Was It All Worth It?

Members of Arlington's Class of 2018 reflect on stress, ambition and burnout on the road to college.

Lacie Slezak for Unsplash


Jamie Kang and Jordi Parry, both 2018 H-B Woodlawn grads, feel the same way. “I feel like we were all pushing trying to beat everyone else,” says Parry. More classes. More extracurricular activities.

Kang, who plans to attend the University of Virginia this fall, says H-B’s small classes meant that students became much closer and learned more about each other than students at the larger Arlington high schools. The competitive environment was a decent motivator in certain instances, she says, but “there were times that it was really harmful to me.” When fellow classmates would broadcast their ACT or SAT scores, she says she couldn’t help comparing herself to them, which only compounded the stress of the college application process.

Parry agrees: “I worked harder because of it, but that might not be a good thing.” While the intensity of his high school experience makes him feel prepared for the challenges of Northwestern University, he wonders if there should have been more time to relax in high school—because that relaxation isn’t guaranteed in college. “I think there are goods and bads,” he concludes.

Other students find themselves in a gray area as well. “That’s a difficult question to answer,” says Esteban Marmolejo-Suarez, who was admitted to George Mason University Honors College. “Gut instinct says no, but there’s more to it than that. I feel like I still would have found this path without the added stress of the environment.”

The “path” to which Marmolejo-Suarez is referring is theater, his intended major, which he discovered outside of school, separate from the academic encouragement of his teachers and parents. He says people have been “supportive but reluctant” about his decision. Some even consider it a phase. Though the desire to prove his talent was motivating—he had already directed two shows by the time he graduated—he can’t say whether the strain was worth it. He says he would have done many of the projects he is most proud of without prompting.

Categories: Education