Jennifer Glickman, a 17-year-old high school junior, gets so stressed some days from overwork and lack of sleep that she feels sick to her stomach and gets painful headaches.
A straight-A student, she recently announced at a college preparatory meeting with her mother and guidance counselor that she doesn't want to apply to Princeton and the other Ivy League schools that her counselor thinks she could get into.
'My mom wants me to look at Ivy League schools, but my high school years have been so stressful that I don't want to deal with that in college,' says Ms. Glickman. 'I don't want it to be such a competitive atmosphere. I don't want to put myself in this situation again.'
High school has long been enshrined in popular culture -- from the musical 'Grease' to television shows like 'Beverly Hills 90210' and 'Friday Night Lights' -- as a time of classes, sports and overwrought adolescent drama. But these days, junior year is the worst year in high school for many ambitious students aiming for elite and increasingly selective colleges -- a crucible of academic pressure.
Almost two-thirds of middle- and upper-middle-income high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area told researchers that they were 'often or always' stressed by schoolwork, according to a series of surveys of 2,700 students conducted last year by Stanford University researchers.
More than half the students reported that they had dropped an activity or hobby they enjoyed because schoolwork took too much time. More than three-quarters reported experiencing one or more stress-related physical problems in the month prior to the survey, with more than 50% reporting headaches, difficulty sleeping, or exhaustion. About 9% said they had illegally used prescription drugs like Adderall or Ritalin to stay up and study; 25% said they used stimulants like Red Bull or No-Doz.
'On the surface, these kids look like the most privileged group in the world,' says Madeline Levine, a psychologist who has been working with the Stanford study. 'But their parents know there is something wrong. They are not getting the basic sleep they need, the basic food they need.'
How did 11th grade become such a grind? High school has long been a painful rite of passage. And heavy workloads are typical for elite-college-bound kids in countries such as Japan, South Korea and France. Teachers and principals say homework in the U.S. started increasing in the 1990s, when national concern over falling test scores prompted the introduction of more standardized tests, increasing pressure on high schools to toughen their curricula.
The increasing competitiveness of college admissions -- fueled by a demographic surge in the number of teenagers that is expected to crest next year -- advanced preparation for applying to college to junior year from first semester of senior year. Guidance counselors, parents and college-admissions officers now urge students to start taking advanced-placement courses -- often with a minimum of 90 minutes of homework a night -- in junior year, as well as to start building a portfolio of extracurricular activities and community-service projects to bolster their applications.
High schools, too, have became more competitive, vying for top rankings on lists of the 'best' high schools by encouraging students to take advanced-placement courses, a common measure of high school excellence. More than 60% of the students at Farmington High, a public school in this middle- and upper-middle-class bedroom community near Hartford, take at least one advanced-placement course; 80% of all students go on to four-year colleges.
Faced with such pressures on their kids, some parents find themselves in the paradoxical position of urging their high school children to work less and play more.
Tim Breslin, principal of Farmington High, recently talked to his own daughter -- a junior at a different high school -- about cutting back some of her activities and classes. These include advanced-placement history and English, voice lessons, mock trial competition, vice president of student council, jazz ensemble, an SAT preparation course, crew and a boyfriend.
'I asked her: 'Do you think you can drop something?'' says Mr. Breslin. 'She said 'no.''
Ms. Glickman is a talkative, outgoing girl with an easy laugh and an open manner. She thinks about becoming an elementary-school teacher or maybe going into international relations. 'I love politics,' she says. Like most teens, she enjoys spending the occasional Saturday at the mall and going out to Chili's and Ruby Tuesday with friends. She attended the prom last weekend. But she also likes renting a movie and watching it at home with her mother. (Her father passed away in 1993. Her older sister attends New York's Colgate University.)
'When you talk to her, she is very mature and self-aware,' says Ms. Glickman's guidance counselor, Sheilah McConnell. 'But she can be silly as much as serious.'
Ms. Glickman typically wakes up at 6 to get ready for a school day that begins at 7:30 a.m. The night before, she packs her lunch -- usually a bottle of water, a ham-and-cheese sandwich, and a treat like Scooby-Doo fruit snacks. The cafeteria at Farmington High School offers a wide selection of dishes. But Ms. Glickman's packed schedule doesn't have time for a sit-down lunch because one of her elective classes, chorus, meets at lunchtime. Her chorus teacher lets the kids quickly grab lunch out of paper bags in the back of class.
As she moves from class to class, the demands of being a junior pile up. Honors Spanish -- 30 minutes of homework a night. Advanced-placement English -- 30 to 90 minutes a night, depending on which books or documents the class is studying. Honors pre-calculus -- another hour of homework. Honors biology -- 30 minutes more. At the end of the day comes Ms. Glickman's favorite class and her toughest -- advanced-placement history, with two hours of homework a night, including reading and regular essays.
Total: an average of four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours of homework a night.
'Sometimes at school I will stress out when I start adding up everything I have to do tonight,' says Ms. Glickman. She typically goes to sleep at 11:30 p.m., though sometimes she needs to stay up later to finish a project or study for a big test. 'There's not a lot of sleep going on,' she says. Her 98 average ranks near the top of her class, school officials say. 'I need to put in all the effort possible,' she says. 'If I get a grade back that I don't want, I say, 'Why didn't I work harder?''
As Ms. Glickman heads off to a study hall, a group of juniors gathers in a conference room to talk about the pressures they face. Many are taking two or three advanced-placement courses, playing sports and spending time on after-school activities.
'Sometimes you don't know whether you are doing things because you want to or because it looks good on your resume,' says Daniel Jin, who is taking four advanced-placement courses, plays lacrosse, is on student council and involved in an after-school community-service program. 'You have to be careful you're not doing things just to get them on your college application.'
Kevin Putney has a brother at Dartmouth. He says his brother finds college less pressured than junior year of high school. 'I know that my parents -- they want me to be happy. They would like me to get out more,' he says. 'But with all the work I have I can't get out as much as they would like.'
Students say that while parents may tell them to have more balance in their lives, they also feel pressure from parents to excel. 'If you get good grades, your parents let you do things -- a car when you get a license, a later curfew,' says Kelsey Darch, who has gotten both.
Todd Darch, Kelsey's father, says that getting his daughter a car means less driving for him as well as 'a reward for good grades and good behavior.' He says he only asks that his daughter 'put her best effort forward. If her best effort meant a C in a course, that would be fine.'
'Every week or so my Dad sends me a text message: 'Do what others won't today so you can do what others can't tomorrow,'' says Jordan Haviland. 'My parents have been so good to me, I feel like I would be letting them down if I didn't get into an Ivy League school.'
Mr. Haviland's father, Timothy, says he doesn't press his son to get into a certain college, although he suspects Jordan does feel pressure because his older brother goes to Harvard and his older sister to Brown.
'I think he probably wants to keep up,' says Mr. Haviland, who works for an investment company. 'These kids put a fair amount of pressure on themselves. They read the papers and go on the Internet and they see how many students are applying to some of these schools.'
Some students say that pressure comes from inside themselves as much as it does from parents. 'The whole game is who is beating [whom],' says Spencer Noon, looking across the table at Mr. Jin with a smile. 'In the end, if I don't get into Harvard and Dan Jin does, I will be upset.'
Mr. Breslin, the principal, says Farmington High sometimes reschedules tests and other events if students complain the pressure is too great. But he doesn't favor suggestions by some parents that the school limit the advanced-placement courses or activities that students participate in.
'We try to make it so kids make thoughtful choices about what they are doing. But if a student says they want to take an AP course or five AP courses, and their parents support them, it is very hard to limit that student,' says Mr. Breslin. 'They don't want to experience all this pressure, but they feel that in order to keep up with everyone else they have to.'
Classes for Ms. Glickman end around 2:30 p.m., but her day isn't even half over. Typically she spends two hours after school working on the school newspaper, where she is news editor. She also volunteers for a program that works with disabled students and helps them participate in sporting events.
She used to play volleyball freshman and sophomore year but stopped because 'it was just for fun.'
'I knew junior year was going to be pressured,' she says. 'I like volleyball but if I played it, the practices would mean I would have four hours less for homework.' Also, she says, 'colleges don't want to see you do 10 things. They want to see you doing three things passionately.'
Since March, Ms. Glickman, like many of her classmates, has been attending an after-school SAT preparation course designed to boost scores for the important test in the fall. That means she doesn't get home until 9:30 p.m. two days a week to begin her homework -- interrupted by occasional forays onto Facebook to chat with and instant message friends.
When she went to a party on a recent Saturday night, she got home at 11:30 p.m. and did homework until 2 a.m. She slept in until 11:30 a.m. the next day.
'Over the weekend you have to choose,' says Ms. Glickman. 'Do you go out or stay home so you can get your homework done? You can never do an all-day thing.'
Maria Glickman, Jennifer's mother, grew up in New York, attended Catholic school and was the first in her family to go to college, commuting to New York's Pace University. 'I loved high school. It was more carefree,' says Maria Glickman. 'We worked hard. We had a lot of fun. There was a lot more time to just enjoy ourselves -- going ice skating, going bowling. I don't get that sense from kids today. They don't seem to find as much enjoyment in high school as I did.'
While Maria Glickman says she urges her daughter not to work so hard and that 'getting a B is OK,' she also has been encouraging her to look at Ivy League schools including Columbia and Princeton.
At a meeting in late February to kick off the college-application process, both her mother and Ms. McConnell, her guidance counselor, suggested that Ms. Glickman consider some Ivy League schools. Ms. Glickman is adamant: She wants a school that she thinks will be challenging but less pressured. She's interested in the College of William and Mary, American University, or Boston College, though she recently added Brown to her list. During vacation in April, Maria Glickman suggested stopping by Princeton on a family trip 'just to see the campus,' but her daughter said no.
'She said she doesn't want so much pressure in college -- she wants to enjoy her four years,' says Maria Glickman, who says she supports her daughter's decision. 'I want her to find a place where she will be happy and comfortable.'
Ms. Glickman recently started a project in her 'Personal Wellness' class. The assignment: change one aspect of your daily health routine to reduce stress, and keep a journal of your progress.
Ms. Glickman's goal: Getting more sleep by making sure she goes to bed at 10 every night. A friend of hers, another junior, tried the same goal recently and couldn't do it -- too much homework.
'I am really going to try,' says Ms. Glickman with a laugh. 'We'll have to see.'
从音乐剧《油脂》(Grease)到电视连续剧《飞跃比佛利90210》(Beverly Hills 90210)和《胜利之光》(Friday Night Lights)，高中生活一直被流行文化美化为一段由课堂、体育运动和夸张的青春戏码组成的美妙时光。不过如今，对许多雄心勃勃地把目光锁定在那些日益挑剔的精英大学的学生来说，高二是整个高中生活中最艰苦的一年──学业压力巨大的一段炼狱时光。
格利克曼是个开朗健谈的女孩，爱笑，容易与人交往。她想成为一名小学老师，或者从事国际关系方面的工作。“我非常喜欢政治，”她说。就像大多数青少年一样，她喜欢周六偶尔逛逛商场，和朋友去Chili's和 Ruby Tuesday吃饭。她上周末参加了毕业舞会。她也喜欢租电影在家和妈妈一起看。（她的父亲1993年去世了，姐姐在纽约的科尔盖特大学(Colgate University)念书。）
凯文•普特尼(Kevin Putney)的一个哥哥在达特茅斯学院(Dartmouth College)读书。他说，他的哥哥发现大学生活比高二要轻松些。“我知道父母想让我开心，他们想让我多些户外活动，”他说，“不过这么多事情要做，我没办法像他们期望的那样多花些时间出去玩。”
“差不多每个星期爸爸都会给我发一条短信：‘今天做别人不做的事，将来就能做别人不及的事，’” 乔丹•哈威兰(Jordan Haviland)说。“父母对我这么好，如果考不上一所常春藤盟校，我感觉就辜负了他们的期望。”
她的妈妈玛丽亚•格利克曼(Maria Glickman)小时候在纽约长大，上的是天主教学校，是家里第一个上大学的，每天在家和纽约佩斯大学(Pace University)之间往返。“我热爱高中的生活，那时要无忧无虑一些，”玛丽亚•格利克曼说。“我们那时学习努力，有趣的事很多，有很多时间玩耍，比如滑冰、打保龄球。我从今天的孩子身上看不到这些，他们似乎不像我当年上高中时那么快乐。”
在2月底的一次大学报考流程启动会议上，格利克曼的母亲和她的学业顾问麦克康耐尔都建议她考虑常春藤盟校。格利克曼的态度很坚决：她要上一所自己认为有足够挑战性但压力没那么大的学校。她有意报考威廉玛丽学院(College of William and Mary)、美国大学(American University)或波士顿学院(Boston College)，不过最近她把布朗大学也纳入考虑范围。4月的一次假期，玛丽亚•格利克曼提议在家庭旅行途中顺道去一趟普林斯顿大学，“只去看一下校园”，但被女儿拒绝了。