Thirteen Going on Thirty

By Corey Emery, Staff Writer

As teenagers, we all try to cherish and make the most of the small amount of time we have left before we must go to college and eventually enter the real world, but this time passes far too quickly. At this age, years can pass by in the blink of an eye. When we focus on working and studying almost to a point of obsession, this trend can be exacerbated. When this occurs, we feel that we are growing up too fast.

At the high school level, this effect is most pronounced among the extremely dedicated students. Mrs. Linda Bergson, Chairperson of the Guidance Department at Ward Melville High School, agrees that, “There is a population of students here who begin preparing for college very early […] and the greatest pressure often comes with the college applications.” These students will immerse themselves in their studies, try to achieve near perfect grades, and take an overabundance of AP classes in the hopes of getting into the best college possible. In order to do this, these students at times may begin to close out the world around them and focus only on academic work. I am sure that we are all guilty of this at times, but what makes the real difference is how often this occurs. It is natural to feel this way leading up to major exams; but if there is a constant urge to focus only on academic work, while it may appear as extreme dedication, it can lead to a waste of the few years left leading up to college. From that point the work will only get harder and the pressure will only get larger, and the trend of seclusion will only intensify, which begs the question, “How will these students cope?”

In addition, the environment in Ward Melville does not help to prevent this phenomenon from occurring. As a sophomore I recently took the January 2014 SAT exam. When speaking with friends from other districts about taking the SAT, they all thought the idea was, “crazy.” The competitive atmosphere and the high number of academically gifted students at Ward Melville cause many students to try to overachieve in order to enhance their chances of competing when searching for top colleges. This competitive nature only perpetuates certain students to seclude themselves and focus solely on academics.

“I recommend that students take the SAT in March of their junior year and the ACT in April. After that, they should determine on which of the two they performed better and take that test a second time either at the end of junior year or the beginning of senior year […] and I recommend taking it only two times,” Mrs. Bergson stated. Using this suggestion as a framework, I believe that students should adjust their test dates based on what works best for them. Every student prepares and studies differently, and this must be taken into account. Some students may not want to have to worry about the SAT or ACT in the midst of AP exams, and therefore a May test should be avoided; but some may prefer to take all of these tests at one time, and so May would be the best time to take the SAT or ACT. In addition, setting two tests as a “cut-off” number can help to relieve some of the pressure on students.

But, regardless of these suggested guidelines, many students make their own decisions and continue to over-dedicate themselves to schoolwork. In effect, by doing this many high school students may be wasting their teenage years. They over prepare for college, and if students cannot stop from continuing in this direction, they will run the risk of acting in the same manner through college, and from there into the real world. This behavior, though it may seem harmless now, can have more serious effects in the future, most significantly high stress levels and overexertion. This example is what can cause a hardworking 13-year-old to wake up one day and realize that he/she is a 30-year-old professional with the carefree years of childhood all but a distant memory.

The only way for students to combat this is to voluntarily change their behavior. Many already act mature beyond their years and try to take on more than they can carry, all to merely impress colleges. Mrs. Bergson believes that students have to understand that, “In life, there is always going to be someone who is smarter than you and rather than think that you have to go to the best college, you have to find the best school that fits you. We [the guidance counselors] are trying to get students off of this one-track mind that, ‘I have to go to the best Ivy League possible.’” Once students realize this, and once they realize that it is more important to have time to relax away the day’s stresses and enjoy their hobbies, they will be more willing to change their habits. The days in which we all will have to take on responsibilities as adults are numerous, but the days we have left as teenagers are few, and these are the days we have to make the most of.