School on full speed: A product of pressure

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Students nationwide are feeling the pressures of getting the best grades, applying for the biggest scholarships and getting the top jobs in their fields. With tuition rising at an inordinate rate, the push to do well and get your money’s worth is stronger than ever. Midterm papers, three exams, a major research project, a part time job, volunteer work and trying to find time to sleep and eat: to many university students, this sounds like an average week.

Some students are finding ways to cut out the last two items by using prescription drugs to boost their energy and cut their appetite. The U.S. National Institute of Health recently published a study of 1,253 college students which found that 18 per cent of students surveyed who had no prescription for stimulants were using them, and of those students 85 per cent of them were using them with the goal of performing better in school.

It’ worthwhile to question the type of environment that’s leading students to risk their physical and mental health in order to achieve marginally higher grades. In an article published in the Globe and Mail, the mental health clinic at McGill University says it gets four times as many emergency drop-ins during exam season, and that the average number of drop-ins the rest of the year is more than double what it was five years ago. The Toronto Star reported a national survey of post-secondary students showing a whopping 89 per cent of students reported feeling overwhelmed and nearly as many described themselves as feeling constantly exhausted. Assuming this generation of students isn’t significantly less competent than the last, the logical conclusion is that the pressures of being a student are getting worse as time passes.

One fourth- year student at Concordia told the Globe the majority of her friends have used prescription drugs as a study aid. It has to make you wonder: what are these enormous pressures leading students to engage in illegal, unethical and dangerous behaviours in order to make the grade? Well, the push to get the biggest scholarships is certainly present, with the average student graduating university with around 30k in debt. The need to be top of your class is looming, with 4.5 per cent of university graduates living unemployed (that’s one out of every 25 students graduating from university) and (American) universities giving out 30 per cent more diplomas than they were 10 years ago. In many cases, this has resulted in larger class sizes with disengaged professors, teaching assistantss marking every paper, and minimal focus on the well-rounded education that was once the cornerstone of the university experience.

With these kinds of pressures, it’s no wonder that students are turning to drugs that allow them to sit fully concentrated for upwards of eight hours without getting tired or needing to take a break. That could be two papers and an online quiz. The real problem here is not lazy students who want to take the easy way out; it’s a results-oriented university system that pushes its students to their breaking points with no regard for what they’re actually learning.

After all, unless you’re the best at something, you’re just a banner number and a tuition fee.

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Rosalie Fralick

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