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How Stressful Is Junior Year?

Owen Conway, Editor-in-Chief

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We are told from the moment we begin our freshman year of high school that junior year is far and away the most important year of our pre-college academic careers. After all, junior year grades are the most important to colleges when reviewing applicants, and the tortuous process of finding and applying to the right colleges begins in junior year. Moreover, that process also encompasses preparing for and taking the SAT and ACT, studying for all classes and working to maintain high marks, balancing that studying with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, and/or jobs, and compiling all of those accomplishments into a resume for letters of recommendation and college applications.

Junior year has been characterized as a launching pad for the entire future of students, where good grades and a high SAT/ACT score will get you into a competitive college, which in turn will prepare you for a career in your post-student life. While all of these are important, it becomes very daunting to 16 and 17 year old students who feel as if they need to have their whole future planned out at such a young age. The idea that imperfect grades and a schedule not packed with Advanced Placement classes can doom their future puts added pressure on high school juniors, and makes for what would seem to be the most stressful year of high school to date.

So, upon the conclusion of the school year, The Shield asked 104 juniors if this year had in fact been the most stressful of their high school careers. Of the juniors surveyed, 77% stated that junior year had been the most stressful year of high school so far, with many instances of the “yes” option for this question being circled with large swirls of ink and with arrows pointing to emphasize this point. When asked how they felt about the college process, 77 juniors stated that they felt nervous or stressed, 26 felt excited, and 16 felt indifferent (with 11 instances of overlap between excited and nervous/stressed, two instances of overlap between all four options, and one instance of overlap between stressed and indifferent). In both cases, a majority of juniors found this school year to be the most stressful and the college process to be a stressful and nerve-wracking undertaking.

Another key aspect as to why junior year poses such a challenge to students is the lack of time available to complete all responsibilities. When asked to give their thoughts about junior year as a whole, some responses from the surveyed students included: “Hardest year ever, I had hours of work each night.” “Very work oriented, not much free time.” “Most stressful [school year] but helped me learn how to manage a bunch of tasks thrown at me all at once.” “Learning to handle a sport, school, and a social life while working was the hardest.”

Having free time to unwind, have fun, and escape from the hectic atmosphere of school for a while can greatly help to lower one’s stress, but unfortunately the status of importance that junior year holds makes finding that free time quite the challenge. A few hours after school usually must be dedicated to doing homework and/or studying, sometimes multiple hours if an important test is coming up. Moreover, some students can’t even do this until later in the night, either because of staying after school for clubs or sports, or going to a job or tutoring after school.

In addition, students must take time to care for themselves after school, finding time to eat, shower, and take a break from the day. When all of this time is added up, very often students end up staying awake past midnight to finish homework, depriving them of sleep that 16 and 17 year olds need, causing them to come to school the next day extremely tired, and simply repeating the cycle again. Comments from two students – “I’ve never been more tired” and “Least amount of sleep I’ve ever gotten,” should be a concern to educators everywhere.

With this being the case, the first solution that comes to mind is to take a step back from the extracurricular activities and study for a little less time to ensure more time for sleep and a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, this is not so easily doable for juniors. With higher grades and more extracurricular activities on one’s resume, it makes one look much more desirable to colleges. So, in the interest of attaining the best future for themselves, many juniors feel that they cannot afford to lessen up on studying time and extracurricular activities, and are willing to sacrifice a lot of free time and potentially a more stress-free year.

The immense amount of work that is junior year of high school is not all negative. Yes, it is disconcerting that so many students are losing sleep and living a more stressful life because of the demands of junior year, but the end goals of all of the hard work from this past school year are quite satisfying to achieve – the SAT/ACT score one was aiming for, the GPA one studied so hard for, and the credentials to boost one’s chances of getting into a college of one’s choice. Moreover, not every junior feels so negatively towards the year itself. “Junior year was very fun, yet very stressful. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience,” said Benny Xu. Another junior said “It’s really not that hard. Just study and work hard!” Plus, a quarter of the surveyed juniors said that they feel excited about the college process.

When we are told that junior year is the most important year of high school, it is very important to take that to heart and give it your best effort, because this is a true statement. However, this becomes a problem when 16 and 17 year olds are up past midnight on a daily basis and have no time for themselves because the demands of junior year prevent them from devoting too much attention to anything except academics. The hard work that so many juniors put in pays off when the school year ends and the most important year of high school is in the rearview mirror, allowing them to look ahead to senior year and enjoy the summer leading up to their last year of high school.

(Owen Conway will be a senior next year and has been selected as the next Editor-in-Chief of The Shield.)

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