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Credit: Alyssa Ao

Recently, students have completed course selection for the 2022 to 2023 school year. This marked a stressful time for students to fill their schedules with classes. “I think students [are pressured to make sacrifices], and I don’t even necessarily think it’s the school that does it to them,” freshman biology teacher Mary York said. “It’s hard because a little stress is good, we want to use our time in life well and contribute by learning and knowing and growing. You want to work to live, not live to work.”

Great expectations: The pressures of course selection

As this year’s course selection came to a close, many students found themselves under pressure to make their choices carefully. The decision-making process during course selection highlights the pressures of Wayland High School, where students feel that the classes they decide to take will affect not only their experience in high school, but their opportunities years into the future, starting with college.

“People only get a limited number of electives and courses that they can take each year, and people are always putting so much pressure on themselves to get into good colleges,” freshman Hassan Rashid said. “The thought just never goes away. People always have to keep challenging themselves just so they can get into their dream school.”

Starting as underclassmen or even earlier, students already start to plan ahead on which classes they will take each year.

“Even before starting high school I knew I was just going to push myself,” Rashid said. “I was going to take the hardest version of every class possible because I really want to go to a good school.”

From a teacher’s perspective, students are beginning to have mounting expectations for themselves and their workloads.

“I do think more [younger] kids are pushing themselves to take APs and higher [level] classes,” freshman biology teacher Mary York said. “And I think that it’s not always good, because some people are just not developmentally ready to do it even though they’re very smart. It’s just [that] the kids feel they have to take the hardest class offered.”

For some, the classes that “look good” on a transcript don’t really reflect what those students are truly interested in or passionate about.

“Students don’t really realize how much they could be missing out on,” sophomore Missy Prince said. “I do this too, and I’m sure I would really enjoy a painting class or an innovation class, but it feels like there is so much pressure [to take] the hard APs that it’s not even an option to try new things. It is really hard to try [and] dedicate your school year to trying new things when you could be doing something else to increase your chances of getting into certain colleges.”

Overworking themselves in subjects they aren’t engaged in can quickly lead to academic burnout in students, where they lose motivation in spite of how beneficial that class may be for college applications.

“I think that kids tend to get burnt out when they are taking the hardest classes about things they don’t enjoy,” Prince said. “If students don’t have any passion or enjoyment for the subject, they will get burnt out a lot faster. If a student [is] taking something that maybe doesn’t look as good on a transcript, but they are more passionate about it, they will not get burnt out and they’ll do better overall.”

In picking their classes, students must also constantly assess the choices of their peers as another metric for their own success.

“I feel like if I don’t use my electives wisely, and if I don’t actually pay attention and learn valuable things from them, not just the things I’d want to learn for fun, then I’m going to fall behind compared to other people,” Rashid said.

In recent years, statistics on college admissions have also become more accessible for students, giving them specific percentages and numbers to measure themselves by.

“There’s all this data, and kids have that in their head so it’s like the data is weighing on them,” York said. “And texting and phones makes it so that kids can never turn off, they can never just go away and turn off and not have to think about school.”

The inescapability of college outside of school, such as Ivy League bumper-stickers and college admission posts on Instagram, is also a contributing factor, leading students to make choices based on what is expected of them.

“I think students [are pressured to make sacrifices], and I don’t even necessarily think it’s the school that does it to them,” York said. “It’s hard because a little stress is good, we want to use our time in life well and contribute by learning and knowing and growing. But we also don’t want to be just working all the time. You want to work to live, not live to work.”

Although WHS and broader society can be college-obsessed, the college a person attends isn’t necessarily the end-all-be-all factor to their success.

“I think [course selections have] some impact on college but I don’t necessarily think it has that much impact on [students’] careers,” York said. “I think that as long as you really take care of your mental health and your relationships, and you’re honest with yourself and you do the steady work, I think that you’re going to meet your goals. You might meet them a year later or a year earlier, you don’t know, life is going to throw things at you.”

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