By Lucy Liu
What does it mean to be a senior? Most will point out the beauty of it: being top dog on campus, having off-campus lunches, getting the best parking spots. But senior year also has an ugly side. For many students, it's freak-out-about-college time.
Morrel Chhay, a 17-year-old senior at Buchanan High School in Clovis, Calif., is a pole vaulter and runner for varsity track and field, member of the Filipino Club, treasurer for the Japanese Club and Crafts and Fashion Design Club, and salesman at his parents' jewelry store. He also has a rigorous academic course of four AP classes. He admits that his school courses alone are difficult: "I feel that I've bitten off more than I can chew with AP physics alone."
So why take advanced placement courses? Morel's answer is simple: college. The fierce competition to get into a selective state or private school makes it almost necessary to take more advanced courses.
"AP courses look good on transcripts ... if I want any chance of competing with (classmates), I have to take AP courses."
For 18-year-old Matthew Plaks, student president of Clovis High School in Clovis, Calif., and a varsity water polo player, taking AP courses and getting good grades is a must because he needs financial aid for college; doing well is essential in scoring a scholarship.
"There's really only one income at home that is supposed to put me through college," he says, "and generally, the prestigious colleges ... aren't exactly cheap."
So how do academically pressured students like Morrel and Matthew relieve stress?
Morrel's strategy is to call up some friends and hang out -- "but just for one day," he adds quickly. Matthew lets out steam by exercising, listening to music and simply sleeping.
School aside, college application stress varies from student to student. Someone applying to a highly selective school may feel more stress than someone applying to a community college.
Take Buchanan's school president, 17-year-old Jeffrey Lester, for example. While community college applications are fairly simple and quick, the applications that Lester has to fill out for UCLA and Stanford call for a total of six essays.
"I feel extremely stressed and overworked," he says. "The application due dates seem to be creeping up, and it is lingering in the back of my mind. It's hard to get the multitude of essays for the applications done with homework and all the activities at school. On the weekend, all I really want to do is relax from the busy week."
For Jeffrey, the answer to his problems is to just do it: "The only real way to get rid of the stress for me is to do what needs to be done. Once the applications are completed and submitted ... a great weight will be lifted off of my shoulders."
Seniors with easier schedules or who chose schools with high admission rates are much more relaxed, while those whose schedules are academically more challenging and chose highly selective schools are usually more stressed. However, in the end, the level of anxiety comes down to each individual's situation and capacity for handling stress.
Colin Lo, 17, of Clovis West High School, says he doesn't feel stressed at all. He's taking four AP classes, he says, because he loves learning, not to impress colleges. Jordan Hensley, 17, of Clovis High is handling school the same way. Her schedule is rather lax, but enough to keep her busy.
However, when it came down to filling out applications, their reactions were completely opposite. Although it took Jordan only a couple of hours to complete applications for Fresno State, Fresno Pacific and Clovis Community College, it was still an extremely stressful process for her because of pressure from family.
"My mom (magnifies) things ... and (a family friend) kept telling me that the SAT was a huge deal and that I had to do really good," she says. That "had a huge effect on my health and nerves."
Lucy Liu attends Clovis High School in Clovis, Calif. ___
(c) 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
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