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Academic Peer Pressure: AP Classes And Academic Stress

By Grace Clements

Terror: the kind that creeps up behind you and grabs hold of your heartstrings, inciting uncontrollable heart palpitations and turning your stomach into a contorted pit of fear. This is the stress that out-of-hand schoolwork and extra-curricular activities evoke in high school students. I know it well. Tenth grade was a wonderful year. Although I had initially signed up for both Advanced Placement (AP) classes available to sophomores, I eventually decided to take only AP Biology. Focusing on one AP instead of spreading myself thin between two had been a great decision.

But everything changed junior year. My friends were loading their schedules with all advanced or AP classes, and I could no longer resist the peer pressure. I fell victim to it and ended up with a full schedule of AP Chemistry, AP European History, AP Latin IV, Advanced English, Advanced Math and Honors Band. Why did I do this to myself? The answer was simple: my friends were doing it.

Academic Peer Pressure And Taking AP Classes

Teens learn about saying, “No,” to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, but we’re never taught about the dangers of saying, “Yes,” to taking more AP classes than the standard college preparatory load. As predicted, my junior year was an unhealthy challenge of advanced academics combined with varsity field hockey, marching band, honors brass quintet, Latin Club and Science Olympiad.

I became well acquainted with terror-striking stress as I ran from classes to club meetings, to practice, to marching band games and French Horn lessons, after which I struggled to find time for homework and sleep. There was almost no time for family or relaxation. I drove myself to achieve the highest quality of work, which is to say that I worked nonstop. By the end of junior year, academic burnout loomed on the horizon. I rapidly lost motivation and feared that my high octane pace would result in mental collapse. But, I had a choice. I could either continue full throttle into a head-on collision with stress or reroute.

Saying No To Academic Stress

I rerouted, and for senior year, I lightened the load with three AP classes, a mix of honors and advanced classes and a free period. Initially, I struggled telling my friends – with their five, six or seven APs … but I had learned my limits and was sticking to them.

Also, I stopped playing field hockey. I had never quit anything before and spent months deliberating, weighing the pros and cons, before approaching my coaches. But, with upcoming college visits and applications, I recognized that I did not have enough time to commit 100 percent, and anything less would be unfair to my team and coaches. Instead, I joined Cleveland’s Contemporary Youth Orchestra, a group I had always wanted to join, but never had the time. The rehearsals were spread throughout the year, making it a manageable—and satisfying—addition.

Despite the stress of the college application process, I actually enjoyed my senior year. I was no longer in the grips of stressful fear. I attended soccer, field hockey, ice hockey and basketball games, as well as choir concerts and theater performances. And I supported my friends and school in ways that I never could with my previous load. I loved it! As college approaches, I feel prepared for the academics, excited for the extra-curriculars, and confident that I know my limits. It took succumbing to peer pressure, followed by one year of insanity, for me to identify those limits, but now I am ecstatic to leap into college life and unafraid to step back if I feel overwhelmed.