A balancing act:
Students manage the stresses of school, extracurriculars
NOTE: This piece was published in Vol. 98, Issue 2 of The Booster Redux on Jan. 27, 2017.
Click here to view it.
With an upcoming graduation, involvement in extracurricular activities and homework on a daily basis, senior Kaylah Wilson feels “more pressure than ever.”
“I feel overwhelmed most of the time,” Wilson said. “At times, I think I’m not capable of doing it all. It’s a tough situation that I haven’t learned how to control.”
According to counselor Gina Ulbrich, the pressure felt by Wilson is common among students.
“I see many students with stress in their lives,” Ulbrich said. “However, student stress typically seems to manifest from difficulties occurring at home and work or time management.”
Although this pressure can serve as motivation at times, it often causes more struggles and difficulties.
“Stress leads to more stress,” school psychologist Kenda Fischer said. “Things begin to fall apart and students don’t know how to put the pieces back together.”
"YOUNG ADULTS ARE BALANCING MORE THAN EVER..."
There are different factors contributing to student pressure, but according to Fischer the most common is overextension.
“Young adults are balancing more than ever,” Fischer said. “There are more opportunities. When they get too many things on their plate, they realize they can’t.”
Sophomore Kamryn Kelley balances sports, photojournalism and clubs — all activities requiring extra work outside of school.
“I am more stressed than I ever have been,” Kelley said. “I don’t come home until late at night and I barely have time to do my homework.”
According to Ulbrich, there is a common misconception that colleges emphasize involvement in as many extracurricular activities as possible.
“Students think colleges will look down on them for quitting a few activities, but overextended students are already involved in so many other things,” Ulbrich said. “It’s okay to back off and fully engage in the activities that you really do love and want to continue on with.”
Kylie Piva, admissions director at Labette Community College, sees this misconception when viewing college applications. However, she prefers a student to fully devote their time to a smaller number of school activities.
“I stand by the idea of less is more if you’re giving 100 percent to the activities that you are involved in,” Piva said. “I would much rather see a student that is passionate about a few things than just listing a lot to make themselves look good.”
Fischer advises overextended students to emphasize activities and drop what isn't as important to them.
“The first thing to do when you are stressed is take a step back,” Fischer said. “You have to look at what you feel is important and prioritize your responsibilities.”
Despite being overly involved, Wilson would not consider a reduction of activities even though the importance of academics has diminished for her.
“School is starting to become second in my life, instead of first like it always has been, but I want to push myself, so I have to make time for extracurriculars,” Wilson said.
Not only does overinvolvement stress a student out psychologically, but it also affects their overall well-being. Wilson has experienced this stress firsthand.
“I don’t get enough sleep as it is already, but now the stress just keeps piling up and I get sick easily,” Wilson said.
Moreover, adult pressure is another factor contributing to this pressure. According to Fischer, “learning how to say no” is a problem endure by many high school students.
“A teacher often says, ‘Hey, you would be really good at this activity,’” Fischer said. “A part of you wants to try it, but you don’t realize that doing it is not really right for you and can contribute to more overextending.”
However, a student often does not realize they overextended until it happens.
“It’s just like the juggler with six balls in the air,” Fischer said. “He doesn’t know he has a problem until one of them falls.”
"WE LOOK AT MORE INDICATORS NOW THAN WE DID BACK THEN..."
In the case of Pittsburg State University (PSU), admissions have become “more selective.”
According to PSU admissions director Melinda Roelfs, the admissions committee pays extra attention to precollege curriculum, ACT scores and class rankings.
In 2001, this was not the case — students were admitted automatically as long as they graduated high school.
“In general, it has been more difficult to become accepted to PSU over the past 20 years,” Roelfs said. “We look at more indicators now than we did back then.”
With 85 percent of students on financial aid, tuition has also increased as a result of a decrease in state support.
“Tuition has increased over the years in order to make up for that deficit,” Roelfs said.
As a result of these increased expectations, Wilson feels especially concerned.
“The anxiety and price of college stresses me out,” Wilson said.
However, PSU is not the only college with a rising tuition. According to CNBC, the average cost of tuition at a private, non-profit, four-year university in 2016 was $31,231— up from $1,832 in 1971-1972.
Community member Cindy Riachi believes the rising cost of colleges around the nation is unjust and should not cause student pressure.
“The cost of college is one of the highest rising costs in our society and must be contained,” Riachi said. “I strongly support socializing it.”
"WE AREN'T DEALING WITH FULLY-FORMED ADULTS AT THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL..."
According to Fischer, another source of pressure is adults’ high expectations of students.
“We put a lot of pressure on young adults to figure out what they want to do right now, when they’re 18 and they haven’t seen or experienced a lot of life,” Fischer said. “It’s really a difficult place to make that type of decision.”
Wilson experiences these responsibilities on a daily basis.
“I feel obligated to make others happy,” Wilson said. “Everyone expects me to know what to do, but I can’t just put everything down. If I do, then I miss everything going on around me.”
In order to combat and relieve student pressure, Fischer said it is imperative to “take it slow.”
“We push too much too fast and we expect high schoolers to be grown ups, but they aren’t quite there yet,” Fischer said. “We aren’t dealing with fully-formed adults at the high school level, yet we ask our students to make a lot of adult decisions.”
Building relationships is also a key method used to cope with pressure.
“The staff works hard at building relationships with the kids,” Ulbrich said. “When we get to know them, we can encourage them to enroll in the classes or programs that will help them be the most successful in meeting their personal educational and career goals.”
However, Ulbrich believes limitations and a proper balance between school, home and extracurricular activities is the most beneficial way of handling this common pressure.
“It's okay to not be busy all the time,” Ulbrich said. “We've got to learn to take items off our plates before putting more on.”