Next steps after receiving less than stellar 1L grades

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With your first semester grades in hand, you may be feeling anywhere from on top of the world to on the verge of tears. The hard work you put in combined with the agonizing wait to receive your grades only to be met with disappointment doesn’t feel good.

If you were excited about your grades and are near the top of your class, congratulations! That’s an amazing accomplishment of which you should be proud. For everyone else, here are some tips for acknowledging your grades and preparing for a better semester ahead.

Give yourself time to be disappointed

If your grades were not what you hoped they would be, it’s important to let yourself acknowledge and accept your disappointment. Allow yourself a moment to embrace your feelings. Then, take a deep breath and remind yourself that although you can’t change the past, you can definitely learn from it to improve the future. And remember, law school is truly (and intentionally) hard. Working in a highly competitive and stressful environment against friends and classmates is not easy.

Talk to someone

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. If your first semester grades are making you second guess if law school is right for you, know that you’re not alone.

While you’re trying to organize your thoughts on your grades and determine a plan for the upcoming semester, utilize your resources and support systems — both for your mental health and wellbeing. If you are struggling now, whether from the grades you received or the myriad of stressors that come with law school (and life in general), 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 to move forward

After you have given yourself a little time to work through your disappointment and any associated emotions, 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 or an 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. There are various tactics to do this. A good place to start is to look at what classes and topics you struggled with and analyze what about this class or topic you found most difficult.

  • Do you need more help understanding the material?
  • Do you need a more strategic approach to studying?
  • Do you need ways to make yourself more accountable with your studies or time management?
  • Do you need more exam-day strategies or a different approach to a particular type of exam writing?

Really take a serious look at what your struggles are so you can dive into potential strategies to improve. Additionally, look at classes or topics that you did well in to see if there are approaches you can replicate in your other classes for success. Once you take inventory, then dive into your plan.

  • Subject matter help: review the lectures, outlines and other resources in BARBRI 1L Mastery to help supplement the topics where you need help.
  • Study strategies: Find (or leave) a study group. Talk with 2Ls and 3Ls on their advice on how to study and even where to study. Are you more productive first thing in the morning in a quiet area or late in the evening with white noise buzzing in the background?
  • 1:1 help and guidance: utilize your professor’s office hours and your school’s counselors and resources.

Monitor your plan to create actionable steps and insights

Once you have your plan in place, more stresses are bound to come up. That’s okay though. You can continue checking in with yourself to make sure you’re on target for your goals. One way to do this is through journaling. Write down anything that is overwhelming you or simply on your mind. This allows you to see what you’re up against as well as create additional plans to tackle new stressors.

Worried about your job search? Create an action plan that includes tasks such as going to the career office and working on your cover letter. Have you fallen behind in your classes? Talk to your classmates about creating a study group, go to the writing center or ask a 2L for help. It can seem overwhelming when we have so much to do but writing items down and creating simple checklists can help make your plans feel more manageable. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to make the most of your law school’s resources. They’re there for you for a reason.

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

Yes, your law school grades are important, but your grades don’t reflect who you are at the end of the day. Remember to celebrate the small wins that happen each and every day. You’re working hard and have already accomplished so much. You’ve got this!!

Learn more about how notetaking and outlining strategies can help you with better second semester grades!

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