I just finished high school. Well, I graduated in May, so perhaps I didn’t just finish it. But it feels like I did. As I’m sure you can assume, finishing high school comes with much reflecting. Reflecting on my mistakes, my successes, my regrets, my friendships, my performance, and my overall experience. However, one topic that takes up much of my reflecting time is what I would change about high school, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you today.
The last four years were a blur. It seemed that every year moved faster than the last, filling up with more meetings, taller piles of homework, later bedtimes, and less time for myself. Part of this is my fault. I, like other students in my classes, became obsessed with my college application, joining too many clubs and taking on too many responsibilities. Not to mention, I was considered an “academically-advanced” student, so I took the highest-leveled class in each subject.
What I Would Change
Don’t get me wrong, I loved school. I didn’t play any sports, so school became my sport. It served as an outlet for the competitive energy that everyone harbors. I competed against my fellow classmates and against myself, seeing how far I could go if I just pushed a little harder.
Spoiler alert: I pushed too hard. However, that’s what my teachers and counselors expected of me as an advanced student. Even more, that’s what the prestigious colleges expected of me as an applicant. Sure, it paid off: I made really good grades, received good scholarships, and had an overall fulfilling high school experience. But at what cost?
The Cost of Being Advanced
I vividly remember one weekend where I had an abnormally low amount of homework. It was all completed one Sunday morning and I managed to free up my afternoon to do whatever I liked, so I was thrilled to be able to crochet for a few hours. Having free time on my hands was a foreign feeling to me, and I firmly believe that it shouldn’t be that way.
So, let’s talk about what comes along with being an advanced student. And let me say that I am by no means complaining about my abilities; everyone has their strong suits, and I’m lucky that academics were mine. But I do think that with every talent, there are unfair expectations placed on students with a knack for taking tests.
For one, you’re expected to load up your schedule with difficult classes. There is no such thing as too many AP or IB classes. Secondly, you’re expected to do well in those classes, like, get all A’s type of well.
What “Advanced” Really Means
However, somewhere along the way, the word “advanced” was misinterpreted by teachers to mean “more homework.” But I didn’t sign up for AP Psychology to receive more homework, I signed up to be challenged by new, unique modes of thinking, to open my eyes to the field of psychology, and to have complex discussions about psychological theories. Meanwhile, yes, those things sometimes happened, they also came coupled with the burden of regular homework assignments that carved hour-long chunks out of what used to be my “me time.” Just because I’m an advanced student does not mean that I magically have more time in my day than students in regular level classes.
You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you just take fewer advanced classes?” I didn’t want to. Those classes wouldn’t have given me the challenge I needed, and plus, colleges wanted to see the APs. Therefore, I sacrificed my free time and took the plunge over and over again.
More importantly, an advanced student is expected to be involved in every organization under the sun, and not only should they be a member of said organizations, but they should also be an officer. In addition, they should also found a nonprofit during their four years of high school, complete hundreds of hours of community service, engage in a sport, and win numerous character awards. Oh, and I almost forgot. Somewhere along the way, they need to develop a personality, make friends, discover their passions, and spend time with family. If you don’t do these things, then you won’t be accepted into your dream school.
The Plight of Being an Advanced Student
Like many acceptance-obsessed students, I tried as hard as I could to meet those requirements. However, there is simply not enough time in a day, week, month, or in four years to check all those tasks off my list. So, I had to cut some things, and the items that seemed most logical to cut were those pertaining to my self-interest. I gradually spent less time doing what I loved, jeopardized my familial relationships, and failed to develop a secure sense of who I was as a human being.
What happened to free time? Free time is where a person discovers what they truly love to do. How is a high schooler supposed to find the passion that will lead them to a career they love if they don’t have time to do so? How is a person supposed to get a grip on who they are and form meaningful relationships if they are stuck behind a computer screen for hours on end?
Reflecting on My Reality
As an advanced student, I was expected to be perfect, but I am not, and I was not. In fact, I was a teenager in the midst of one of the most formative times of my life. Instead of spending my time exploring who I was and what I loved, I spent it working towards an acceptance. All because I was an advanced student with a dream, and “with great power comes with great responsibility.”
And guess what? I wasn’t accepted into my dream school, and that rejection stung. What stung even more was everything I had lost in the hope of gaining something I didn’t.
Balance Between Life and School
Finally, use my reflection as a cautionary tale. Don’t let a class, an application, or an expectation control your life. School should be a safe learning environment where students feel encouraged to challenge themselves and extend the perimeters of their knowledge, but it should take up the seven hours prescribed by the school bells – not my life.