The stress levels in students have significantly changed in the last two decades.

Years before, hard work and dedication to school would give students a “prize” of being accepted into a prestigious college, but the “prize” now is less attainable than it was then. Students who are applying to college face extreme stress and anxiety due to the significant amount of work given, particularly to students enrolled in multiple weighted classes.

While applying to colleges, students are obligated to write several admissions essays. In addition, students who want to get into college to pursue higher education have to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and participate in extracurricular activities in order to make their application unique. As the college admissions process becomes more demanding – more admissions tests such as the SAT and ACT, more rigorous classes, more applications, and more college tours – stress on students increases.

A reason why high school students stress themselves to the breaking point is that the college application process has become extremely competitive. Teachers, counselors, parents, and admission officers have instilled into students that without a college education, they will not be able to survive in the “real world.” This false theory has led to more students attending college, which is why the admissions process has become immensely competitive. Other areas of concern among high schoolers are choosing a  college, choosing a major, moving away from home, getting into the college of their choice, and the financial concerns associated with paying tuition. Because of extremely high expectations, talented students tend to concentrate mainly on college goals, which leads them to have an immediate and long-term effect that could include substance abuse, conduct problems, increased risk for depression, and, most tragically, self-harm and suicide (according to the American Psychological Association).

While I was a high school senior, I conducted a research study on the stress levels of high school seniors while applying to college and how this affected their mental health and academic abilities. The study that I conducted had 82 participants, who were 12th-grade students in 2017 and were from several large suburban high schools and were in the process of completing their college applications. I had given out surveys to these students multiple times within the year in order to see if there were any consistencies or changes.

Below, I have added some of the major data points that I had gathered.

In summary, these graphs show that students are taking multiple advanced courses and are sleeping less than the recommended number of hours required for a person to function healthily and properly. A majority had stated that they received about only 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night when the American Psychological Association recommends 7 to 9 hours minimum for teens. It can also be implied that the less amount of sleep, the amount of work students have in their classes, and applying to college at the same time, can cause them to have trouble in various mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Overall, these students have the possibility of carrying detrimental effects from high school with them if there is no intervention.  More persistent action should be taken towards helping students manage their time, get into colleges they select, and have a good high school experience to carry on with them into the future. 

Disclaimer: I am not saying that students should not be working hard in school and trying to get into college. I am pointing out that there is a stigma that is being passed on that college is the ONLY way someone can be successful, even if it is putting one’s health at risk. There needs to be a balance between these and the main focus for someone should be their happiness, rather than following social construct.