Society’s focus on grades, college admission hurts high school students

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public domain image of Harvard University

Emma Newman staff writer 

As college acceptance rates plummet to an all-time low, more and more students across the country are feeling pressure to get into high-ranking colleges. 

As 88 percent of Beverly students feel pressured to get straight A’s, according to a poll administered by Highlights, it’s clear that students are facing stressful and damaging expectations. More so, when you compare these grades with the average grades for a high school student (3.0 GPA), the unrealistic standards that are placed upon students become even more apparent. 

When looking at college admissions acceptance rates, it’s easy to get scared. Arguably the most prestigious college in the world, Harvard University, has only a 4.5 percent acceptance rate, and many high-ranking colleges are also stooping to similar rates. As these acceptance rates lower, the pressure increases. Some students feel the need to get into name-brand institutions, whether it is for their family or themselves, and as a result, many feel that it’s necessary to get these high, almost unachievable grades. 

The more students who are expected to maintain the sky-high GPA’s and SAT scores, the more students are being set up for failure. While for some students this serves as a motivator, every  student is different. Instead of acknowledging this, teens are pushing themselves even harder. This can create a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, stress and even mental illnesses. 

In addition, the rigorous classes and the early start-times that exist at high school put an increased pressure on students who want straight A’s. Each of these difficult course loads requires a crazy amount of effort, which leads to piles of homework and exams on the same day. 

When the conditions are so challenging, it’s hard for students who aren’t extremely intelligent to achieve their goals without sacrificing a part of themselves in the process. For some, it’s their healthy sleeping patterns, which 60 to 70 percent of American high school students do not follow. For others, it’s their social life and friends. 

For a larger chunk, it’s their happiness. Mental health issues continue to rise in numbers among teens. This includes depression, which 3.1 million teens currently have, and anxiety, which exists in 25 percent of first-year high school students. These conditions are only furthered when college pressure is high. 

When it seems as though high GPA’s and prestigious colleges are a birthright, more parents are willing to be dishonest on behalf of their children. This gives an unfair and unjust advantage to the rich who can afford to take such drastic measures. 

At our school, many of these issues are present. As a place with 33 offered Honors and AP courses and highly academic students, students all across the board feel this pressure. In fact, 92 percent of Beverly students, according to a Highlights poll, are dealing with pressure to get into college. More importantly, 39 percent of Beverly students believe in the damaging standard that straight A’s are what make a student successful. 

According to responses to the poll, academic success is “someone who doesn’t need sleep and gets As without even reading the textbook,” said junior Eva Levin. 

To freshman Nathan Yafeh, who works a whopping average of 10 hours for school each night, “for me to be successful, I need all A’s and I need to retain the knowledge I learn.”

These were just a few of the responses that indicate how much students feel the need to be perfect academically. The truth is, though, that it’s impossible for most students to live up to these expectations, at least while living life with some balance. 

Society and school set a precedent that grades are what make a student, and that Ivy Leagues are the gold standard. This ideal is so warped at our school, and when ideals like these are enforced, it creates harm and unhappiness among the people who fall under the influence of the harsh criteria. 

Working hard is obviously important, and students should get rewarded for doing so. However, students should not be taught to view themselves as failures for having imperfect academics. The student body shouldn’t think that overextending themselves is the standard. On the other hand, our school cannot continue to praise and normalize students who work so hard that their well-being is stripped away.

Certain resources like NormanAid are offered to help students, but most students who deal with this type of stress think that it is normal and therefore don’t need help.

 For some people, managing these classes is not too much of a struggle. Therefore, the root of this issue is neither our school specifically nor its classes. Instead, it’s the fact that we have been taught from a young age that this is normal. 

It shouldn’t be, and the only way to truly change the damaging cycle of pressure is to start now. Instead of making Honor’s classes easier, the school should talk more about the importance of mental health, sleep and happiness while working through school. More importantly, there should be a clear message on school that the rigor of college is not the goal; the goal should be to find the best school possible. 

At the end of the day, the chance to receive a higher-level education is important, but what’s more important is that we survive with our mental health and brains intact. School should not be a place where students compromise their well-being, but rather a place where students feel safe and content. If students utilized NormanAid and actually recognized the fact that intense stress can be a problem, then they would be happier overall. 

If students start focusing more on this aspect and less on the ranks on US News and World Report, maybe one day, students will be able to make it through a decent high school experience to later find their perfect fit school.

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