Q: After getting great grades all through high school, I just got my first B- in college. I’m worried it will affect my future. What should I do?
A: A lower-than-expected grade is like an early morning wake-up call—undesired but too important to ignore. Take a deep breath, and figure out the best way to move forward. Here are some tips to get you started.
If you get a B- on one paper or exam, start by speaking with your professor for guidance. She can explain why you got that grade. Maybe you misunderstood a specific concept or missed a key lecture. Get up to speed, and make sure you stay up to date on the work going forward.
Find a tutor. Sometimes students who are used to getting A’s are embarrassed to seek extra help. Don’t make this mistake; asking for help is an important skill to develop. Your college may have a tutoring center, or you can ask your advisor how to find one.
Ask if you can do extra credit work to bring up your grade. Professors want you to succeed. Some will offer extra credit assignments or allow you to rewrite the paper and bring up your grade.
Don’t assume that you will do better without changing your approach, and don’t assume it won’t matter. It does matter, and it will be part of the data used to figure out your grade (unless your professor has a policy of dropping the lowest grade).
If your B- was a final grade in the course, set up a meeting with your professor. Ask what you can learn from the grade. Was it your paper? Was it the final? If it was your paper, go to the writing center early in the semester for help with future writing assignments. If it was your final exam, work with the professor to figure out what you did wrong. If you were getting better grades throughout the semester, how did you blow the final? If you had been doing B work all along, what could you have done to better master the material?
Work hard on future courses. If you follow a low grade with lots of A’s, people will understand that this sometimes happens. If it is later on in your college career, you may be asked about it on interviews for graduate school or jobs, so think about how to explain the grade, and use it as an opportunity to discuss how you solve problems. Be prepared to explain what you did to improve your performance, and create an early warning system so you can succeed in future challenges.
Speak with your advisor about how many graduate schools you should apply to, and consider applying to more programs or applying to more second choice programs. If you are applying to top-ranked graduate programs, even one low grade may affect your chances of acceptance, so create more options for yourself.