Back-To-School Stress: Students Are Under Intense Academic Pressure
- August 17th, 2011
- 3 Comments
Today’s post comes to us from Julia Tannenbaum, a Youth Advisory Board member who is a little stressed about entering her junior year of high school. While there are many sources of stress in students’ lives — cyberbullying, peer pressure, self-image issues, etc. — the one that has Julia most concerned is academic pressure. For many high school students (and their parents), the focus during those four years is on getting into the best college possible, and the stress of maintaining a perfect GPA while juggling several extracurricular clubs and activities can push them to the brink. Julia explains…
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Back-To-School Stress: Students Are Under Academic Pressure
As the summer winds down, I can’t say I’m exactly excited to start the new school year. While this might be a normal sentiment among teenagers, I’m a bit more reluctant to return to school this year than in previous years, mostly because of rumors I’ve heard about how rigorous and stressful junior year is, and because I decided to take a heavier course load than I usually do. Just like many of my friends, I’m willing to endure some stress and difficulty in exchange for a better chance of being accepted into a “good school.”
At the end of last year, one of my friends wrote in my yearbook, “Enjoy your free time while you still have it!” That’s the common sentiment among many high-achieving students I know. Junior year is extremely stressful due to the difficulty of balancing many extracurricular activities with a rigorous course load. Many students in my social group will do almost anything to get into a top school. And getting into one of these schools only gets harder every year, though there are theories that many colleges are actually becoming less selective. Colleges may be taking on more students, but more students are applying to top schools. For example, in 1980 Harvard accepted 16% of its applicants, but the acceptance rate for 2010 was only 7%.
This trend doesn’t apply only to the most prestigious universities. So-called “second tier” colleges have also become dramatically more competitive. School guidance counselors talk with students about their expectations and what is realistic, so most are prepared, to some extent.
Even though students might be realistic about their prospects of getting into an elite school, parents sometimes aren’t. As private admissions advisor Carolyn Lawrence noted in The New York Times article above, “My sense is that parents are a lot more concerned with how the name is going to look to neighbors and family members, and there is a real sense among parents that it’s almost embarrassing if your child has to settle for a lower-level school.” This can cause extra stress because many high school students are very influenced by their parents’ viewpoint on colleges and don’t want to let them down.
I’ve noticed this among students in my school in the way they react to news about where our older friends are going to college. It’s a common classroom topic. When I mentioned to a friend that a student in my debate class would be attending UPenn in the fall, another student sitting across the table from me was extremely impressed. We started talking about other seniors and where they would be going. When I mentioned a friend was going to Swarthmore — also a very selective school — the student sitting across from us wasn’t particularly impressed because she hadn’t heard of it.
There’s social pressure among students to go to “good schools” that have name recognition or, at the very least, to apply to such schools. I’m less concerned about going to the “best” school and more concerned about going to a school that’s right for me. Many students apply to schools without knowing if they’ll be a good fit just because of the name.
Unfortunately for students, some parents will push their children to meet the incredibly high standards of “the best” schools, only adding to their stress levels. One of my friends was shocked that my parents don’t get upset if I don’t get perfect grades because they know I work hard and do my best. I have plenty of friends whose parents do get upset, and this can make high school an incredibly stressful experience. One of my friends stays up all night to study for exams, because her parents would be extremely upset if she didn’t get straight “A”s.
Although some colleges and counselors will tell students that extracurricular involvement isn’t crucial, many students’ parents also push them to be involved outside of school to the point where it can be detrimental to their mental health. I interviewed a friend about how her parents feel about academics and extracurriculars. She told me, “I was forced to play piano every day as a kid, and I play tennis for three hours a day now. I had no friends, because studying was more important.” She doesn’t enjoy playing tennis and talked to her parents about quitting, but they won’t let her go to summer camp if she quits, so she’s staying on the team.
Clearly not all stories are this dramatic. I have many friends whose parents only want them to try their best, and I think that’s much better than pushing children to their limits. It’s important for students to do well in school, but not to the point that they’re so stressed out or studying so much that it ruins their social lives, which could also have detrimental effects into adulthood. Spending all day studying might prepare a student for standardized tests, but that “skill” is less useful after college graduation, and such a lifestyle doesn’t foster the innovation and social skills that are needed in the work world. Balance is important, so even though I’m taking five weighted classes, I’m not taking six APs or going for an IB diploma like some of my friends.
There are some students who can deal with a stressful schedule — I have a friend who had an extremely rigorous course load during high school, and she was completely fine, despite also being debate captain and Key Club president. She’s attending Harvard on a full-ride scholarship and loves it there, so this approach does work for some people. However, not everyone can handle that much work and responsibility at a young age. I think students should decide for themselves what they can handle in terms of classes and extracurriculars, based on what is best for them. Parents should have a say, too, but not to the point where they’re being ridiculous and only causing their children to be stressed out. Students shouldn’t strive for a “C” average and skip extracurriculars entirely, but parents pushing their children to the other extreme can be just as bad.
I am glad that I’m only taking challenging classes in the fall and have a lighter load in the spring. Like many of my overachieving friends, I’m motivated to do well in school so I can reach my goals in life. Even if some students’ parents push them, many students also push themselves, sometimes to the point where it’s stressful. I think it should ultimately be up to the students to determine how much stress they can take. Even though I’m a little stressed out about going back to school, in the end it was my decision, and I think a little stress is worth getting into a school I’ll love for four years.
Julia will be a junior in high school in Claremont California. A self proclaimed Otaku (anime obsessive person) she strives to complete her immersion into the world of Japanese pop culture. In between school and homework she watches the latest Japanese anime on the internet, reads manga, plays video games, and practices Japanese. Though she is not a fabulous writer by nature, Julia does enjoy writing fan fiction related to said interests and occasionally immersing herself in online role-play sessions. In addition, she loves mashing up anime and game clips into anime music videos which she posts on YouTube, participating in her school’s debate team in novice LD, and of course reading. Julia is incredibly excited to be on the Youth Advisory Board, and able to express her opinions, which she has plenty of.