Are Colleges Ruining the High School Experience?

Brian is a seventeen-year-old with a passion for traveling and learning languages. He loves writing and dreams of becoming a travel writer when he’s older.

college, college admission, teenage stress, high school, teenage pressures, high school pressures, university, paying for college, getting into college, homework, Colleges expect seemingly everything from applicants these days: good grades, high test scores, well-written essays, plenty of extra-curricular activities, and not to mention, enough money to pay for sky-high tuition. The truth is American universities ask more of applicants than colleges in almost any other country. This has led so many high schoolers to ask: Is it worth it? Is it worth the extra time doing homework after spending seven hours at school? Is it worth getting an after-school job to help pay for college, if it means compromising sleep and a social life? Maybe not.


Let’s start with academics. Colleges encourage students to take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Honors classes from freshman year. Regular-level classes can be extremely demanding, but once a student starts piling on advanced courses, there’s little time for anything else. Students often stay up a good portion of the night studying and completing homework for as many as eight classes. Then, after maybe five or six hours of sleep, students rise before the sun and head to school for a good portion of the day. At some point, students have to commit some time to studying for the half-a-dozen standardized tests they may be required to take: ACT, SAT, AP Exams, IB Exams, SAT Subject Tests, and state testing.


But then comes everything else. Colleges like to see that students are involved heavily in their school and community. So, after school students normally take off for sports, clubs, or after-school jobs. Then, come senior year, students have to manage enough time to fill out applications and write as many as a dozen essays. If a student is looking for scholarships, he or she could be looking at well over twenty essays overall.


Now, I’m not writing this to convince readers that high school students have it the worst. Certainly, people of the same age struggle with problems far bigger and more challenging than American students trying to get into college. But within the realm of a typical American high schooler, the entire process is emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. Somewhere along the way, high school went from the last few years to be a teen, to being overwhelmingly demanding, and for what? To get into college and sink into debt? Some will say this will prepare students for the real world. I’d argue that more homework and higher expectations don’t effectively prepare students for the life ahead.


Regardless of whether or not colleges really have become too demanding in their expectations, or this article is just a teen venting about too much work… parents can help. If you see your teen struggling with work, let him take a day off of school. It will give him a chance to catch up on some sleep and work. Take him out to dinner or for ice cream with the family. Help him forget about the stress for a couple of hours. Encouragement is also one of the best things a parent can offer. Tell him it will all be worth it, and he will get into college. Remind him that there is financial aid to help relieve the tuition cost.


The most important thing is to avoid adding to the stress. Don’t, when your son or daughter says “I’m struggling, it’s so much to do,” say “I’ve done it, everyone else does it” or “don’t complain, I had it tougher than you.” That’s minimizing the problem, and certainly doesn’t help to reassure your teen. Furthermore, if you see your teen stressed out about the process, don’t give them more things to do. I have a friend whose parents make her pick up and drop off her siblings on weeknights, when she has hours of homework and practice to go to, while they sit at home. She gets so overwhelmed, and starts to resent her parents for not understanding. You don’t want that. It’s understandable that everyone in the family should help out around the house, but if your teen is in over his head, give him a break. Postpone his chores until the weekend. I’m sure it will be appreciated.


So maybe some don’t think high schoolers have it all that bad. But the stresses and pressures of getting into college, and juggling daily activities (academics, sports, essays, etc.) that are required for college admissions are overwhelming to students. Parents can help their teens by encouraging them, helping to relieve the stress, and not adding to the problem. I can only imagine the even higher expectations that wait coming generations.


Photo credit: Paul. B from Flickr


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