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High School, High Stakes

A junior in high school shares her advice for families coping with that tumultuous year

Published on: March 07, 2017

Stressed out teenager girl with computer

The house is silent as my bleary eyes try to process the information on the last page of my history reading. The drone of rain on the roof keeps me awake as I finish learning about Alexander Hamilton — it could be so much more interesting, but I’m exhausted! The blue cover of my SAT prep book glares at me from my bookshelf, reminding me of the joys of standardized testing. That can wait until tomorrow, I decide, as I close my history book and check the time. 11:15 p.m. Not bad. I pack up my homework and gym bag, and then turn off the light. 

This probably sounds familiar to many high school students, especially juniors. As I start the rollercoaster of the college admissions process and cram for the SAT, the pressure is ramping up. Here are the biggest stresses from my point of view, and how I think parents can best help their juniors.

Stress no. 1: grades

Junior year grades are usually the ones that are most important when applying to college. I’m focusing more and more on my schoolwork this year, and I know that the amount of work I have to do will increase during the second semester. Ever since the end of freshman year, I’ve had to sacrifice some sleep to keep up with homework. It’s especially bad this year. I find I’m getting about an hour less sleep on average than I did freshman year — a sacrifice for the sake of my grades.

Stress no. 2: testing

Often when testing is brought up, it stresses me out because I know that my achievement over the course of high school will be boiled down to a number. I’m worried about having enough time to prep for the SAT and ACT. I’m concerned my scores won’t be as good as I hope, and unsure of whether I should take just the SAT or the ACT too.

Stress no. 3: college

Senior year is coming fast, and so is the pressure of narrowing down the list of colleges I should apply to. I don’t know the exact region or state where I’d like to go to college, nor do I have much of an idea what type of school I’m looking for. I’m also trying to figure out the extracurriculars I’d like to commit to and the areas of study I’d like to go into. At this point, I have no idea.

How parents can help

It’s definitely possible for parents to reduce the above stresses. Something very helpful for me has been my parents’ understanding that when I have busy weeks at school, I often feel much more productive skipping out on some family activities to get work done. On the other hand, when my amount of homework is lower, I really like being encouraged to socialize and go to events. 

Another thing that has helped: When my parents encourage me to try new after-school programs or hobbies but don’t force me to commit. I’m also given support including transportation and funding for the activities that help me relax. For example, making art helps me wind down and so I love it when I can get a ride (or my parents can nervously watch as I take a turn behind the wheel) to the art store to pick up materials.

When it comes to testing, having my parents tell me a test score is not representative of my intelligence and that I shouldn’t base my self-worth off of my results has been particularly helpful to hear. My family emphasizes the effort I put in, a mindset that has helped me greatly.  

As for college, I found touring a school helped me figure out what I do and don’t want. I recently toured Western Washington University. It was an excellent first tour. In Bellingham, it’s close enough to my home to be a day trip, but far enough that I got a sense of what it be like to be away at school. Touring when Western's school was in session, I got an eye for what classes and social interactions are like on campus, too. I was able to pick out the buildings I wanted to visit and talk to department heads of programs I'm interested in, too. 

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