Under Pressure: Education Expectations

Madison Holleran participating in a track race. Holleran recently took her life due to the stress caused by her college education.

Photo courtesy of northjersey.com

Madison Holleran participating in a track race. Holleran recently took her life due to the stress caused by her college education.

Lauren Arenas, Student Opinion Editor

Young people around the world are being faced with immense pressures during their educational careers. The United States is no exception, with the expectations of success rising with every new generation. Recently, the University of Pennsylvania suffered the devastating loss of 19 year-old freshman Madison Holleran. Holleran took her own life on Friday, Jan. 17. She was an extremely promising young woman: a 3.5 GPA, a star on the track field, and well-liked by everyone who knew her. Why would someone who seemed to have everything going for her choose to give it all up? Despite her successful life, it seems that Holleran suffered heavily from the stress that plagues many of America’s students.

Being a senior in high school, stories like this terrify me. On paper, Holleran looked like she was winning the game of life, but her reality was much different. Her 3.5 GPA, which is highly respectable, was not enough to convince her of her worth. We are taught as we grow up that grades are important. The higher we go through our educations, the more important grades become. And unfortunately, the intelligence race is gaining speed rapidly. Kids are working harder and harder to put themselves ahead of their peers. In the past, a college education was not an option for most people; today, it is expected that students will graduate high school and go on to some sort of college or university. The pressures that students are under to make good grades has become too much.

I am not even in college yet, and I already feel the stress. The application process alone is enough to make anyone lose their sanity. Essay after essay, recommendation letters, transcripts, and scholarships, the to-do list is never-ending. Not to mention the regular homework piled on top. Even before the college education begins, there is stress. The pressure becomes worse as students realize that colleges are looking for more than just grades. It is no longer enough to have a 4.0 GPA. Now, there are weighted honors classes, AP courses, as well as an increased expectation for a long list of extracurricular activities. There is no longer a standard for students to meet and feel confident in their abilities to be accepted into a college; the education system keeps looking for more.

Many students who wish to be accepted into a prestigious university never stop pushing themselves. I have always been one to focus on grades and education, and I know how much work it takes to keep up with the competition. Doing homework until two in the morning has become common among my peers. We know that if we stop working for even a moment, we will fall behind. There is no rest, and very little relief.

The simple fact of the matter is that society places too much importance on the grading system. There is more to life than the grade you got in freshman Biology, or even your English 202 class in college. If students continue to base their lives on their successes in school, there is going to be a lot of unhappiness in the world. There will always be someone smarter, and students need to be reminded that this is normal. As much as I love school and learning, life is about so much more. The pressures being placed on students is only going to drive them into a downward spiral that will not benefit anyone.

The story of Madison Holleran is tragic. A beautiful young girl with a great future cuts her own life short. Everyone thought that she would go on to do great things. But they based their understanding of her position on how she looked in school, not how she was actually feeling as a person. Hopefully her story will inspire administrators and professors to consider the possibility that maybe they are expecting too much. The small glimpse that the world got of Holleran was enough to show people that there is more than meets the eye, and that there are too many pressures facing students today. If the world wants them to be successful, why is it trying to overwhelm them with a weighty workload? It is time that the truth about the education system and its effect on students be brought into the light, so that Holleran’s story may be the last of its kind.