Immediately upon walking through the doors of my old high school, you are confronted with a floor-to-ceiling list of students’ GPAs. From day one, students are encouraged to compete against each other for the coveted spot at the top of the list. Certainly the list allows students to visualize their goals, but it can come at the cost of pitting classmates against each other.
Many students grow up consciously or subconsciously competing against their siblings and peers to be the best: in sports, popularity, and in academics. Sometimes, their interest in learning is overshadowed by this desire.
Like so much of our lives, education can become a competition. Some students are immune to this affliction, while others are entirely fueled by it. Each students’ personal experience of the academics competition is affected by numerous factors including his or her financial situation, gender, choice of school, and much more.
Kids love the childish game of “mine is better/newer/bigger/etc. than yours.” Most of us eventually grow out of this stage, only to see it reappear in a new form in school -- especially college. Now, instead of, “mine is better,” the winning phrase becomes, “my work is harder.” This comes up particularly often regarding majors, and everyone hates it:
“I wish I was an English major just reading and writing all day instead of doing organic chemistry labs.”
“I have a practical and two exams this week.”
“Well, I had a practical and two exams today.”
“I was up until 1 a.m. finishing that paper.”
“Oh, you’re lucky. I was up all night finishing that paper.”
As the semester wears on, students frequently compare war stories, trying to one-up each other with who has it the worst.
With so many stresses of being a college student, on top of the daunting pressure to eventually get a job and become an adult, this additional stress competition is completely unwarranted and unwanted. College offers the opportunity to choose a major that genuinely interests you -- regardless of how objectively/subjectively “hard” or “easy” it may be. Comparing majors and workloads is like comparing apples to oranges, and it gets students nowhere. While communications students may not take as many exams as science majors, they are nonetheless inundated with essays, presentations, and group projects which are challenging in their own right.
College offers so many opportunities -- tutoring sessions, teaching assistant positions, mentor programs -- for students to work together to help each other symbiotically. Instead of complaining at each other, students could at the very least complain with each other and find solace in the fact that they’re not alone in their struggle. And at best, they can help each other to succeed to their fullest potentials.
When the pressure to have the “right” numbers on one’s final transcript (which ultimately isn’t as important as real experience) becomes more important than actually learning and retaining any of the content of one’s classes, students lose sight of the purpose of a college degree.
But at the end of the day, remember that the purpose of education is to learn! Healthy competition encourages students to do their very best and think independently, and it also enlivens the classroom environment. Students thrive with a combination of both competitive and cooperative learning. For example, instructors can:
- Allow students to work and study collaboratively, but grade each on their own merits.
- Give students say in how they approach an assignment and how they will be tested.
Through this balance, students are motivated to do their best but still value learning over earning high grades and teacher approval. Students can help each other through study groups, tutoring, and mentoring. The math majors can support the English majors by tutoring them in general-education statistics, and vice versa.
As the number of college students experiencing anxiety continues to rise, it’s important to remember that mental health is more important than acing a test or course. Aside from academic resources for struggling students, all campuses should also offer free counseling, meditation, and other stress management services. Be sure to take advantage of the support at your fingertips and encourage others to do the same to promote a healthier, happier campus.
Most importantly, keep in mind that earning real world experiences through internships, job opportunities, leadership roles in campus organizations, and even studying abroad will help you more in your future career than that 4.0 GPA ever could.