It starts out small with something as simple as class scheduling. Just last February, I was overwhelmed with pressure. Which classes should I take next year? While everyone confidently boasted about their three or more AP classes, I struggled to fit two in. I felt the need to keep up with the rest, to fit in, to conform.
Conformity is arguably one of the most significant struggles teenagers face. On one hand, we are constantly trying to find our own individual identity and “stand out.” On the other hand, we continually submit to the desire to be like the rest, to follow others just like sheep in a flock. We don’t want to be looked upon as outcasts. Being different is not the norm.
We repeatedly compare ourselves to each other, in the classes we take and the interests we pursue. Often, we are blinded by peer pressure when finding our true selves. The desire to keep up continually forces us to attempt one hurdle after another. We consult with our peers on classes, become overly ambitious and make unrealistic decisions, thus overburdening ourselves with rigorous classes and schedules.
Counselor Candice Gulden frequently sees this conflict as she advises students on class schedules.
“It is pretty common for students to hear their friends and their peers talk about taking certain classes. It then makes it hard for you to make a decision on your own not to take certain classes because if all your friends are, if everyone in your class is saying ‘Oh are you signing up for this AP class or for this Honors class?’ Students tend to feel pressure that taking the class is what is expected of them,” said Gulden.
Advanced Placement and Honors classes intensify our struggle. They offer added grade points to potentially boost our GPAs, fueling our competitiveness when trying to reach the close-to-impossible standards set by elite colleges.
“Prestige is a big part of it. You hear of this prestigious college and so you want to attend that school. Because it is prestigious, it’s known for a very good education. But that’s not always the best fit for every student,” said Gulden.
High GPAs and demonstrated rigor during high school have compelled us to take more AP classes. These classes give heavier workloads and increased stress. Adding to the strain is the accompanying AP exam, which allows you the chance to earn college credit. This additional brutal exam, piled onto your finals, requires extra study time during an especially stressful period.
Nevertheless, students still accept the risks of the increased burden. The number of Redwood students who take AP exams has grown steadily every year, from 616 in 2013-14 to 690 in 2015-16, according to the Redwood High School profile.
Choosing AP classes for the sake of improving your college application is the same as choosing a college major purely to obtain a well paying job. The fact that we force ourselves to conform to an idealistic profile hinders our creativity and individuality.
“I tell my students to be sure it’s a class they enjoy, rather than what everyone else is doing. But it can be hard to go against the grain,” says Gulden.
By pursuing our areas of interest in high school, we will have a better chance of finding something that we are truly passionate about. Students shouldn’t take AP classes just to earn a GPA boost. There is no benefit in conforming your schedule by adding uninteresting AP classes that will burden you with unnecessary stress and hinder your ability to pursue areas of genuine interest.
If we keep following this path, please put me out to pasture. I don’t want to become a sheep.