Success over stress: Top high school students face academic pressure head-on

Aaron Young
Selena Yang

VARSITY VOLLEYBALL PLAYER.

Vice President of National Honor Society and Senior Class Board.

Assistant at St. Paul’s Arlington Hills Library.

On top of all of those titles, 17-year-old Salena Yang maintains a 4.48 weighted grade point average and is ranked number two in St. Paul Johnson High School’s senior class.

Many high school students face tremendous academic pressure, however, students who are successful find that balancing their schedules, managing their time and facing that pressure head-on are key ingredients to performing well in school.

Experts also believe it’s up to the student to use the pressure on them to either feel defeated by a growing to-do list or feel extra motivated to accomplish these tasks.

Academic pressure can be created by worries over grades, tests and homework, as well as from parents and friends. Yang said expectations for her always have been high.

“... Everyone expects me to do well in school, so I have that mindset that, ‘You have to do well. You have to do well,’” Yang said. “So that stresses me out.”

Yang knows that although schoolwork can be stressful, working hard and getting good grades will help her in the future. 

“I just want to work hard now in life so I don’t have to work hard later,” Yang said. “Sooner or later, you’ll find out that you have to work hard to get what you want, so that’s why I’m working hard right now.”

Only one other Johnson senior has a higher GPA than Yang. Her classmate, Aaron Young, is ranked number one, and says he’s earned the valedictorian post through “hard work and motivation and dedication.”

Young also wonders how many students are actually learning in the process of trying to get good grades.

“You get students who are just willing to just pass their class,” he said, “and they just want to get to the next level.”

Michael Thompson, principal at Johnson High School, said he sees this happen.

“I think there are some students who get all As and don’t learn very much, and there are some students who get Cs and Ds who learn more,” Thompson said.

Yang and Young both agreed that academic pressure pushes them to work harder in school.

“(Academic pressure) will always exist because no matter where you are … you’re always going to have that pressure to be more progressive toward getting your education,” Young said, “but at the same time you are always going to have that pressure to get that A or that B+, (to) strive for the high grade. It can … give a student a reason to try.”

Chris Rozek, who holds a Ph.D. in social and personality psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and who is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, says Young’s view is an example of a student interpreting academic pressure in a positive way.

Rozek also said both students and their teachers must learn to balance academic pressure.

“If all the students and teachers are focused on is trying to reach a certain performance level, then they are less likely to enjoy what they are learning and find it to be irrelevant to their lives,” Rozek said, “which then in the end under-mines their motivation.”

When Yang feels unmotivated, she steps away from things that are causing her stress. And she says it works for her.

“I usually just take a break and remind myself that all this hard work will pay off later,” she said. “Just be positive and don’t just always study every day. Go out and have some fun. Do something that you like.”

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