Camden Ko (‘16) submitted this article as part of our annual Seniors Speak series. This series is designed to give seniors who are leaving a final opportunity to share their voice and preserve the traditions and experience of IMSA’s seniors alive long after they’ve graduated. Camden lived in – at various times – in 1505, 1504, and 1507. He spent his senior year making campus lively with his work on Campus Activities Board (CAB).
My name is Camden and I am a B student. My sophomore year, I received all B’s my first semester at IMSA. Since then, I’ve steadily turned my grades around and against all the odds, have gotten into college. I hope that I can offer some insight into my experience, and hopefully give some tips to all the other B students.
My story starts like any other, I was ranked first in my class, took advanced math, and figured that I obviously would get into the Ivy of my choice. Until I went to IMSA. I studied for only a handful of math test in my entire life, and I completed most of my homework on the bus to and from school. Needless to say, IMSA kicked my ass. I wasn’t accustomed to studying or difficult courses and had absolutely no skills that helped me in either. It took me a long time to figure out how to help myself, but here are some things that helped me immensely.
- Check your grades on PowerSchool. I never had checked my grades before coming to IMSA. And when I started receiving poor grades, the last thing I wanted to do was remind myself of how poorly I was doing, it would hurt me to look at them, so why bother. However, when I forced myself to check my grades every day, it gave me more motivation, helping me keep track of what I needed to get done.
- Accept being a B student. You have to come to terms with the fact that you are a B student. You can look at students who get A’s and try to rationalize your grades. You might think to yourself “Oh but that person gets carried all the time.” Or “Yeah, but that person has no friends.” Or “Well yeah she might have better grades but I do clubs and sports.” It’s possible to get A’s in any class you take, stop making excuses for yourself for why you’re not doing well.
- Avoid defeatist attitudes. Yes, you are a B student. That doesn’t mean that you have to stay one. If you work hard, you will change. There are plenty of “average intelligence” people who come to IMSA and due to their work ethic get good grades. It is possible for everyone to excel here.
- Stay organized. Everyone has their methods, what I use right now is a google calendar filled with my due dates. On my wall, I have post it notes in a weekly calendar, here I put what I’m going to get done each day, this way I actually do complete a little bit of my paper each night. It gives a certain amount of necessity when I see it on the wall and satisfaction when I take the post it down
- Don’t do year SIR. SIR during the school year or the summer looks about the same. I don’t think the difficulty of a year SIR is worth it. It is essentially another class you add on to your schedule. For me, my junior year SIR was a huge detriment to my sleep schedule and my work time.
- Take easier courses. If you are doing poorly in school and purely just want to raise your grades take easier courses. When colleges look at courses that a student takes they have two metrics, what the CAC’s say and the grade distribution. The CAC’s aren’t going to say straight up that a student is taking easier classes since they want everyone to go to college. So while they might say that student is taking exceptionally difficult courses, most colleges assume that all classes at IMSA are difficult. Furthermore, grade distributions are fairly evenly skewed. For example, the breakdown between A’s and B’s for EBE and Mod Phys is about the same although Mod Phys is significantly harder. There is very little downside to taking easier courses.
- Find your time to work. Some people do it right after school others do it after ten check. Personally, I eat dinner at five and then work immediately after. Everyone has a time of peak productivity, it’s up to you to find yours and do it then. I can guarantee you that your perfect time is not 3 am.
- Surround yourself with likeminded people. This is the hardest thing to do. But to be frank, the people you spend your time with and the people you hang out with affect how much work you do. When I started living in a quad with Paul and Brice, two hard working people, I found myself working more often. I also found myself more willing to put in more effort to my school work. If people around you are doing their homework and study, you will do the same. If you surround yourself with people who slack off and turn in their papers late, you will do the same.
- Stay passionate. If you like working out, if you are invested in StudCo, or if you love spending time making your own music. Don’t stop. Just realize that the most important commodity at IMSA is time. You need sleep to function, you need to go to class. How you spend your time outside of those two things is up to you. Decide if you’d rather play that game of league and hang out with the boys or work on your homework (the better choice is homework).
- Seek help. People are willing to help you if you ask. No I don’t mean you have to collaborate or even “collaborate”. But at the end of the day, the only thing that’s hurt when you ask for help from your peers is your pride. If you don’t know how to do something, there is no shame in getting help from someone more knowledgeable.
- Avoid illusions of grandeur and clutching. Unless your name is Tom Wan you can’t get away with taking a test without studying. You can’t finish a paper the hour before it’s due. It may be part of IMSA culture to try to clutch everything at the last minute and it is possible for you to be a “god” who can walk into a test without studying and still get an A. But if you’re a B student, you’re not one of those people.
- Realize your grades won’t change until you do. Grades may or may not reflect how intelligent you are, but it certainly reflects how much effort you put into your classes and schoolwork. You can’t expect anything about your grades to change until you change something about yourself.
Now with that out of the way, let me give some tips on college. I clearly did not have the best GPA. When you have grades like that, you have to get creative with college. Sure I had a strong list of clubs and activities, but I knew that wasn’t enough. In the end, I’ll be attending Vanderbilt with a full tuition scholarship. Is Vanderbilt my first choice school? No. Yale is. But that’s not the point. Here are some tips for the college process.
- GPA isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. The way I see it, GPA is something they look at before they even consider you. Let’s face it, unless you have a 4.0, Harvard is probably not going to touch your application. But it’s not just Ivy’s, without your GPA, for some schools you don’t even get to have a chance. Sure, you could be StudCo President, but unless you have some extreme affirmative action working in your favor (parents haven’t gone to college, Native American, etc) then it won’t matter how much you do.
- Look for colleges that accept students with low GPA’s. Certain colleges weight GPA higher than others, find the ones that have a reputation of accepting students with low GPA’s. Here are the schools I applied to. Vanderbilt ED (accepted), USC (denied), Georgia Tech EA (deferred then denied), Boston University (accepted) Northeastern (accepted), UIUC – Physics Engineering (accepted), Arizona State (accepted). None of these schools are top tier or have flashy names, but these are the ones that I thought fit me and had a history of taking students from IMSA with low GPA’s. There are plenty of schools that not many people apply to from IMSA that will still give you a top notch education.
- Do well on the PSAT. If you do well enough on the PSAT you will get national merit finalist, as long as your grades are reasonable. Being national merit finalist gives a host of different scholarships to schools like USC, Northeastern, University of Arizona etc. If you can’t get into your first choice school, might as well go to a school with a half or full tuition scholarship.
- There’s no shame in applying going to “easy colleges.” Schools inside of IMSA have different reputations than their reputations in the real world based on how hard it is for IMSA students to get in. People make jokes all the time about UIUC. Who cares? When you get out of IMSA and go to UIUC CS, you’re in a program that’s ranked 5th in the nation. If you go to Northeastern, you’re going to a school in the top 50 in the US. What I’m saying is that IMSA’s ranking is not equivalent to the world ranking so don’t feel bad about going to a school because of what you or your friends might think of it.
- ED. For the love of god ED somewhere. The percentage chance of getting into a school when you ED skyrockets. Out of the schools I applied to, USC was the school I wanted to go to the most. However, USC does not have ED, so I applied to my number two school that did. Absolutely no regrets, I probably wouldn’t have been accepted if I applied RD.
- Use the CACs. I had Julia, so I can’t speak for the other the other ones, but I sent her many different essay revisions, and she certainly improved them. It’s their jobs to help you get into college. They have years of experience under their belts, utilize it.
- Use essays to shore up your weakness. In the end, I had two common app essays, one was about my clubs and enjoyment of math and graphic design, the other was about me learning about work ethic and consistency. The first essay was written better, my parents, Julia, and myself agreed. However, my grades steadily increased throughout the three years, and I wanted to show that my improved performance would be something that I would carry through my next four years. I’m still uncertain whether or not I made the right choice, but I think I did. Give the colleges a reason to have faith in you, give them a reason to accept you.
- Lower your expectations. No amount of essays or letters of recommendation will get you into every college. Be ready for rejections. Be ready to not even apply to your first choice school. Be ready to make things work.
A lot of these things you have probably heard before. I’m just here to tell you, it works. There’s a piece of advice I’ve heard that is true regarding this. “The chasm between childhood and adulthood cannot be traversed with words alone.” I can only offer so much advice, but unless you actively try to improve yourself, you won’t improve. Change is something that is constant, but it is something that’s hard to enact upon yourself. These are just some tips I gathered after learning how to change myself from being another B student.