If you’ve been part of the Signet family for a while, you probably know that we pride ourselves on pursuing excellence. We wholeheartedly support students working hard to accomplish their goals, and it’s a privilege to help our clients do exactly that every day.

So we understand why this post might seem a little out of left field.

Here’s the deal: There is a fine line between committing to excellence and pushing oneself to the point of burnout. All too often, we see students exhibiting symptoms of the latter.

So today we’re looking at the “Happy B Student.” We’ll unpack who this student is and what valuable lessons students and parents can glean from the Happy B Student’s approach.

What Is a B, Anyway?

The notion of the “Happy B Student” may be one of the most difficult concepts we’ve ever attempted to introduce. For those families in competitive school districts, the idea of a “B” being acceptable is practically unfathomable. But understanding the idea of a Happy B Student can be extremely beneficial to your well-being, regardless of GPA.

First, let’s consider the concept of a “B student” in its most literal terms. We’re all familiar with the spectrum of letter grades: A, B, C, D, and F. (There are pluses and minuses, but let’s stick with the letters for now.)

In the minds of many parents and students, the only acceptable grade on this spectrum is the one at the top: A. However, the reality of this system differs from the way it’s often perceived. Here’s what your grades actually mean:

A: Mastery or strong competency in subject. Understands key principles and concepts; can deploy knowledge in many contexts, including challenging problems.

B: Solid competency in subject. Understands key principles and concepts; can deploy knowledge in most contexts; may not fully grasp most challenging problems.

C: Inconsistent competency in subject. Partial understanding of key principles and concepts; can deploy knowledge in a limited number of contexts. Is either missing some fundamentals or has not put enough effort into learning the information.

D: Little comprehension of subject. Principles and concepts are either over the student’s head or they have not put enough effort into learning the information.

F: More extreme version of D. Little to no comprehension of subject.

Look back at letter B. Getting a B on a test or paper means you have a solid understanding of the key principles and concepts you were asked to learn. While you may not display mastery of the material, you have worked really hard and understand the subject pretty darn well. This is a very different idea of what it means to get a B from the “only A is acceptable” mentality.

At the root of the “A or bust” mindset is the immense amount of pressure parents and students feel regarding college admissions. Many of our families unconsciously equate getting a B with ruining your chances to get into the top schools in the country. The competition in some school districts adds to this pressure: students are expected not only to take the most challenging classes available, but to perform at the highest levels all the time.

Who is the Happy B Student?

Now that we’ve established what a B really means, let’s look at that increasingly rare creature, the Happy B Student. The Happy B Student has decided that GPA is not the ultimate measure of success or self-worth. This student studies hard and works to do well in their classes. However, they also prioritize life outside of school: extracurricular activities, relationships with friends and family, and self-care.

Here are some examples of the way a Happy B student thinks:

“I like this class but I can tell it’s going to be really tough. I’ll do my best but if I get a B, I’ll survive.”

“I may not be able to get into the most elite colleges, but I have a good GPA and I know I’ll be fine when it comes to college admissions.”

“I know the school play is going to take up a lot of my time this semester, which means less time for homework. I’m willing to make that trade because I’m really passionate about theater.”

“I could study one more hour for this exam but I’m better off going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep.”

“Lots of my peers are using their senior year elective to take a tough AP course. Although I won’t get the extra weight in my GPA, I’d rather use my elective to take an art class.”

A Happy B Student is motivated and hard-working, but they also have perspective: they are able to see the forest for the trees when it comes to the role of academics in the high school experience. A high GPA may boost your chances of being admitted to certain colleges, which can certainly open some doors. However, a high GPA is not a guarantee of getting accepted anywhere, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee long-term career success or personal fulfillment.

A Happy B Student is willing to trade that last bit of their time and effort, let’s call it the last 5-10%, to have more room for the following things:

    • sleep
    • exercise
    • extracurricular activities
    • family relationships
    • quality time with friends
    • spontaneity: picking up a book, going for a bike ride, taking a day trip to the beach
    • a less crowded schedule with more freedom
    • reflection and contemplation

Words of Warning

A few caveats about the Happy B Student:

    • This model will apply literally to some students, who might be able to relieve some pressure on themselves by being satisfied with slightly-less-than-perfect GPAs.
    • This model will apply metaphorically to other students, who prioritize being at the top of their class but can also benefit from a little more balance and perspective in their approach to school.
    • Students who are performing at the B level are not necessarily Happy B Students. These students may be stressed about their performance or struggling with a perceived gap between their goals and their potential. If study habits or testing anxiety is part of the problem, Signet may be able to help. Reach out to us with any questions.
    • Likewise, some students will be able to maintain a B average without truly being engaged or putting in a lot of effort. Those students should not be allowed to skate by; B-level effort for them may actually result in A grades. All students should take their studies seriously.

If you're a student whose family has fallen victim to the “high school whirlpool” of pressure and competition, you may need to step back. Ask yourself “Who am I? Am I learning my most valuable lessons and information in school? If so, am I focused on certain subjects? Or am I learning valuable lessons through extracurriculars or in other ways?” And your parents should ask these questions too.

It’s important to reiterate that Signet does want students to put in a significant amount of disciplined work when it comes to their studies. Trying hard to get into a college that’s a great fit (which may be different from “a top college”) is a valuable use of your time and effort. We are not saying to slack off and be happy with lower grades because “Signet said it’s okay.” Rather, we’re saying that success means more than a high GPA, and will look different for every student. Whatever it looks like for you, it should involve a well-balanced life with clear boundaries and good self-care practices. Sometimes, that means embracing the idea of being happy with a B.

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