Why isn’t a 3.8 good enough?

This letter writer was accepted to a great college, but his parents insist that he’s slacking. 

Your grades are excellent, says our elder. Stand up to your parents!


Dear EWC

I have just graduated high school and will be attending Penn State in the fall. My GPA in high school was roughly a 3.8 weighted, my SAT was a 1400, and my ACT was a 24. My parents and I are frequently at odds over academics. I feel that I’ve worked my hardest, however, they keep telling me that I’m slacking and that I should’ve gotten a 4.2. They’re saying that because I’m Indian, I’m competing against all the other Indian kids with 4.2s and 4.3s, and because of that, my chances at a good college are very slim. They said something about how every college aims for diversity, and so because of this, I’m competing with other Indian kids, who they said are so much better than me in terms of academics and overall achievements. My parents also told me that Penn State was above my reach in terms of my academics and extracurriculars in high school, and that the only reason I got in was because my dad was an alum. Like I said, I felt that I tried my best. To be fair, I may have fallen into the sophomore slump, which caused me to get a C in Honors Chemistry, however, for the most part, I still feel that I worked my hardest. Senior year I also fell into a bit of a slump, because I was a fully remote student during the pandemic. I also got a C in AP Physics C: Mechanics. I only have two Cs in my high school record, the rest are As and Bs. This makes me feel like an inferior loser compared to all the other winners. I’ve even gotten suicidal ideations because I’ve felt that getting a good GPA is just not happening regardless of how much effort I put into my notes and assignments, and that I’ve done nothing but the stupid, useless stuff that everybody does in high school (basically, nothing concrete or meaningful, since my GPA is a 3.8). Thoughts? And feel free to be honest, because honesty is what I need here.


Folk replies

Congratulations on being accepted to Penn State. It’s a fine school, but I don’t think it was a “reach” for you at all. After checking on the grade point averages and test scores of accepted applicants for the class of 2025, I think it’s safe to say that you earned admission on your own. I am sending you a link so that you can see for yourself how well you stacked up against other applicants:

As you can see, although your ACT score of 24 was on the low side, your 1400 SAT score was at the high end of the range – and so was your GPA. Many colleges give more weight to applicants’ GPAs than to their test scores. The reason for this is that a good GPA is an indication that the applicant is a hard worker. Since having good work and study habits is essential to success in college, colleges look for evidence of these in applicants.

I don’t know why your parents said the hurtful things they did. Your grades are not just good, they are excellent – and so is your SAT score. Maybe your parents said those things because they were trying to keep you motivated. Maybe they noticed your “slumping” a bit during the pandemic and were trying to scare you into staying focused. Their efforts may have backfired and made you feel like a loser, but I’m sure that was not their intent. Your parents love you, after all; if they didn’t believe you had the ability to perform at a high level, they wouldn’t harass you the way they do. In short, they believe in you even if you sometimes don’t believe in yourself. A 3.8 GPA is fantastic; I know plenty of parents who would lick all their fingers if their son (or daughter) had a GPA anywhere CLOSE to yours. Your parents may not be very good at communicating their desire to see you succeed, but, 3.8 GPA or otherwise, I think it’s apparent that you are deeply loved.

Maybe the reason your parents drive you so hard is that they are driven themselves. It’s OK for them to push you to do your best, but you need to let them know you need their encouragement, praise, and appreciation too. After all, if you work your butt off to get a B and all your parents can say is that you should have gotten an A instead, you might decide “why bother.”  

Your parents may want what’s best for you, but they also have to recognize that you have feelings. You should be celebrating your graduation from high school and looking forward to starting college in the fall. If your parents are making you feel bad about yourself (to the point of suicidal ideation) then you have to use your voice to stand up for yourself. You have to politely but firmly let your parents know that saying things that make you feel like a loser is not helpful. Let them know that you find these sorts of comments discouraging and that positive reinforcement is a lot more effective in motivating people than negative reinforcement. Another way of saying this is to say that it’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.

I hope I have answered your questions. I am always here if you’d like to talk more about this. Please write back to let me know if you talk to your parents and how it goes. I will be thinking about you.

Article #: 478442

Category: School

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