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Advice for freshmen: The difference between high school, college grading

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JUNE 02, 2023

Having just finished my freshman year, I was looking back on some of the feedback that I’ve gotten from GSIs when I realized how the grading scale significantly differs from high school compared to college. In high school, most of us were taught for the entire year by a teacher who would also grade all of our work. I found it easier to understand what a specific teacher was looking for and how to maximize my points on a test or my grade on an essay.

During my freshman year however, I was introduced to my GSIs who do most of the grading for my assignments. Personally, this was a drastic shift — I went from basing my writing on what I noticed a teacher was looking for from their lectures and comments to having to make slightly educated guesses about what my GSI was looking for. It was especially difficult because GSIs only saw us once a week and didn’t teach us their own content.

To add to the struggle, most of my classes require a lot of writing and papers. Every grader has unique expectations for an essay. In particular, it can be challenging to know how to write an essay for a grader that hasn’t taught you directly.

As an incoming freshman, it took me a little while to get adjusted to this change. It took getting a grade I wasn’t proud of on a paper for me to take a step back and think of some strategies to better understand what my GSI, and not my professor, was looking for. I find it helpful to meet with a GSI before the first paper of the class to get an idea of what kind of writing style and content they would most appreciate. It becomes progressively easier to combine this initial feedback with any comments on subsequent writing assignments.

While the transition from high school to college is a tricky one, I hope that I’ve provided some insight for any incoming freshmen that there are ways to mitigate these challenges. Hopefully, you feel a little more prepared about what is to come in the fall — and maybe even more excited to start your freshman year at UC Berkeley!

Contact Charlotte Palmer at 


JUNE 02, 2023