An impressive transcript isn’t worth the mental burnout

From your resident overachiever: you don’t need to take all of those AP classes to be successful.


by Grace Ashley, Multimedia Editor

There truly is no feeling like crying in the Goppert bathrooms, phone pressed to your ear as you beg your mom to call you out of classes. It’s one of those experiences that I had heard everyone talk about as if it was a rite of passage, but experiencing it myself was something I definitely could have gone without. The ambiance was totally off as I was surrounded by the sounds of dripping sinks and water rushing through pipes; the smells of public bathrooms wafting around me. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t recommend it as a location for an emotional breakdown. 

Of course, I also wouldn’t recommend having a breakdown in the first place, but it seems to be a side effect that comes with our expected workload. This is a college preparatory academy, which means we need to take the most rigorous courses offered to prepare us for university. We need to stay busy all the time because that is what functional college students do. Success means keeping your academic and social plates full, overflowing even, and that is what makes a college-ready student! 


Wrong. If anything, all that mindset really leads to is a burnt out student body. And as someone who has tried to take as many advanced classes as possible, I can tell you first hand that it’s not worth it. 

My senior year schedule consists of four AP classes, one college-level course and an additional eighth class for both semesters. This left me with a grand total of three free periods a week, and second semester they were all found on Thursdays. On average, I spend about four to five hours on homework a night, and that’s not even counting the extracurriculars I have on top of that: managing track, editing the announcements, tutoring and more, all crowded into my already limited schedule and psyche. It was only a matter of time before something snapped. 

Which is exactly how I found myself in the Goppert bathrooms, sobbing into my phone as I told my mom that I needed to leave. This was a first for me, and my mom was rightfully alarmed. She pulled me out of class with the promise of time to work and catch up with my classwork, and with that began my first “mental health days.” 

I say it in quotes because they’re  supposed to be mental breaks where you relax, but that’s not what happened for me. I got home that very first day and promptly worked on my capstone for six hours and then studied for an AP psychology vocab quiz. The next morning, I took my younger sister to school for zero hour, took the vocab quiz and then worked on homework for about nine hours. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really sound like a mental health day to me. 

But I did learn something from this experience. While I am a high-achieving, motivated student that is pretty book smart, there is one thing that I simply don’t know how to do: take care of myself. I have taken all of the advanced classes that I can. I can recite formulas and write a perfect four-page literary analysis paper in 40 minutes. But with all of this, I could not tell you how to take a break. Sure, I can throw some eucalyptus salts in a bath, climb in and call it good, but a warm bath doesn’t stop me from studying for my next math test in my head at the same time. 

The funniest thing about this, to me anyways, is the fact that we are taking between six and eight classes a semester as high school students when, according to CollegeXpress, the average college student takes fifteen credits a semester. Seeing that most classes are three credits each, that’s only five courses. This is a full two to three classes less than what we are taking in high school. The education that we are getting is marketed as college prep when we are really doing more than we will in college. Do you see the problem?  

Knowing how to take care of yourself is a valuable life skill that just isn’t taught in favor of calculus and chemistry. I wish I could give some tips about self care as a whole, but, like a lot of students, I have no idea what to say. I began measuring out what I can do in a day, other work pushed off until it is mentally achievable for me. I have dedicated more time to mindless activities, like drawing, to give my brain a break. I have started reading more to get lost in some other world for a little while, realistic or magical. But I do not have an end-all solution because I was never taught about how to find them. 

With this drastic gap in education, we are put under so much immense pressure to succeed without the knowledge of how to balance it all that we crack and break down. Instead of taking a step back and reading for pleasure when we’re stressed, we debate which bathroom is the best to cry in with our friends. Rather than listening to our bodies and getting the sleep we so desperately need, we overcaffinate ourselves and stay up until 4 a.m. to finish that paper. 

I have spent the past four years of my life within the mindset of pushing myself past my limits. Now, coming out of the end of it, I am here to tell you that it isn’t worth it. It is not worth the tears and the hiccuping breaths. It is not worth the shaking hands after your fifth coffee that day. It is not worth the burnout. You will get into college and you will succeed there, even if you don’t take five AP courses at once. This is supposed to be a time of self-discovery and friendship, as cheesy as it sounds. Your mental health is worth more than an impressive transcript, and at the end of the day, you don’t need to burn out to succeed.