competitive classmates and professors may tell you, there is room for error.

You can grow only when you are challenged and struggle. You can only grow if you have something to grow into. Embrace the unknown. Who knows? You might even like it.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Sam Borne, Lucas Dufalla, Nikki Harris, Emma Kilbride, Kristen Kinzler, Austin Zheng, Sam Pausman and Juliana Vandermark.


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One comment:

  1. Noah Saperstein says:

    This is how I always feel 2 weeks before taking the hardest class of my life which inevitably leaves me wondering if a life of welding would be more rewarding.

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