Opinion: At pre-college programs, summer isn’t a break from school


Credit: Alyssa Ao

WSPN’s Reva Datar discusses the pressure some students face during the summer to build a college application.

Reva Datar

Summer should mean kicking back at the beach and leaving work and school behind. It’s two and a half months filled with melted ice cream, bicycles and movies. It’s waking up late and going to bed even later, a timeless refuge that comes before embarking on yet another 180 days of exhausting classes.  But that’s easier said than done.

For many high school students, college is something that lingers in the back of their minds. They may feel pressure to perform well in high school in order to attend a prestigious university. While students are expected to focus mainly on grades, sports and extracurricular activities during the school year, summer break is when they can devote their time to camps and courses that can help build an impressive college application.

This year-round dedication and schoolwork is intensive and stressful. High school students have to learn how to manage their time with their busy schedules and achieve as much as they can.

For me, the first year of high school went by faster than I expected, as I hadn’t anticipated all the changes that would come.  Before I knew it, the first quarter was over, then the second and then the third. And then, it was time for finals. Days felt long, but weeks and months seemed to slip by without being noticed. I could still remember the first day of school vividly, yet I already had my final report card for the year.

Long before the last day of school, my summer plans were set in stone: spending weeks at prestigious institutions to learn collegiate material, familiarizing myself with some of the classwork I might face coming back to school in the fall and visiting college campuses. Yet, once I realized how quickly my freshman year went by, I knew that the other years would only go by quicker and that college was closer than I thought.

I told myself that summer would be spent carefully crafting an application that could catch the attention of top universities. It would be a time where I made myself unique and proved myself to certain universities.

I wasn’t the only one with a transcript to build. When I attended a summer program, I met fellow students from different places and backgrounds, and I realized that our lives were alike. Almost all the students had started their own nonprofits or initiatives for social change. All of us had brought textbooks with us, whether they were SAT prep books or future course material. Trying to balance our summer program coursework with the studying we swore we would do over the summer made us burnt out. It was a constant and tireless cycle that never let up.

There was a part of me that went to these programs to enjoy my summer and myself. I wanted to experience living in a dorm, making new friends from different places and taking on a sense of independence. Yet, I felt anxious and inferior when I met students that were doing more than me.

Looking at the students I met at these programs and camps, I felt inspired and motivated. Yet, when I had conversations with them, it was clear that most of what they did amounted to getting into a good university. My actions were no different. Of course, we were passionate about the topics we hoped to pursue, but the sudden urge we felt to appear impressive didn’t come from just passion, but pressure.

Trying to look like the perfect student, I began to see everything in relation to college. Everyday activities and small hobbies were maximized. I told myself repeatedly that everything I did had to be perfect, not for my own satisfaction or happiness, but to please others. The stress wound me up and stretched me out, and then I snapped.

In a way, summer was a nice time to relax and reflect on the school year before returning. I didn’t have to go to school everyday or study for tests, but I still had to map out my future schedule and achieve things that I couldn’t during the school year. For the past couple of years, I’ve been returning to school with the same burnt out feeling, rather than feeling refreshed and relaxed.

I truly wanted summer to be a break. I hoped it would be the time of the year where school, sports and college could be forgotten, but that would come with the cost. I was afraid that once I came back to school after not having the most productive summer, I would fall behind my classmates. I worried that taking a break during the summer would affect my chances of getting into a school I wanted to go to.

I feel the urge to work and study to the point where sometimes it seems like I’m making sacrifices in my own life rather than feeling liberated by the additional education I get. I didn’t take a break this summer, and I probably won’t the next. There is always so much to do. Even if I have a lot on my plate or not, I keep telling myself that I have to do something. I remind myself that my future is at stake even when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a constant battle with myself and the expectations that pressure me, a constant and tireless cycle.