By Steve Schlozman, MD
Sometimes things are so obvious we fail to take notice.
For example, if I tell you that high school students who plan on attending college are under a lot of pressure, your response might sound like, well, a 17-year-old:
“Duh,” you might say, “What else is new?”
This is not new, of course, but the pressure continues to get exponentially worse. Students from all walks of life are increasingly overscheduled, academically burdened and socially overwhelmed. We pile all this stuff on top of the already treacherous waters of adolescence, and it’s no wonder kids feel emotionally battered.
I started thinking more about this when a friend of mine from high school called about his 9th grade daughter.
“She’s 14,” my friend said, “And they’re telling her in the fifth week of school about college. Did we worry about college in 9th grade?”
I used to think that the pressure on high school teens was largely a regional issue. I was raised in the Midwest, so of course things weren’t quite so high-stress compared to here in Boston. But my friend was calling from Colorado, and this is therefore not a regional issue. What is clear, is that this pressure is not good for our kids.
Let’s look at some of the data:
•According to the Department of Education, there are around 2,675 nonprofit four-year undergraduate colleges in the United States.
•Although the number of students in high school continues to slowly decline, the number of students applying to college is steadily increasing. In 2011, there were about 20.4 million students enrolled in college, and that number is projected to reach about 23 million by 2020.
•One out of four teenagers submitted college applications in 2011, at an average of around $40 per application
•In 2001, the typical college admitted around 71 percent of its applicants. By 2011, this number dropped to around 65 percent. I could go on. The common application increases the overall number of applications that students complete, schools look to college acceptance rates as a means of measuring their success and they therefore pass this pressure onto their students, and students themselves are more and more led to view the junior year of high school as something akin to academic and extracurricular boot camp. I’ve seen students get freaked out even before the first week of 11th grade.
This this kind of systemic stress is not good for anyone. A 2008 study found that the increased rate of academic dishonesty on high school campuses stemmed, at least according to some students, from the increasingly high achievement bar that the students themselves experienced. This of course does not excuse cheating, but it is worth noting that both cheating and academic and social pressures seem to have grown in concert with one another. Continue reading