Students strive to do their best, and be their best in school. They join extracurriculars for the sake of being more involved than their friends. They play sports AND audition for the musical to become as “well-rounded” as humanly possible. Some even spend fortunes on tutors and sacrifice hours of their time at extra help, all for the sake of maximizing their full potential. But in order for this potential to be reached, why is the need to outperform other students such an important factor?
We’ve all enjoyed our fair share of healthy competition from time to time, whether it be on the field, in the workplace, or in the classroom. For many driven students, a little bit of academic antagonism is a more coercive force than the urges of their parents, or even their own desire for personal emolument. While this increased motivation to outperform one’s own classmates can produce some encouraging results, students today are taking this competition in fatal doses. In cities around the nation, school has already been in session for weeks, but the “adjusting period” is a luxury these ambitious students can’t afford. Hardly one month into the school year, some have already exhausted the rest and energy supply they accumulated over the summer.
Advanced Placement classes supposedly signify that a student has what it takes to enroll in college-level courses while still in high school. In reality, these aren’t necessarily classes that students are interested in, but rather instrumental segments of the “perfect college resume”. Material is no longer learned for educational gain, it is simply needed to pass a test. The test isn’t passed out of sheer motivation, but instead is part of the process to build a GPA worthy of any admissions officer. This often requires memorizing and regurgitating when prompted, a lifestyle that can quickly become toxic to any student. Even weekends are reserved for college application padding. Community service, sports, camps, maybe even a musical instrument or two. Whatever can catch the eye of some important figure in the Admissions Office. Constant procrastination, late night study sessions, and of course, the abominable all-nighters—school becomes a messy obstacle course and the students are left to jump through its never-ending hoops.
Many studies show that anxiety has been steadily increasing in the past decades. The average high school student today is said to have the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient in the early 1950’s.
Psychologists have surmised several plausible reasons for such a notable increase in both anxiety and depression over the past fifty years. One of these is a significant decline in social connection. Today’s society trains us for constant movement. Whether that be through job changes or relocations, this perpetual state of suspension leaves people with severed ties and an ultimate feeling of disconnection. The concept of marriage has gained a tired and burdensome reputation while the single life is romanticized amongst celebrities and through the media. All of these factors contribute to worry, anxiety, and depression.
So how does this tie in to the life of your average American high school student? Fear is the main source that fuels their eager frenzy for success. What if my grades aren’t high enough? What if I fail this test? What will my parents say? Will I even get into college? What if I’m not involved enough? What will my teachers think? If there are two things that high school students fear, it’s peer judgement and the future. Not knowing what’s to come is ultimately responsible for the vigorous rivalry between classmates and friends. For that reason, all occasions which might avoid the worst possible “what if” scenarios must be taken advantage of in order to blot out these questions that constantly lurk in the back of every students’ mind. But at what cost? Is risking your own physical and mental health, and essentially signing away your childhood–your last chance at a minimal-stress-level lifestyle, worth it?
I’m not saying that putting in all this effort comes without reward, but students of all ages must learn to assimilate a few basic skills if they plan on staying sane throughout the process. Time management, reparation, thoroughness, nutrition, and sleep. These are vital steps to staying on track during the school year. Whether you’re a freshman in high school or a senior in college, keeping your grades (along with everything else in your life) together can be a challenge. You will encounter obstacles and make mistakes along the way, but no one ever regretted working hard. Just remember to take a few breaks and enjoy life along the way. You won’t only be grateful in the moment, but your future self will thank you too.