Overachieving Becomes the New Norm

Academic expectations and competition increases for students


Students at ELHS experience endless late nights of anxiety-filled studying. They wake up after hardly any sleep from hours of work the night before, just to do it all over again.

Could the cycle ever stop?

“There is definitely a lot of peer pressure. It seems to be a sort of badge of honor to take three or four or five APs, to not sleep, and to be so stressed. That isn’t healthy,” said honors and AP Chemistry teacher, Lori Singer.

While some students feel constant pressure from their peers and parents to improve, others apply the pressure on themselves.

Junior Ken Chen said that his parents have never really pushed him to take hard classes, but it’s rather his own “inner drive to strive to be better.”

Others, like senior Alicia Lin, have a different experience.

“I always feel pressure from my parents to be like my older sister. There’s also a lot of competition between my friends. Even if it’s not spoken, it is an underlying thing. It’s like these people are my competition for these schools,” Lin said.

Both Ms. Singer and guidance counselor Allison Kosswig say it’s all about balance between academic validation and mental health. According to Ms. Singer, if students have too many academics and not enough time to balance their schedule, they become stressed with no time to feel adequately prepared in any of their course work.

“Some people have gotten about two hours of sleep a night since their sophomore year because of studying for SATs and homework for AP classes,” Lin said. “It’s so difficult, especially when all the hard work doesn’t pay off. I’ve seen people work so hard for so long and then get rejected from their dream school. They were just crushed.”

It is counterproductive to go without sleep and stressors only end up impacting performance on schoolwork negatively. It is also popular among students to have one college in particular they are shooting for. When that doesn’t work out, it can add to stress levels.

Ms. Kosswig said that sometimes, the pressure students put on themselves is because of the fear of college and the unknown.

There has also been an increased influx of applications to these challenging schools, which means acceptance rates drop and expectations skyrocket.

“I think the problem is when kids are mismatching themselves in a school that is not appropriate for them, they feel the pressure to do more than they’re capable of,” Ms. Kosswig said.

While challenging academics contribute to higher stress levels, it can be very rewarding when you do well in those classes. The rigorous course work offered by AP classes also helps students receive early exposure to the pace and challenge of college classes, and having AP classes on a transcript demonstrates to those schools their ability to handle it.

According to College Board, research shows that students who take AP courses and exams are more likely than their peers to attend college and graduate on time.

“Each student has to find the right university or college for themselves. Too often students are trying to gain admission to multiple universities as a sign of validation. Instead, it would be far less stressful and far more productive for students to work with the excellent school counselors at ELHS to find the colleges and universities that will be the best fit for them,” UConn admissions officer Jayson Hodge said.

In addition, cheating has become more prominent because of the faster pace in difficult classes. It demonstrates that kids feel so pressured and trapped that students will go to any lengths to save their grade.

“I think our definition of cheating has also morphed. Students are more willing to cut corners because they feel like they have no choice,” Ms. Singer said.

Especially in the current pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important: maintaining mental health and balance over getting an A. But ELHS provides a support system of counselors and faculty to guide students on their path into the future.

“I never want to tell a kid not to challenge themselves. But I always challenge them to think before they choose their schedule,” Ms. Kosswig said. “As a counselor, you don’t ever want a kid to think you don’t believe in them.”