Make the shift from pressure to exploration


Eliza Farley

SCHOOL OF LIFE. Rather than choosing classes to perfect a college resume, it would be more beneficial for students to put more thought into exploring their passions and interests. There needs to be a change in how academic pressure is enforced by the community.

The last thing on any underclassman’s mind should be college. Yet more often than not, worries about ninth- or tenth-grade papers seem to rapidly snowball into worries about higher education— “will a bad grade here define me forever? Can I ever recover my GPA?” Similar concerns can lead other students to take difficult electives not because they enjoy the subject matter but because it looks good on a college application. Even though SPA’s curriculum is college-focused, the sheer amount of anxiety around “getting into a good school” isn’t healthy for anyone.

There needs to be a shift in how students perceive their high school experience: not just as a time of academic preparation but also as a time of academic exploration. Most students are stressed about performing well in school. A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center reported that 61% of teens aged 13-17 feel “a lot of pressure” to get good grades, which was more than double the percentage of respondents who felt pressure to look good or fit in. Excessive academic pressure can dissuade students from trying new things that could impact their grades, like a high-commitment extracurricular or a class that’s completely out of their comfort zone. Missing these opportunities to discover what they like before college is a major loss: later on, it becomes much more difficult to try new things without sacrificing something.

There needs to be a shift in how students perceive their high school experience: not just as a time of academic preparation but also as a time of academic exploration.”

Even so, is the pressure worth it? Signs point to a resounding no. Students at “high-achieving schools,” which are schools that produce top-scoring students who end up at highly-ranked colleges, were classified as an “at-risk” category for chronic stress which can affect health in a 2019 study. SPA definitely falls under the study’s definition of a high-achieving school, and even advertises itself as an institution which will “thoroughly prepare students to excel and lead at the most demanding colleges and universities.” Furthermore, pressure isn’t indicative of good grades. Students who feel like their characters are valued just as highly as their academic performance do just as well as those who do not—and fare better emotionally.
So how can students explore different options? For starters, they could try taking a class that’s not just a check box for a college application. They could try a photography elective—not because they’ll be film majors, but because they want to learn how to compose a shot. They could re-frame their view of the classes they already take as “opportunities” instead of “stepping stones.” High school isn’t a linear path to a four-year university; it’s a unique environment for students to try as many things as they can. Students shouldn’t let the possible future change the way they take hold of the tangible present.