College has become something students, starting even as early as the seventh grade, worry about. At Harvard-Westlake, college pressure impacts students’ lives, causing them to take certain classes, join certain extracurriculars or strive to achieve certain grades.
The experience of college stress is different for each student. In a survey of 136 students, respondents showed varying opinions about when and how the stress of college affects them.
When asked what grade they believed college pressure begins in, 40.4 percent believed that it begins in seventh and eighth grade and 47.1 percent believed that college pressure begins in ninth and tenth grade. 70 percent of respondents stated they believe their friends experience college pressure.
However, from the survey, only 7.4 percent of respondents recorded college pressure beginning in ninth grade. The other 32.2 percent recorded it starting between seventh and eighth grade. 16.1 percent of respondents recorded feeling college pressure as early as elementary school. According to these statistics, more students have begun thinking about college in elementary school or seventh and eighth grade rather than in ninth and tenth grade, when the majority of students believe college pressure starts. These statistics show that college pressure is beginning earlier than students think.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve felt college pressure. A lot from parents and teachers, but mostly from myself. I’ve always wanted to go to a good college, and I’ve always tried to get straight A’s and do a bunch of extracurricular activities for college,” an anonymous respondent said.
However, not all students are feeling the pressure just yet. 25.7 percent of respondents said they have never felt college pressure.
“I think [college] is going to be a big deal in my life. It’s not right now, considering I’ve just started high school, but I feel like it’s going to be a big deal when I do it and I’m a bit nervous about how I’m going to handle it when I get older,” CC Mesa ’22 said.
When asked where their college pressure stems from, survey respondents had differing answers. 37.5 percent of respondents have taken a certain class due to college pressure. Respondents who specified cited biology honors, math honors, band and programming as classes they were pressured to take, which is a likely cause of college pressure.
“I feel as if even though there is no weighted GPA anymore, I feel as if I still have to take all of the honors classes, which can be quite challenging at times,” an anonymous student wrote.
44.2 percent of survey respondents recorded joining extracurriculars due to college pressure. Those who had specified, stated debate, performing arts, language, charity work or sports as activities they were pressured to do. Some students still feel passionate about these activities, while others feel pressure to participate in activities that they do not enjoy or have stopped enjoying because these students feel that they must participate in these activities to look good for college.
“I feel the need to take electives I have no interest in to put on my application,” an anonymous survey respondent commented.
Sports were among the most commonly named activity joined due to pressure.
“When you play a sport, as you get older it gets more serious to a point where sometimes you aren’t doing it for fun, but just to be good when college scouts come,” one anonymous respondent said.
72.1 percent of respondents feel pressure to achieve certain grades or a certain leadership position. The majority of respondents who specified about the pressure they feel mentioned the pressure to achieve good grades.
“I feel like my grades are one of the most important that colleges look at, so I am putting pressure on myself to get good grades,” another student said.
When asked who they believe pressures other students for college, 88.5 percent thought students pressured themselves, 30.8 percent thought teachers pressured students, and 80.8 percent of respondents thought parents pressured students. Personally, 62.3 percent feel pressure from themselves, 16.2 percent feel pressure from teachers, and 49.2 percent of students feel pressure from their parents.
“I have felt [college pressure] in when parents talk about good colleges that I could go to. It makes it feel like they are expecting me to get into good colleges, therefore if I do any less, it will be disappointing or embarrassing for them,” one survey respondent said.
Additionally, 16.9 percent of students feel pressure from their siblings.
“Currently, my brother is applying to college as a senior at Harvard-Westlake. As I watch over the college process, I have started to realize how many people are great at their extracurriculars, take exceptionally difficult class and get great test scores at the same time. This has really put a lot of pressure on me for college in the future,” Ella Yadegar ‘24 said.
Opinions on the benefits and deficits of college pressure were varied. 59.9 percent of respondents found college pressure was beneficial in that it motivated you to do well. 41.9 percent of respondents found that college pressure was beneficial in pushing students to take hard classes.
“I know that I work hard and I hope that hard work pays off, and I’ll get into a good college,” survey respondent Milla Ben-Ezra ‘22 said.
39 percent of student respondents found they have been negatively impacted by college pressure causing unnecessary stress for them.
“I feel stressed to do my best so that I don’t have anything bad on my college resume,” one respondent commented.
Students also had varying opinions on when college pressure should start. 62.5 percent of students believe it should start between ninth and tenth grade, 19.1 percent of students believe it should start in eleventh grade or after, and 8.1 percent of students believe it should never start.
From a dean’s point of view, students should not stress about college this early in their academic career.
“There’s time enough to focus on college and let’s just keep our eyes on the prize, which is ninth grade and making this year a successful year. Let’s take these next few years as they come. When the time comes for students to receive information about college, we will provide it,” ninth grade dean Matthew Cutler said.
Although current students have not expressed their concern to deans, some new ninth grade students have.
“The students incoming from ninth grade picking their courses and their classes they’re the ones who have raised the issue of college. Our response to that is ‘lets focus on ninth grade’….Do the courses you’re interested in, choose the classes, you’re passionate about. Try new things absolutely- those are the classes you’re going to be the most successful at because you’re interested. And that’s what colleges want to see; they want to see kids do new things,” Cutler said.
According to Cutler, the most important thing is to not let the college pressure overwhelm you.
“My message for this will always be: don’t focus on the grades. And I know that’s so hard for you, but if you focus on the grades, the only thing you’re going to be awarded with is anxiety, but if you focus on the learning, you’re going to be less anxious and the good grades are going to come anyway,” Cutler said.
College pressure is a different experience for each student. However, no matter what one’s individual experience is, many students felt it is important to relax and enjoy life.
“I feel like you should relax and have fun when you are still young because you don’t have that much time,” an anonymous survey respondent said.
It is most important to maintain a balance between hard work and happiness.
“I want to get good grades, so I can get into a good school, but I mainly want to do my best so I feel like I have accomplished something,” another survey respondent said.