The Academic Life Coach

Know more. Live more. Be more.

By - Marie Corfield

High School Students Stress — 3 Myths & Ways to Beat Them

Credit: Alexander Mills

High school is challenging enough as it is. The added pressure of “the future”, standardized tests and “college and career readiness” can make it more so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three big high school stressors, and ways to beat them. This post was written for high school students, but parents will find it very helpful, too.

Myth 1: I have to decide what I want to be when I grow up, right now!

No, you don’t. When my now college-age daughter was in high school, she told me she wanted to go to college, graduate, get a job, and stay there until she retired. I very politely told her that, in her grandfather’s day, that was expected, but in this day and age, that’s just not realistic.

According to CNN

Today’s college grads don’t just change jobs, they often switch into entirely different industries.

“A college degree used to slot you into a 40-year career. Now it’s just an entry-level point to your first job,” says Guy Berger, the LinkedIn economist who analyzed the career trajectories of 3 million college graduates.

In 21st Century education, students are pushed to be “college and career ready” at alarmingly early ages. This is unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate. As much as you think and act like an adult, in so many ways you are still a child. Hold onto that for as long as possible because childhood flies by in an instant.

There are some students who know from a very early age exactly what career they are going into. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but please realize they are the exception to the rule. Right now, at this very moment, you do not have to know what you’re going to be when you grow up. You don’t have to know tomorrow or next week or next year. In fact, that phrase is almost passé. I am 58 years old and I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be until I was 42. And even that vision is changing and evolving. It has to, because as long as I have a pulse, I am continually changing. So are you. Change is the only thing that’s constant in life.

So, what can you do?
Keep an open mind. Life is huge and grand and filled with endless possibilities. And, it really is what you make it. So, don’t let negative thoughts creep in because they can lead to negative actions.
Focus on your passions. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t make money doing whatever it is you love. Apple founder Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” What do you love to do? What subjects come easily to you? What extracurricular activities are you involved in? If you don’t have a passion right now, don’t worry. Maybe it hasn’t been invented yet! Just focus on the here and now. You probably have enough on your plate to keep you busy. Don’t worry, the world will wait for you.
Be curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s the only way solutions are ever found. So, whether you have a definite passion or just wondered what it would be like to be a [fill in the blank], go for it! Read, explore, talk to teachers , advisors or professionals in that field, volunteer. In short, be willing to learn as much as possible about whatever interests you.
– Think outside the box. If college is in your future, don’t ever think that just because you can’t find one in which to study your passion, that it can’t be achieved. Nothing is further from the truth. If there is a will, there is a way. When I was in college, I was living in my own apartment, working full time and going to school full time. Money was very tight. I talked to my advisor about ways I could take courses in my major at another, more highly rated school and transfer the credits in order to save some money. It worked!

Myth 2: My standardized test scores prove how I’m doing in high school

Wrong. If my car broke down, I wouldn’t take it to a pediatrician, nor would I take my malfunctioning laptop to a plumber. It’s the same with standardized tests. They cannot assess what they aren’t designed to assess. While there are some like the NAEP, for instance, that are considered the ‘gold standard’, there has been great controversy over the past five years over the efficacy of standardized tests such as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), with many education scholars saying the tests aren’t developmentally appropriate, many parents choosing to opt-out their children, and many states dropping the tests altogether (this will be New Jersey’s last year for the PARCC).

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not suggesting that you opt out of either test! As a professional educator, that would be unethical, especially since some states, like New Jersey, require them for graduation. What I am saying is that you and your parents need to do your homework and decide what is best for you. There is a great deal of information out there that a quick Google search can find.

Your teachers know you. They see you on a regular basis. They design assessments based on the material you cover in class every day. They can modify assessments based on individual needs or those of the class. They are the best source of information on how you are performing, and your report card reflects that. Quality standardized tests are a snapshot. They are designed to show trends. They are not designed to diagnose student achievement. Think about this: how many times have you taken a test when you were sick, sleep-deprived, angry about an argument you had with your parents or a friend, or after receiving some devastating news about a family member or close friend? All these factors, and more, contribute to a student’s ability to learn. So, it’s not realistic to expect one test taken on one day of the school year to accurately reflect your progress.

So, what can you do?
Adjust your attitude. It will play a huge role in how you feel about the process. For now, high-stakes standardized tests are a part of high school. We can either accept them or stress out about them. Remember the old saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And PS: it’s all small stuff”? It’s true. It’s hard to imagine now, but in the grand scheme of your life, these tests won’t matter. No employer will care what you scored on your 10th grade PARCC exam or your SAT. They are more interested in what college you attended and the degree you earned. So, just do the best you can. Some students have no problem taking tests; others struggle with fear and anxiety. If you are in the latter group or somewhere in between, you can try meditation or listening to relaxing music or writing yourself a pep-talk letter, or talking to family and/or close friends about your fears. And always remember that your teachers know you better than any standardized test. When my own children were in school, I always told them that as long as they could put their head on their pillow at night knowing they did the best they could, that was all that mattered.

Myth 3: My SAT or ACT scores will determine my college success

Wrong again. Valerie Strauss, education blogger for The Washington Post reports

A three-year national study of colleges that do not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores found only “trivial” differences in the college graduation rates or the cumulative grade point average of students between those who do and those who do not send in their standardized test results.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (aka. FairTest), a nonprofit dedicated to ending the abuse and misuse of standardized tests, more than 800 four-year colleges and universities are “test-score optional” for applicants, including schools in the California State University system. (You can see a list here).

The new study shows that admissions decisions for students who don’t submit ACT or SAT scores are just as reliable as for those who do submit their schools. (emphasis mine)

So what can you do?
Consider applying to schools that don’t require SAT or ACT scores. As a result of the overemphasis on standardized testing over the past 5 years, more and more colleges and universities are either dropping the requirement altogether or making it optional.

I hope this information was helpful. If you like what you read, please consider sharing it on your social media platforms. If you have any questions or comments or would like any further information about this content, academic life coaching or what it means to be an academic life coach, please be sure to leave me a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by.


6 thoughts on “High School Students Stress — 3 Myths & Ways to Beat Them

peter March 11, 2018 at 8:50 pm

Thank you for the rich insight into life’s alternatives. I grew up with a particular mindset of what I want to be in life. but then life changes and new things cause me to have a rethink. I am happy that their others ways to approach my dreams and achieve my purpose.


    Marie Corfield March 11, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Peter. In the rush to ‘reform’ public education, a lot of the individuality has been driven out of the process. Students who have grown up with this way of education don’t know what it’s like to go to school without the stress of high-stakes testing. In the long run, it’s all meaningless. It was when I was in high school/college. No one cares what you got on your SATs when you’re sitting for a job interview.


Nick March 12, 2018 at 9:08 am

It’s so nice to read an article that eases the pressure, rather than creating more. You are so right that many children don’t have a clear view on what they want to do as a career. I love the quote from Steve Jobs and I think itś vital that you do something that you love! Great article!


    Marie Corfield March 12, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks, Nick. I firmly believe that we should all try to do what we love. Of course that’s not always possible at the exact moment we want it to happen, but we should never give up on those dreams.


tERRY rYAN March 12, 2018 at 2:42 pm



    Marie Corfield March 12, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you!


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