The Reality of First Semester Grades

[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]

So by now, you’ve probably gotten your first semester grades back. If your law school is like mine, you probably had to wait many agonizing hours on a straggler professor to submit. Hopefully, you were thrilled with your grades, but since only 10% will be in the top 10%, you might be disappointed.

Here are some tips for dealing with disappointing grades:

Give yourself time to be disappointed

If your grades were not what you hoped they would be, it’s definitely important to let yourself go through the grieving process. Go get a tub of cookie dough and curl up in your bathrobe and watch “You’ve Got Mail” or whatever politically incorrect but glorious movie you love. Don’t put on your big girl pants just yet. Wallow for a minute if you need to.

Talk to somebody about your grades (like a professional)

Talk to someone (like a professional)

People outside of law school have a difficult time understanding that getting a B in a law class is not like getting a B in undergrad. The legal profession is crazy competitive, and you spend all of first semester hearing about how important your grades are in determining what jobs you can be competitive for. You may have gotten your grades back and felt like you just saw the future you have been planning for your whole life collapse in front of you. It’s easy to take your grades as a cosmic sign that you are not cut out for the law and that you should just quit now before you incur any more debt.

If this is where you are, trust me, you are not alone. If you know me, you know I am a huge proponent of mental health support in every arena of life, but especially for law students. According to research done by the Dave Nee Foundation, depression among law students is 8-9% prior to matriculation, 27% after one semester, 34% after 2 semesters, and 40% after 3 years. Stress among law students is 96%, compared to 70% of med students and 43% of graduate students. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.

The reasons for this are myriad but if you are struggling now, talking to a professional will help to set a healthy trajectory for the future. If you don’t know where to turn, start with the Lawyer Assistance Program in your state or reach out to your campus counseling center.

Make a plan for moving forward

After you have given yourself a little time to work through your disappointment and any associated self-feelings, there are two very important steps to take. First, figure out how to talk about your grades in cover letters. Meet with your career advisor, your writing professor, your acquaintance who is a lawyer. Ask them for advice on how to frame your grades in a way that demonstrates why you are an excellent candidate despite what your grades may imply.

Second, troubleshoot your methods. I did a semester review at the end of last semester, based on what I anticipated my grades would be. I averaged right around where I thought I would but ended up doing better in one class and worse in another than I anticipated, so I might go through the process again with that new data. Also, remember that BARBRI 1L Mastery is still available for all your 1L courses.

Most importantly, remember that you are a whole and complete human regardless of your grades.

I know this is often easier said than done, especially when there is definitely still truth to the fact that many 1L jobs do hire based on grades. But you have overcome numerous challenges to get where you are, and you are remarkable regardless of how you performed on a set of tests. If you are in need of more affirmation of how remarkable you are, reach out @the1lLife on Instagram and Twitter!