Credit: Emily Roberge

WSPN’s Emily Roberge and Alyssa Ao discuss the mentality of WHS students when choosing classes.

Opinion: The academic pressure on students is exhausting

Wayland. It’s always been a town full of rigorous curriculum and high expectations. Gaining an illustrious reputation for its good schools, it seems like every parent wants to send their children to the Wayland Public Schools – rightfully so. In our little socioeconomically strong bubble, we have everything we need: access to a good education, every resource we may need in the grasp of a hand and the ability to attend some of the most prestigious universities. What more could we ask for? Not much. But, with these excess resources brings increased competition among students to live up to the expectations of others, even if that means neglecting the passions they love. Now, Wayland: where is the definitive line between expectation and passion?

Starting in kindergarten, the question is “what are you going to be when you grow up?” You’re told that you get to decide. We are fortunate enough to attend a school with a lot of choices involved, evident in all the elective options: guitar, metalworking, innovation, journalism and many others. The possibilities are wide open for students to truly explore their interests, right? But, a lot of the time, it isn’t that simple. For many students, getting into a dream college is more important. What do colleges want to see in you? Rather than asking themselves which subjects they have genuine passion for, that’s the question in students’ minds as they pick their schedules and the classes they spend energy on.

As course selection for next school year is in full swing, students sit at their laptops on their Home Access Center page, wondering what the “right” choices are for classes. We ask our peers, our parents and our counselors for advice, because this often isn’t just a simple decision. There are high stakes. Maybe course selections could determine how good our transcript looks. Maybe they could determine which college we go to. Maybe they could determine which job we end up with. Who knows? We are always told we have freedom to follow our dreams and follow our passions, but do we actually? Explicitly yes, but a lot of the time, implicitly no.

The idea is that you’re supposed to make choices that balance you out as a student, that give colleges an impression that’s easy to interpret. You’re a STEM student or a humanities student. You’re an athlete, an artist or a musician. You took a certain elective all four years, which demonstrates your commitment. You decided on classes that fit your profile. Your profile is supposed to show colleges who you are.

In theory, you’ve set yourself up for success. You go to a good college, then follow your decided path to a lucrative career, then retire in peaceful luxury. Point A to point B to point C. But realistically, the system is fragile. It could break off between any of those points. Hard work does not always pay off.

Students try to make the safest bets. Even as a freshman, if you don’t have a plan for the next three years, you’re behind. With each year your choices, the classes you take or don’t take, the activities you spend time on – they matter more and more. The stakes get higher and higher. Maybe you’re terrified of making a mistake, choosing the wrong course. Maybe you fill your schedule with electives instead of giving yourself a free period. Every moment needs to be productive, every decision needs to be calculated. No time can be wasted.

Whether it’s fair or not, our whole lives in school lead up to college admissions, and after that, our “future,” which is a word so nebulous and distant it’s difficult to even think about. And yet it seems like it’s all we can think about as students. Walking into school everyday, the stress in Wayland is almost like a pressure cooker. For each student, everything counts: every assignment, every test, every quarter average, every fraction of a grade percentage.

It’s almost definitely not just a “Wayland thing.” The competition is probably just as or even steeper in other towns and schools, and the students there might experience the same thing. Here, I compare myself greatly to others around me. I feel as if others look down on you if you do not attend the “best” schools or take the most rigorous classes. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Others around me are always discussing the jobs they should have, where they will earn the most money and the universities with the best reputations they should go to. It often leaves me thinking: what do students really want to do and where do we want to go with our lives, whether it be college or not? At this point it’s hard to know.

This mentality of “perfection” for colleges and a money-filled career is draining. At the end of the day, we are teenagers. There’s a difference between hard work and overworking yourself. We shouldn’t feel the need to put so much pressure on ourselves to please the college and career expectations of others around us. We shouldn’t feel like we have to miss out on taking classes that interest us for ones that make us look “sophisticated” and “smart” on paper. We shouldn’t feel like we are constantly hating what we are learning and like it will never be applicable to us in the real world.

If you’ve stuck with classes you don’t enjoy, invested hours into something you aren’t interested in, all in order to maximize your chances of future success – whatever that means – any lack of payoff will probably be exponentially more disappointing. It’s easy to say that you should pursue your passions no matter what others tell you to do. But the fear of risking the future is hard to escape, no matter how twisted it is. There’s no real advice to give here, because it’s impossible to really see the full picture. But we will say this: your hard work deserves to go into something you care about.

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