College Pressure: How Our School Systems Place Too Much Stress On Students

Image Description: Open book. Courtesy of the International Bureau of Education.

Article by: Peyton Upchurch

November 17th is International Students’ Day, which could not be more timely in the wake of College Application Month and what seems to be an endless flow of impending deadlines for students everywhere: there’s no better time than now to address the toxicity of pressure surrounding college and the failures of the American school system to recognize the stress placed on students. This includes the massive push in recent years to involve young students in the college exploration process, impeding on a time that kids should be focused on enjoying their childhood while it lasts (especially seeing that the window of what is considered “childhood” appears to grow smaller and smaller with each passing year).

Many people recognize a toxic relationship when they see one. It may be a manipulative partner, a friend with a constantly negative attitude, or a boss that takes advantage of their work ethic. But do we ever take a step back and examine our relationship with school? According to a recent poll of college students, eighty percent feel stressed often, and the ADAA states that anxiety affects more than twenty-five percent of students between thirteen and eighteen years old. If standardized testing, college pressure, and school and non-school related expectations are factored in, the percentage begins to rise. Considering that anxiety generally stems from accumulated stress or prior trauma, the anxious tendencies of college students is far in the making by the time they set foot in a university.
Schools often focus on pushing students to go to college, and this becomes more and more apparent as the time to complete college applications begins to roll around. While teachers may have good intentions, it is not an individual effort that recognizes the unique traits of each student, but rather a pressure-geared mentality that many students cannot handle. The toxicity of a system obsessed with college leads many students to an immense fear of failure; they believe that if they do not pursue higher education or attend a specific school, they are worthless. While this push towards college began with high school students, it is now creeping into middle and even elementary-level classrooms, burdening children with anxiety surrounding an event that is years away and that they are not yet prepared to manage.

When asked, many students will reveal that they are frequently asked where they are attending college or what they are doing with their life following primary school. From a young age, this places unnecessary anxiety on students, leading them to believe that they must have an answer. In addition, many students either do not feel that college is suited to them, or they are expected to pursue higher education even if their personality and skills would be better suited to an alternate path.

Although it is unrealistic to believe that school systems will shift from implementing pressure, encouraging students to diligently take care of themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically during the school year is an important step in minimizing the anxious culture of school systems and college-bound kids. On November 17th, be reminded that attending or not attending college is not a determining factor of worth, and that a plan for life does not have to be figured out immediately.


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