From Pressure, Comes Diamonds

By Alex Gryciuk

Is it uncommon to find students who sleep less than the recommended amount of hours a night? How about having extremely limited down time to relax and hang out with friends? Is it crazy to overload yourself with difficult courses and unbearable amounts of homework? 

In highly competitive academic environments—like the Bay Area—the answer is simple and straight to the point: no. It is impossible for teens to sleep the recommended number of hours due to an onslaught of lengthy homework assignments. It is the expectation that children hyper pack their schedules with activities, extracurriculars, and sports. School counselors, teachers, and peers encourage a jam packed schedule filled with AP and honors classes to students every year. For those living in the cutthroat, competitive bubble, such high stakes and expectations are normal. How else can you be the best candidate for college?

But, to the rest of the society, these conditions seem inhumane and unreasonable. Developing brains should have sufficient sleep. Teenagers should enjoy their short childhood with friends and new experiences. Students should be able to go through a school year, without nervous breakdowns over course work or grades. Middle and high school students should do what they enjoy without the fear of how it impacts their future college applications.

Unfortunately, a reality where students can be “wild and free” is nothing but a far-fetched fantasy. Especially in the Bay Area, where society exaggerates the highly ambitious nature of college competition; sacrificing childhood for success seems like the expectation. 

While easy to criticize the obvious negative effects of extreme pressure on physical and mental health, these highly competitive regions produce some of the most talented, hardworking individuals in the nation. For example, as a hub for new technological advancements and companies, the Bay Area emphasizes STEM education in schools more than other regions in the United States. Due to the plethora of STEM summer camps, after school programs, and curriculums available to students it’s not uncommon for young students from the Bay Area to produce incredible robots and have the ability to code complex programs. Students in this region understand science better and find a passion for it earlier than their counterparts due to academic pressure.

Such high academic standards improve students’ performance in school as well. In fact, the Bay Area alone has about a 5% higher graduation rate than the rest of the nation and 3% greater than the state. A study analyzing graduation rates in San Francisco found that 90.4% of students graduated in the year 2022. In 2021, the national average was 85.3% and the statewide rate in 2022 was 87.4% Sure, college competition makes school more stressful. But, it also fosters an environment where education is highly valued; more students make an effort to complete their education.

 Moreover, because young adults feel a pressure to be better,  Bay Area students add more AP courses to their schedules than the rest of the country. While the average number of AP classes taught in high schools all over the nation hovers at around eight, it’s common for many Bay Area students to take that same number over the course of four years. Learning how to study, manage time, and understand difficult concepts—all lessons that students in the Bay Area hope to be better than other applicants in their area learn earlier. “AP students” from these competitive reasons are much better equipped for college than scholars in other states.

All in all, with the rise in applications and fewer spots available to incoming freshmen, college competition puts more acute pressure on students to accomplish unreachable standards. Albeit, college competition can be tough, but, the immense pressure creates golden students who accomplish more at a younger age and discover hidden talents. Students learn the value of hard work and time management earlier in life. They understand more about the world around them and they work harder in school to produce incredible results. At the end of the day, pressure, though crushing, can mold students into highly successful individuals and the gems of our nation.