Yes, you can survive a "C"

By Alexandra Sumner

Finals are over, sleep patterns are resumed and highlighters are worn out. You’ve turned in your papers, your exams, your projects and now, finally, you can breathe a sigh of relief. As you impatiently wait for the results of your hard work, there’s something I have to tell you: You’re probably not going to get the grades you want. Scratch that — you won’t get the grades you want.

I know what you’re thinking: “I got straight-As in college, OK? I didn’t even have to work that hard for it. I never even pulled an all-nighter. I know what I’m doing!” (I felt the same way.)

Here a little mind puzzle for you: What happens when you put 90 type-A nerds together in a classroom with a C-average curve? Hell. Absolute hell.

I’m not telling you this to be pessimistic or to convince you to give up. I’m telling you this because there will come a time within your law school experience when you just don’t know who you are anymore. If you’re anything like me, you won’t know what to do when you lose a piece of yourself. For so long your identity revolved around being “the smart one” and when that label is snatched out from under you, you’ll find yourself scrambling to find something new.

But you are smart — you’d have to be to get this far. The problem is that so many of us have naturally excelled at school to the point that we never learned how to learn. Oh, the irony. For so many of us, things came easily; we never needed after-school help or private tutoring. We were “good at school” and we knew it — it warmed our heart with haughtiness and joy.  (Or maybe that’s just me.)

But somehow, over the sixteen years of our pre-law school education, we never learned to ask for help. We believed that “just study harder” was the way to get over our problems and now — faced with the landmines of Real Property and Admin Law — we realize that’s not enough. And in contrast, we see our fellow classmates (supposedly) excelling and grasping concepts with ease — what’s wrong with us? Our outlook, naturally.

If I could hop in a time machine and travel back to my 1L self, I’d sit her down, slap her across the face, and tell her to calm down. Really, just take a chill pill. Law school is a game you can’t really “win” if you’re the only one playing. Your biggest enemy in law school isn’t the person sitting next to you, your Civ Pro professor, or even the lady in Financial Aid, it’s you.

A bad grade is just a bad grade. It won’t destroy you, end your political career, or make your parents stop loving you. It is quite literally, just a letter. What should you do to get over post-exam existential crisis? First of all, don’t show up to the pity party. Meaning, don’t talk about your grades or test results with your classmates — nothing good can come of it. It’ll either lead to resentment among colleagues or superiority complexes among friends. When asked, change the subject — talk about how much your textbooks cost instead. Second, realize what you did wrong and don’t make the same mistake twice: That’s just lazy. 

Lastly, remember the ever-popular adage: Cs get degrees. A grade is fleeting, a law degree is forever.

Alexandra Sumner is a 3L at Indiana University — Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.