Academic Pressure Pushes Students to Their Limits


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Mustangs reflect on their academic workload, wondering what they can do to deal with school competition.

Crying over grades, stressing over course loads and trying to pad resumes have become all too much of a reality for high school students who face academic anxiety. This stress is primarily due to the desire for students to get into the college of their dreams and is exacerbated by the pressure to strive for excellence. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent at Marriotts Ridge, as it’s ranked the 12th best high school in Maryland and is home to many competitive students. Since some of the standards set by parents, teachers and even the students themselves are remarkably high, Mustangs frequently worry about their ability to succeed.
Many students planning on applying to college are now taking the steps to maximize their chances of getting into their dream university.
“During college applications season, there was a lot of pressure to keep my grades up, and now still I [have to] keep ’em up so that the colleges I’ve been accepted to don’t cancel on me,” senior Jack Vennard stated.
Students reflect on whether or not this competition proves as a motivator or as an unhealthy stressor.
“I’m always stressed, pull a lot of all-nighters, and sometimes I go to bed late studying. A lot of people are doing it, so it doesn’t feel as bad,” senior Abigail Dunchak said. “I’m just always doing assignments. I never have downtime for anything; I feel like I always have to study.”
Others feel that without the academic pressure, they would not have become so driven to succeed. Earning high grades, especially in advanced classes, and getting involved in extracurricular activities can contribute to students becoming better equipped for the competitive nature of the workforce.
“A lot of people here are at the top of their game because of the pressure, and it’s just setting them up for success,” Vennard said.
Academic demands may be reinforced by multiple people, including teachers, peers, parents and the students themselves. Many students see their academic performance as a competition with their peers rather than a means for self-improvement.

I feel like I’ve been having classes with the same sixty kids every year and we’re kind of stuck in this echo chamber of academic success where we all feel like we’re an average student…when really we’re like great students

— senior Addie Flynn said.

Students handle this echo chamber in different ways.
“I make sure not to talk about my test scores in APs or the SAT so that I don’t feel as though people can judge me academically and so that no one compares themselves to me in either a negative or positive way,” senior Sofia Romero said.
This tension is likely fueled by the rigorous goals of the Howard County Public School System, which prides itself on teaching college and career readiness.
“I used to live in Carroll County, and there was no academic pressure…When I moved to Howard County, I was kind of shocked by the complete contrast, and I feel like I’ve become a lot smarter and more academically oriented,” junior Deven Battish said.
However, Battish agrees that this pressure is not exclusive to Howard County.
“Even though I think Howard County is one of the best examples, it’s an issue across the United States and across the world too,” he said. “I know some friends at Thomas Jefferson High School…and from what it sounds like, it’s like the exact same thing so I think it’s just a common problem with competitive high schools across the United States.”
Those who prioritize grades, test scores, and extracurricular opportunities above all else find validation in their accomplishments. As a result, it can become difficult for these ambitious students to accept less-than-perfect results. Sometimes teens compare their achievements to other high-performing peers and consequently face self-esteem issues. Consequences of excessive pressure can be an increased risk of mental illness, sleep deprivation, and academic dishonesty.
“The pressure I feel from my environment increases the pressure I put on myself, exacerbating my existing tendency to push my limits mentally and physically and worsening my anxiety,” Romero explained. “In terms of physical effects, pushing myself beyond my limits means I don’t sleep enough, I get sick more often, and in extreme cases, I skip meals because I’m so busy.”
However, there are ways to manage the feelings of inadequacy that may develop in such an academically motivated environment, including altering one’s mindset to focus specifically on accomplishing their own goals.
“Don’t compare yourself to others and just focus on your personal progressions,” Battish encouraged.
The Marriotts Ridge Student Services is also available as a resource for students. Discussing course loads with school counselors can help redirect students’ mindsets from the normalized pressures onto more beneficial endeavors.
“Minimizing the negative pressure can be done by informing the student about the pros and cons of what they are being pressured to do,” freshman Joshua Okon advised. “If they want to take a class higher than what they usually take, they can talk to their counselor, and their counselor can help them make a decision which will benefit them.”
Ultimately, whether Mustangs face extreme academic pressure or not, there are multiple ways to ease the stress that comes from being constantly exposed to a competitive environment. Students should realize that they’re not alone in their struggles, as this is an issue that many across the nation grapple with as they prepare for their career and college goals. Marriotts Ridge students hope to strike a balance between finding motivation and developing a better understanding of their own limits.