Letting go of the ideal student

There is immense pressure at Mount Allison to be a perfect student. This ‘perfect’ student is someone with top marks and a vibrant social life, who is involved in extracurricular activities and is physically active – all seemingly without having a mental breakdown.

This school year, for the first time ever, I am not involved in any extracurricular activities. To some, this could be seen as damaging, especially in my final year at Mt. A. However, upon unburdening myself of the activities I was involved in to seem like a perfect student on paper, my mental health has never been better. Still, I can’t help but wonder: Will this be detrimental to my image once I graduate?

Is the pressure to be perfect specific to Mt. A? Emilie Yammine, a fourth-year honours student in chemistry, believes Mt. A’s culture of perfectionism is rooted in the university’s small size. This can make it seem as though everyone is acquainted with one another – even though they may not be – which in turn makes Mt. A appear more competitive than it is.

From my own experience, these pressures increase an unhealthy tendency of comparing my every action to those of others. Online, it can be especially hard to ignore. On Instagram, for example, it seems like everyone has it together. The fear of missing out on the weekend, combined with a constant flow of assignments, essays and reports, makes it seem as though students need to push themselves to their breaking point to fully participate in university life.

“It’s less of a pressure and more of an expectation. It’s just expected that you’re going to go out Friday and Saturday night and then go to library at 10 a.m. and spend the day at the library to get a good GPA,” said Rebecca Butler, a third-year international relations student.

At times, students’ obsession to be perfect can have a lot to do with appealing to future employers. Activities that seem to benefit future success can take priority over creative outlets that can help improve mental well-being. Personally, I stopped going to the gym because I couldn’t justify the lost studying time. Butler decided not to be part of the improv team this year to focus on being involved in things that could benefit her on paper when applying to grad schools, even though being in the improv team often made her happy.

Maggie McGraw, a fourth-year sociology student and president of the Mt. A Rose Campaign, spoke about the pressure to be involved with extracurriculars.

“[It’s like] being stuck between a rock and a hard place, as you want to be able to have free time to do what you like but you also can’t have nothing on your resume.”

Interviewing people for this article made me reinforce the very habit I am writing about: comparing myself to others, wishing I was more involved and feeling like a failure because I am not.

The correlation between perfection and profitability is something that is unsettling to me. It appears that there is immense pressure on students to make choices that will benefit their future employment or entrance into grad school. This is a good reminder that as students, we cannot take this too seriously.

Personal growth and participation in activities that do not benefit future employment are essential to making students discover who they want to be, outside the realm of monetary value.

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