Welcome to my first non-travel related post- I know, I know, no one wants to talk about school during the summer, but I promise I have my reasons. Today I’m going to discuss the constant pressure that us high school students face today, my personal experience with it, and how I’ve tried to combat it (I’m still learning). Disclaimer: I am not an expert or qualified to give advice about high school since I am still an underclassman, I just want to share my experience and get this topic out there.
For a little background on me, I am a rising sophomore so I just completed my freshman year, and I would have to say I am kind of an overachiever. Not a superstar overachiever who’s perfect in every way, but just the type of person who likes to push themselves as much as possible and works overtime to do so. Since I was young I’ve always dreamed of just doing something significant in the world, but I’ve never known what I wanted to do; my dream school was Columbia which was very ambitious and I’m not sure how it originated, but Gossip Girl helped. As of now I still have no clue what I want to do and I don’t have a particular dream school (I would still LOVE to attend Columbia, but I don’t really know that much about any colleges yet). As for my current status in school, I didn’t take the hardest classes possible in my grade, but as far as the “standard” track goes, I took the hardest level of classes. (This means I wasn’t years ahead in any subject curriculums besides a couple credits from middle school that were both commonly taken as well, but I took all the honors classes and the 1 AP class that was available to me.)
My schedule was Spanish 2CP (I took Spanish 1 in 8th grade, and honors is not offered), honors geometry (1 year ahead of the standard curriculum but not too special because some people were in Algebra 2H or higher), AP Human Geography, honors English, and honors Biology. I was also on my school’s freshman cheer team (separated by grade, not skill level) which counted as my last period for the 1st semester of school, and for the 2nd semester I didn’t do another sport so I had to be in normal PE. It was a little difficult since the workload was a lot more difficult than my middle school honors classes, but I managed especially since I didn’t have many other activities besides cheer. Next year I will be taking a similar courseload but with an added elective- yearbook. My other classes will be honors algebra 2, Spanish 3CP, AP European History, honors English, and honors chemistry, plus cheer again (JV this year!). I’m not trying to brag by listing these classes; I’m just trying to give you an idea of where I stand academically before I state my case. I definitely work hard in school but that’s just it: I work HARD in order to succeed and I put a lot of pressure on myself while doing so, I am not claiming to be a natural academic standout.
Through hard work and studying, I managed to get straight As last year and I am hoping to do so again this upcoming year. I’m also taking AP Psychology this summer through BYU’s Independent Study website since I was interested in the subject; they offer it at my school to juniors and seniors but when planning out my courseload for the rest of high school I realized I would not be able to fit it into my schedule, so I decided to get ahead and take it now. This is where a direct example of continuous academic pressure comes in- I pressured myself into taking a class over the summer because a lot of other people were taking chemistry over summer and I felt like I would be behind if I didn’t, especially since lots of other people are already ahead in credits because of being in higher level math or language classes. I wasn’t able to take chemistry specifically because of my trip that conflicted with the in-class sessions (it’s a lab science so it must be taken in class), so I ended up looking for classes I could take solely online and that had flexible start times. That brought me to BYU’s program and AP Psych, since it was a fairly easy AP and one that I was already really interested in the subject matter of, plus the scheduling and flexibility was great. The class has been good so far and honestly really easy (hopefully it will still prepare me for the AP exam), coming from someone who’s never taken a psych class.
I wouldn’t recommend summer classes for everyone and it’s definitely something you have to commit to, but signing up for one made me feel more productive and better about my own summer plans. Hopefully by the end of the course I will still feel the same way! My school is a pretty competitive public high school (it’s ranked fairly well) and there are so many brilliant people there, and the graduating classes send so many people to amazing top 20 colleges each year. When I first came to high school I was mainly concerned about working hard in my classes, making friends, and just having fun with all the events and doing cheer, but by the middle of the year I discovered the world of college planning and it hit me like a bus. I’m not saying you have to worry about college in freshman year, and I’m by no means an expert anyways; however, when we began to register for sophomore year classes and taking summer classes came up, the topic of planning for college did as well. People were trying to get ahead in credits so they could take more APs next year and it just opened up this competitive world I had been oblivious to before. I began doing my own online research and fell down a rabbithole of college blogs and College Confidential (do not look there unless you want to feel very inferior) trying to figure out if I should be doing more.
The bottom line is: whether you’re planning specifically for college or not, high school is a lot when it comes to all the things on your plate. I didn’t even have demanding extracurriculars at the time and I was still a little overwhelmed, and once I realized I had a lot less committments and activities than other people, I felt MORE overwhelmed. Everyone around me seemed somewhat stressed about it as well, but they were able to plan accordingly and knew what they were doing whereas I felt completely lost. This is partially because most of my friends have older siblings or parents more involved in the school/college process so they genuinely had more knowledge, but it’s also just because I’m a very stress-prone person. I continued researching, combing through articles titled “How to Get Into the Ivy League” and “What You Should Do in High School to Prepare for College” and it honestly drained me so much; I felt stupid and behind in this college admissions race that I didn’t even know had started yet.
I’m still struggling with not agonizing over getting into college now, but I’m doing my best to live in the present. Even though I’ve realized there are certain things I should’ve been doing and it’s good I stumbled upon more knowledge that will help me in the future, in a way I definitely miss my obliviousness from before. Academics wise, I signed up for the courses I listed above and at my school all sophomores take the PSAT in the fall; activities wise, I made the cheer team again, I volunteer for Key Club at a local non-profit animal shelter, and in my free time I like to write, hang out with my friends, and take extra tumbling classes (gymnastics for cheer). I hope to get more deeply involved in activities this year (that was the main thing I was freaking out about after reading about the college process, I’ve never had a main “passion” or an activity I’ve been committed to since childhood), but I’m not sure what to join since I know it’s not good to just join a million things randomly, but I don’t have one or two strong interests to pursue either. I’ve been hoping for a while that my “passion” would fall into my lap or the right activity would come along and I’d get deeply involved, but nothing yet.
Everyone around me wants to get into a good school, and they seem to be on track to do so by getting good grades in high-level classes, having different ranges of involvement in fairly impressive and personally meaningul activities, and still managing to enjoy their life. I didn’t feel this way at all; I had my grades that I worked hard for, but nothing else to show for myself. I put more pressure on myself than anything, yet I also felt pressure just from my environment to do MORE and do BETTER. This made me spiral into negative self-talk and hopeless feelings towards the future, rather than just continuing to work hard and enjoying the rest of my time. It’s definitely gotten better the past couple months, but sometimes I still get down on myself.
One thing that really helped me stop freaking out about this whole process was to stop reading all the articles I mentioned. I also stopped watching YouTube videos that talked about the process, except for a few select college YouTubers that I enjoyed watching for other reasons or that were more comforting in regards to the process. My parents also could tell how stressed I was, so they scheduled a consultation with a private college counselor. I’m not saying you need to get one, but it just helped ease my mind and they had a lot of useful advice- if you have the resources and are just as stressed as me, I would recommend at least trying it out. Something I think every high schooler who hopes to attend a prestigious college or even just reach their goals while still maintaining sanity should do is read the book How to Be a High School Superstar by Cal Newport. I can’t say I’ve been able to apply all of his advice to my own life (by doing the general activities I do, it kind of goes against some of his main points), but it definitely eased my mind and has been a great resource- I think it can really help others, especially if you really stick to the advice given.
Another thing is just to remember that school isn’t everything, and your mental health/happiness means way more. I’ve just always wanted to push myself and strive to be the best I can in school since I don’t have any other strong interests, but if you have a different passion that you’re already involved with- RUN WITH IT. If I’ve learned anything from this process, it’s that having something that makes you tick and you love to do will make things sooo much easier and so much more enjoyable. Pour your heart into what you love and it will pay off; as an added bonus, it will impress colleges later on. As for me, I have yet to find that special something yet, but I will continue to search and as for now I am just being the best student that I can be (and trying to relax and enjoy my vacation)!
I hope you all enjoyed this change in content and could relate to it in some way. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about anything I mentioned in this post or share your experience; if you ever want to talk about academics, stress, or honestly anything, I’m always here and I’ll always have a lot to say about these topics. 🙂