Does life and mental health get better after high school?

A post to let off a bit of frustration here from a graduating senior. Writing is certainly a great medium to let off some stress (and we sure all have written a lot for college essays). I thought it might be a good idea to come here for some advice too. I’ll preface this with that I am receiving helpful resources for support with mental health.

I’m currently in the process of trying to finish with the GPA I’ve maintained through high school and it is an understatement to say it has been a struggle. Like many schools, my school took a really hard hit academically with the health crisis. I really put myself under a ton of pressure to perform well. I strived to keep my grades up, despite the fact I was struggling emotionally and critical classes were shortened to about half their size. I was really going through a lot and it felt like academic pressure was tearing me down even more.

Fast forward to this year, and although in person, the year hasn’t been much better. Our school has cancelled so many events. People are socially awkward and there is really no spirit at all. Although granted I’ve had some great, caring teachers, no one wants to be there. The normal struggles of high school seem magnified in a sense. It feels like there isn’t an enthusiasm to learn, but a need to get the highest grade possible to keep up.

Inflexibility in high school and the college admissions process is something I have really struggled with. It feels like I’m checking boxes, and to be brutally honest, that much of the college admissions process is a contest to which students can mentally exhaust themselves the most and still keep up. Doing just that is what got me a $140000 GPA based scholarship, an extra $20000. Yeah, I got an extra $20000 by doing well on the math final, but at what cost? Looking back, I’m really not sure if damaging mental health is really worth that, but that seems to be what the system values. I don’t like feeling valued behind what GPA I have, I want to feel valued behind the things I really have passions for.

Doing the same thing day in a day out, often with no idea what the purpose is whatsoever, surrounded by other unhappy people, has made me really upset with the current high school and college admissions experience.

Everyone tells me that in college you get to pick your classes and have freedom, but I’m really worried about what the future has in store. I know everything will always be okay, but I am very tired. I may sound selfish, but I really want it to be better and to have a balanced home where I belong. I know that life will always have struggles, and I love taking on challenges and crushing them. I even started my own business during the pandemic, and honestly, that has taught me more than I’ve learned all throughout high school. Challenges like these have been incredibly rewarding.

I want to go to a college where people challenge one another to use academia to advance society and themselves for the better, not check boxes to clear the threats of receiving low grades. A challenge versus threat mindset is truly spectacular idea to me, and it just frustrates me that it seems like our schools often ignore it with their design. I really hope Challenges in school have felt like checking boxes and not truly rewarding. For some people, they do really well in this kind of environment and I respect that, but for me, I find myself bouncing off the walls instead wishing for an innovative, real world applicable, academic experience. Seemingly people are rewarded for taking way too many advanced classes, taking on way too many clubs, and taking on way too many general responsibilities. A lack of sleep, time for reflection, and mental health burnout issues are seemingly rewarded by the college admissions process. And there is this idea out there, that in order to be successful, you need to be attending top schools to be surrounded by other stellar people.

I’ve narrowed my search down to two offers:

A custom major in business, design, and technology at TCU.
Entertainment Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Elements of Computing at UT Austin.

Ever since USC Iovine and Young Academy has caught me eye, I wanted to leverage an innovative, untypical to education. Many students like me really think they are on the brink of something special and find (or custom design) alternative programs with similar goals. Someone told me that if you want to build bridges be an engineer, but otherwise, learn as much about the world as possible. I want to do just that and leverage it to change the world.

Most importantly however, in college, I just want to have a better experience and find my home. I want to be able to challenge myself without having to exhaust myself to the point of not having any fun at all, feeling forcefully pulled in too many directions in an inflexible environment. Academically, emotionally, and mentally, I am exhausted, and I know I need to take care of myself and find a place that can help me do that in college.

Hoping for some advice and words of encouragement for anyone that has felt that same way. Thank you.

1 Like

I am so sorry to hear about the struggles you’ve had, and I am happy to hear that you are receiving support for your mental health. I will also say, you’ve got your head screwed on right.

There are schools & families that have definitely had high schoolers in a rat race of grades, extracurriculars, leadership, etc. in order to gain access to competitive colleges which will then (in their minds) lead to successful careers and a successful life. But, as you seem to have figured out, none of that is necessary.

There are great colleges that are able to provide innovative and creative peers who will challenge your thinking and become your trusted friends for life. Colleges where who you are as a person is more important than what your stats and resume say.

If you feel yourself being pulled toward the uber competitive folks at a college because that’s what you know and are familiar with, don’t be afraid to pull back and reassess. Just be yourself, and go and do things that make you feel relaxed, energized, and happy.

If you think you may need extra time beyond one summer to decompress from high school, you may want to think about a gap year and defer your acceptance to next year. You don’t want to start college when you’re feeling as though the gas tank is nearly empty and you’re running on fumes.

It definitely sounds as though you’re thinking straight. I don’t have any advice about UT vs. TCU. But if you can, visit the campuses (again, if need be), sit in on some classes, see if you can do an overnight stay (either set up through admissions or through an acquaintance that you know), eat at the cafeteria, and just see what feels best to you. Are these the kind of people you are hoping to surround yourself with? Is there a lot of competition for the opportunities you’re interested in, or are they available to almost everyone?

If both colleges feel good to you and your gut, then that means there is no wrong choice. But go with your gut, whichever college it ends up being. Best of luck to you; I feel confident you have a bright future ahead of you!

4 Likes

One other thought to consider is to take an year off and work – I’ve seen kids do national service, or teach to middle school kids etc. This will give you time to reflect on your life and make changes as necessary. The admission you currently have can often be deferred for an year.

Example: FEMA Corps, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA | FEMA.gov

3 Likes

First, you sound like an incredibly mature and thoughtful person. And I am impressed with your ability to press on when the going got tough (and meaningless and frustrating). That is not to say that pressing on is always The Way to deal a challenge. Not at all.

Also: You are not alone.

I have two kids that went through this at different points in this pandemic. And I went through the same in my final 2 years of HS. It is like The Existential Question bubbles up amidst the conveyor belt/pressure cooker of high school….added to all the social insecurities and identity questions that happen during this time of life. It’s not fair; the system is broken, especially in public schools.

We are at a highly competitive public HS. One kid (he thinks like you; abhors the pre-college ‘game’) took a gap year for a separate reason, but found the time off wonderfully decompressing. Sometimes boring in a good way. Sometimes like scratching an itch - he got to spend hours indulging himself with pet projects - the things that he wanted to do of his own volition, that didn’t ‘count’ for anything on the list of checkboxes, but which gave him joy. (And btw, even though by some standards these projects could be called frivolous, he gained valuable skills in video production.)

My other kid basically said F-you to the situation and raced to end of high school (sloppily), just wanting it to be in the rearview mirror. I promised them that everything will change in college. They were dubious, but I’m confident they would now give you the thumbs up from the other side.

In my experience college was when I was the most free that I’ve ever been. And I found out that after college, they never ask you about your high school numbers again. After your first job or first post-grad stage, they don’t ask you about your college transcript. At each subsequent stage in your life, people only really care about what you last did. What did you do at that last job? How did you do in grad school? Your prior education recedes pretty quickly and just becomes a vague backdrop to your life.

In my profession, I had to go through 3 major exams to get my degree. What we say is, for the first exam, you study for 2 years. For the second exam, you study for 2 months. For the third exam, you bring a #2 pencil. I think in a symbolic sense this is pretty true as you ‘graduate’ through your educational life.

I don’t really know you. And no one can predict your future, but I will wager that if you want it to get better, it will. Because you will be much more free to choose. And having the choice (whether it leads to success or failure) always feels better regardless of the result.

(I’m refraining from giving out too many details, but if you want to chat more, feel free to DM me.)

2 Likes

Thank you for the supportive advice @AustenNut @neela1 @LeeMajors. I really do appreciate your kindness.

3 Likes

You are amazing and have a very good grasp on reality… more specifically your reality and what makes you happy and at peace. Your maturity speaks volumes. Continue to follow your heart and gut and it will lead you to where you are supposed to be. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to anything that doesn’t feel right for your path.
I sent this saying to my 3 kids and I think it will inspire you as well.

“There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long, I feel that this is right for me, I know that this is wrong. No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide… what is right for you, just listen to the voice that speaks inside.”

2 Likes

This pandemic is an unprecedented situation for all of us. I am exhausted and I am not even a student or working.

Is it possible that reducing the high school experience to bare bones, whether virtual or in-person, has made the rat race “grade grubbing” stand out more than it normally would? I know that focus on grades, AP’s, scores, impressive EC’s have been a problem for awhile, but COVID has tilted it all toward grades alone.

If you are truly exhausted, try to arrange a restful summer if you can, and if still tired, take a gap year. But chances are you will find that college CAN be different. Yes there will be students focused on grades, or on getting ahead, which is understandable in light of scholarship requirements and job or med school prospects or whatever.

But you will “find your people” and explore interests with a lot more free choice and it seems to me that with your maturity, you will thrive. Get all the support you need in the meantime- and have some down time to restore your energy!

2 Likes

Update: I’ve committed to TCU and accepted a $97000 scholarship there! They have the environment I need.

10 Likes

Hahaha! I don’t know if you’re in my profession, but the way you described it is sure how it was, at least I think for most of my classmates. I myself got so fed up with studying for standardized tests, and the pressure, that I did the #2 pencil technique for all three of them, and did surprisingly well, probably because I really liked what I was studying.

1 Like

u are not Alone. i’m also glad Ur getting the support u deserve For ur mental health, I also hope that our mental Health gets a lot better when we finish school but I’m also sure it won’t Because well work, and if u decide to get married And have kids that’ll be a lot of handle. but again i Hope our mental health gets a lot better in the Future. and I hope u continue getting the love and Support u deserve.

sending u Love.