Pressure of Perfection

GPA, Class Rank, and the Anxiety of Competition

Erin Green, Newspaper Editor-in-Chief

The anxiety that comes with being a teenager is daunting enough for anyone, but the adding of factors like GPA, class rank, and standardized testing has redefined what it means to be a high school student. Ivy league schools are constantly on the lookout for the best of the best, and the fight to be at the top of the academic totem pole has sparked a race among students across the globe. But does there ever come a time when the fight for first place is taken too far? Is giving up a normal adolescent life the price one has to pay to be number one?

Students like Annabelle Gaul (12), Victoria Isaacks (11), and Gabe Bell (10) are no strangers to the stress of high school and the effects it can have on one’s personal life. Juggling college classes and extracurricular activities all while keeping up individual relationships is a skill each of them are still learning to master.

“All my time is consisted of school work or belles,” Gaul said. “I’m constantly under stress, like all the time, 24 hours a day.”

Isaacks finds it difficult to squeeze in time for friends and family because of her busy school schedule.  

“I cherish the moments that I don’t have something to do or the moments that I’m free to just hang out with friends,” Victoria Isaacks (11) said. “I take the time I can, because I’m constantly working on school.”

Many high schools, including Heritage, make AP classes worth additional points toward grade point averages.

“My schedule is loaded just because you have to take AP classes in order to get a good GPA,” Gabe Bell (10) said. “Knowing that my grades really count and I need to be on top of them to be at the top of my class puts me under a lot of stress.”

Isaacks is in band, band council, student council, literary criticism, hosa, and 6 AP classes. Most days, she finds it hard to focus on anything else.

“It’s like a job,” Isaacks said. “I work from around seven in the morning to the time I go to bed, which is midnight. I take a break between six and eight for dinner, but that’s about it.”

The gravity of getting into college weighs heavily on high schoolers and can at times create an unspoken sense of rivalry among them.

“Anything in class is a competition, like who has the best test grade, who has the best overall grade; all of that matters,” Gaul said. “It’s so silly.”

For some students, the competition to be at the top of their class always keeps them on their toes.

“I mean, it’s not bad or like we hate each other,” Isaacks said. “It’s just more of like, ‘Oh what’d you get on this?’ And next week you know you better try harder, because if you want to be as good as them, you can’t slack off.”

Having a slot in the top ten percent is something colleges are drawn to, and according to some students, it feels like a race to get there.

“My father has instilled in me that class ranks and top ten percent is what gets you into college, so I’ve always been on top of that,” Isaacks said. “There have been times where I think that my ranking is bad. I remember one time they told me I was 11th, and then second semester they told me I was 13th, and I cried.”

Many students report feeling a lack of confidence about themselves because of academic stress.

“I have a bunch of really smart friends, and they’re like ‘I got a 90 on this test!’, and in my head I’m like, ‘Ugh, I got a 75,’” Gaul said. “It just makes me self-conscious all the time about where I am and how I compare.”

Isaacks and Gaul feel similarly about the negative effects grades can have on personal relationships.

“A lot of people get torn up about friendships,” Isaacks said. “You have friends and you tell them what your ranking is and they just can’t be around you anymore because they feel incompetent compared to you.”

Unfortunately, class rankings can make it easy to scrutinize each other.

“When I’m not at the place I want to be, I feel bad about it,” Bell said. “I need to remind myself it doesn’t matter as much as I always thought it has.”

Many students have their own ideas on how to best alleviate the sense of competition high school can bring upon teenagers.

“I wish there was less pressure on class rank and less competition,” Gaul said. “They should try to stress that it it doesn’t matter where you are in your class; it just matters that you’re learning.”