By Charlotte G ’19 and Jenna ’19
For many Marlborough students, entering Upper School means pressure to submit college applications filled with impressive activities and a clear focus on the future. Some students have found these pressures to be a catalyst for stress and anxiety in planning summer break activities.
In an online survey of the Marlborough student body, 59% of the 164 respondents cited feeling stress about participating in activities beneficial to a college application.
Kendall ’19, described the conflict between wanting to relax and the need to be productive for college applications.
“Summer is often described as a time to relax and be free of the stress that school produces. Nevertheless, I always feel that I’m too relaxed and not putting enough effort or time into studying, thus decreasing my chances of getting into my desired college,” Kendall wrote in her response to the survey.
Many students, including Emely ’19, feel that they will be behind if they do not participate in activities for the sake of college, and therefore tend to neglect the activities they truly enjoy.
“I feel that for a lot of people the pressure to be a well-rounded student for college makes them end up overloading their schedules with activities they don’t actually want to do. This ends up just being entirely too stressful and takes all the time away from things you actually enjoy,” Emely wrote in the survey.
Despite this pressure, some students still try to focus on relaxing and recuperating after a stressful and busy school year. Emily ’18 explained the importance of viewing summer as a break from the pressures of the school year.
“I absolutely think it’s important to relax during summer vacation. Marlborough students work incredibly hard during the year, and our brains and bodies definitely need a rest. It’s not healthy to be that stressed constantly,” Emily said.
Over 75% of Marlborough students in the same survey said spending time with friends and family is a more valuable way to spend summer break than being productive and getting things done for a college application.
Sophie ’19 described her summer experiences and why she was ultimately grateful she prioritized her interests over activities for her college application during summer vacation.
“This summer I went on a NatGeo Student exhibition and I felt a little bit guilty about it because I [thought] I should have a job, or do an internship, or have some sort-of community service. Now I am really glad that I went on that trip. I did that trip for me … even though it might not be a great thing to put on a college application,” Sophie said.
Director of Educational and Counseling Services Dr. Marisa Crandall agreed that it is critical for students to relax and spend time with family during summer vacation and added that the stress many students feel during summer damages both their mental and physical health.
According to Crandall, stress releases a hormone called cortisol in the brain, which causes similar feelings to those suffered by war victims or sufferers of intense emotional trauma. Because of the stress so many Marlborough students experience, Crandall explained it is crucial for students to take a break from academics and let the brain rest.
“We’ve tried to force so much into the school year that people are spending every waking moment trying to achieve something… it becomes even more important for them to have some downtime over the summer to just recharge,” Crandall said.
While many Marlborough students said they felt stress about being productive during summer vacation, Crandall said that she does not necessarily believe the number of activities or classes completed by an applicant is the deciding factor when it comes to college admissions.
“[Colleges] want students who can demonstrate and articulate that they have a belief in something and that they feel a sense of purpose in their life, and the sense of purpose can’t be to get into Yale,” Crandall said.
Princeton’s Dean of Admissions, Janet Lavin Rapelye, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview for The New York Times. Rapelye added that it’s important for high schoolers to find balance in their lives and participate in a variety of activities without the sole focus on college admission.
“[Excessive college preparation] is not what we wish for students, and I hope sincerely that high school students will enjoy the richness of life as it presents itself,” Rapelye said.
Despite the fact that school counselors state it is important to find balance, most Marlborough students still focus their summers on internships and challenging courses, and over 85% stated they believed participating in internships was the most valuable use of summer vacation. According to Crandall, this can be attributed to the fear many students feel about the college process.
“People are just so scared, there’s this heightened panic about ‘Am I going to get into college?’ and so when you get panicked like that it feels good to do something,” Crandall said.
The three Deans of College Counseling, Monica DePriest, Jawaan Wallace and Brian K.Smith, agreed that it is important for students to dedicate a portion of their summers to relaxation, but added that students should also use their summers to prepare for college.
“It is advantageous to include some time over the summer months to engage in some type of meaningful activity… This demonstrates to college admission officers that you are serious about the college process,” the College Counseling team wrote.
Ultimately, the College Counseling team stated that while summer activities can enhance a college application they are not greatly influential in the college process.
“[Summer activities] don’t have a huge impact, but college admission officers want to see that you’re not just spending time on the beach.”