I Am Not My GPA

My Transcript Has a Story to Tell

Illustration by Ramses Lemus

The pressure of earning the grades you want, or need, each school semester is a stress many college students know all too well. What can also make that all more difficult is having to deal with one’s own mental health issues.

Now, what does one’s mental health and GPA have to do with the other? Pretty much everything. I learned this by going through my own mental health issues.

My first semester at Santa Monica College went terribly. On the surface, everything seemed fine. More than fine actually. I went to class and did the best I could to learn what was expected of a student. Even though I worked hard at my school work, it still was not enough. I did my homework and went to class on time every day. I tried my hardest to pay attention to everything the teacher tried to cram in into one class period. I did that repeatedly until my final exam. I ended up failing. Does this sound familiar at all?

I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? Am I just dumb?’. Bad grade after bad grade, it became more and more difficult to find the motivation to even try anymore, especially with how much my GPA had suffered. ‘What the f*ck is wrong with me?’ kept looping in my head over and over again.

That was my story of my first semester in college.

Do I have a low IQ? No. Were my professors to blame? No. There is no one to blame.

When your mental health isn’t being taken care of, it is very difficult to do as well in school as you’d like, let alone be happy.

As it turned out, I was not healthy. I had been struggling with severe depression and an eating disorder. These mental disorders I had developed consumed my entire being. So much so, that I had to take time off of school to get better. I had no choice but to seek help at a treatment facility if I wanted to achieve my goals in school and life. If my own mind wasn’t functioning well, then how could I possibly have the academic career I wanted?

Jacqueline Ramirez, a current student at Santa Monica College, knows first-hand how one’s mental health can affect their academic life. She struggles with depression herself. There have been times where getting up in the morning for class was a task too difficult for her to accomplish. “The same thing happened to me like my senior year, cause like I was involved with so many things that like, I wanted to put so many things on my college application. It was just too overwhelming for me. I couldn't really like handle it anymore,” says Ramirez. Having the support of friends and family has been vital for Ramirez to stay on track to transfer.

“Schools don't know what you're dealing with. Like they don't know about your mental health. So like there's no way for them to know that your grades only slipped because you're like depressed or got anxiety or something like that,” said Ramirez.

Luckily, SMC’s Center for Wellness & Wellbeing offers psychological services for students. Doctor Deborah Matian, a staff member at The Center for Wellness & Wellbeing, sees an increased number of students coming in for an appointment when students approach midterms and finals week. The pressure to do well in school is especially high during these times. “There has to be some anxiety or some stress driving you cause not all stress is bad. A little bit of stress, it's called "you stress", it's actually good, it drives us that makes us do things. It makes us motivated. So it's something that any student probably has some of, but then it can go a little overboard,” said Doctor Matian.

Personally speaking, it is very easy to go overboard. There are times where I sacrifice an adequate amount of sleep to study more. “There's the old mentality of... 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep moving forward,' and while that's a great mentality in certain situations it doesn't always work when we're not doing okay, nowhere,” said Doctor Matian.

Having both my mental and physical health back has allowed me to earn the grades I have always wanted. Even though I'm currently nowhere near where I want it, I know there’s a back story to tell. My GPA is not an accurate depiction of my intelligence or my current motivation to do well in school. It sucks that many colleges and universities take student’s GPA’s at face value. The struggles I have been through in life show through my transcript. My first few semesters were not great, it was only at the time when I became mentally healthy again when B’s and A’s started showing up on my transcript. My transcript has a story to tell, and it is a story colleges and universities should be willing to hear.