Early focus on college causes student anxiety

Sonia Zaacks, Staff Writer

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Even before walking through the doors of high school, freshman Campbell Sharpe felt the pressures of college looming in the distance.

“[Students] always have these built up images of high school,” said Sharpe. “Even when I was in fourth grade, I knew that if I didn’t get into this one program at the junior high, I wouldn’t get into a good high school program. If I didn’t get into the good programs in high school, I wouldn’t get into a good college, and if I didn’t get into a good college, I wouldn’t get a good job.”

Rushing to build a college resume seems to be a common habit for high schoolers, according to David Boyle, coordinator of college counseling.

“I think society [causes this stress],” said Boyle. “It’s the newspapers, life, media. It’s just this constant race of getting to that next phase.”

According to school psychologist Tamara West, hyperfocusing or intense concentration on a particular subject like college could lead to or be classified as anxiety.

“If the only thing you are thinking about is college, and you are a freshman, then that’s too early and you want to make sure you’re focusing on the right things,” said West. “So hyperfocusing is definitely anxiety.”

Boyle said thinking about college early in a student’s high school career may not be ideal as students are still trying to figure out who they are academically. He does not recommend students start seeking college advice until November of their junior year.

“We do hear that sometimes sophomores or [freshmen] might be seeking college selection advice,” said Boyle. “[Student services], the counselors and myself have implemented a wonderful, comprehensive 18-month developmental program that will walk students through [the college process].”

According to West, high school students affected by college-related anxiety may also be impacted on a social and emotional level.

“Making sure [students] have balance [is essential],” said West. “So making sure they are getting enough exercise, sleep, eating right and being mindful of themselves is important.”

Sharpe said she almost never has time to socialize with friends outside of doing schoolwork or participating in clubs.

“Instead of going out with friends, [some students] will study with their friends who are just in their classes,” said Sharpe. “That’s their social time.”

West said students should seek help within the Student Services department or try to organize their schedule in a different way if they participate in many activities and have trouble managing their time.

“I am always encouraging students to do [activities] because they enjoy [them],” said West. “[There are] parts of our day where we spend a lot of time focusing and learning, but you need to have parts of your day for fun and so being in the moment and present is really important.”

According to Boyle, all students at Glenbrook North who want to go to college have many options when selecting a school.

“About 98 percent of our students go to college [right after graduation],” said Boyle. “Of the two percent who don’t, it’s definitely not because they didn’t find a college or didn’t participate in a certain club. They just chose that they wanted to take a year off.”

Boyle said that because the ongoing pressure surrounding college seems to spark a lot of anxiety in teens, rushing the college process may be a counterproductive approach to experiencing high school in the fullest way.

“It’s just this constant race of getting to that next phase,” said Boyle. “A representative from a school said it beautifully: we are not filling a class based upon ACTs and GPAs, we’re crafting a class.”

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Early focus on college causes student anxiety