The very word “pre-med” evokes images of consecutive all-nighters, temper tantrums, and the banging of one’s head against a wall. A Princeton education is tough across the board, but pre-med students hold a special rank on campus, both in their coursework and in how much they complain about their coursework.
Not all the ghastly rumors about this quasi-major are true. My peers — I should acknowledge that I am a freshman and have not suffered the full extent of the pre-med tribulations — enjoy lives outside of their organic chemistry textbooks for more than one hour a day, and some even go out to the Street on weekends. But pre-med students suffer from an incredible amount of academic stress. As a result, perhaps the cruelest thing one can do to a pre-med student is ask for their GPA. But this perception of GPA as the final authority on academic worth leads to a far more stressful pre-med career.
This taboo is not exclusive to pre-med students. Asking for grades is an unjustified slap in the face, especially at Princeton. In a university where both A-students and C-students were high school valedictorians, revealing one’s grades merely fuels the inferno of competition already present. Princeton purposely does not have a dean’s list or rank its students by their GPAs; these practices instigate an unhealthy desire to be better than others by any means necessary. Plus, asking for another’s GPA is just rude. Our GPA quantifies the mistakes we would like to obliterate from existence, but which follow us for our entire undergraduate career. We don’t want busybodies to remind us of these blunders constantly.
But the disposition of pre-med students transforms this unspoken rule into a taboo. A pre-med’s GPA is more important than that of another undergraduate with a different pursuit because it is among the most critical factors in a medical school application and, thus, the student’s future career dreams. It is small wonder, then, that a pre-meds are so protective of their grades. For example, before I learned the dangers of asking about another’s grade, I asked one of my classmates in a freshman seminar what she received in an assigned essay. Coming from a relatively small high school where everyone knew everyone else’s grade, I thought I had asked a harmless question; she responded with a glare of discomfort and a bit of disgust. I realize now that I was insensitive on a very sensitive subject. I simply did not register how her grades reflected not her accomplishments of today, but her career choices in the years to come.
Confessing one’s grades is tough. We all have that one final we bombed because we had three finals on consecutive days, or that paper that was less a work of careful deliberation than more a Red Bull-driven mess; we want to hide away these perceived failures because we believe that these defeats define us as future medical students. But it is time for pre-med students to realize that neither our pride as academics nor our worth as individuals comes from the end of a professor’s red pen. Our grades are important, not because they give us the right to rank ourselves by the authority of a difference in the thousandths place, but because of the work and struggle we have borne in earning these marks. In the end, worrying about grades and silently judging a clueless freshman busybody are immaterial to our future; the best we can do is to let our future sail to its destination, be it to medical school or somewhere else entirely.
Daehee Lee is a freshman from Palisades Park, NJ. He can be reached at email@example.com.