By Hailey Fuchs
Posted in Mental Health Resources
Today, according to the American Psychological Association, eighty-three percent of teens believe that academic success is a somewhat or significant source of stress. In fact, fifty-four percent of teens feel impacts of stress on their physical health. In the same way that the media portrays unrealistic beauty standards, our society’s overwhelming emphasis on attending schools with impossibly low acceptance rates causes students to measure themselves against others. In this case, instead of body dissatisfaction, these students suffer from an intellectual dissatisfaction. They feel the need to fulfill the ultimate goal of attending a competitive, elite school, and the fear of not succeeding is overwhelming.
The college process is draining. I wrote almost twenty drafts of my Common Application essay and could recite the introductory paragraph by heart. When the final tallies of all of the standardized tests that I sat for were calculated, I took two PSATs, one ACT, five SAT subject tests, one cancelled SAT, three reported SATs, and six AP tests. In case you already have a headache, that’s eighteen tests, thirty-four scores, and forty-three and half hours of testing. Somewhere among all these tests, I relinquished my sanity to the College Board, Barron’s, and Princeton Review. My attic floor is completely covered with biology, physics, chemistry, and French SAT preparation books that once weighed me down as I trudged to class.
Ultimately, I achieved my goal of getting into an “elite” school. I’ll never forget the moment when I read the words, “Welcome to the Class of 2020;” it was inarguably one of the best moments of my life. Yet, that initial high and moment of gratification was fleeting. While I expected that acceptance letter to afford me a sense of intellectual superiority, I feel no more secure in my abilities even with that validation. Six months later, I still crave success and approval from my superiors to the same degree as at the beginning of senior year. Soon, when I arrive on campus, the accomplishment of getting into that “elite” university will no longer be a defining accomplishment, but only the beginning of the next chapter of my life.
The college process is simply the first time in a young adult’s life when the product of their efforts becomes public. Their work throughout high school can be summed up in a four-word Facebook status or T-shirt adorned with their college’s name. It has become a sticker on the rear windshield at which people glance as you pass by on the highway. The college process has become about appearances. It has become about how other people see you rather than how you see yourself living the next four years of your life. Your high school years—and for some, your time in college too—are spent impressing others, but at what point to you dedicate your time to yourself?
Throughout high school, I felt guilty when devoting my time to anything other than homework, standardized test prep, or essay writing. The stress of my to do list would sometimes consume me. What is the balance between work and fun? This is not a rhetorical question, as I muse over lessons learned; I still do not know. As I head off to college, I will have to figure out that balance. Yet, if I have learned anything over the past year, it is that everyone, including myself, needs to allocate time to themselves.
If you feel burdened by the pressures others put on you or simply the pressure you put on yourself, seek help from a friend, a family member, a trusted adult, or a therapist. We all deal with expectations and stress, but you should not let it hold you back from enjoying your life.
Read more about OPG’s Therapeutic Recovery Coaching Services.