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Last updated April 3, 2024

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How to Not Stress About School (While Still Being Successful)

Key Takeaway

High school can be stressful, but by prioritizing tasks, applying the 80/20 rule, taking care of your health, and understanding the value of balance, you can reduce stress and enjoy a successful high school experience. As a plus, your college applications can benefit, too.

How to Stop Stressing and Enjoy High School (While Still Being Successful)

School is stressful.

Applying to college is stressful.

Your junior and senior years of high school are bound to be stressful.

But that doesn’t mean that stress has to consume your entire high school experience. With the right attitude and strategy, you can balance academic and extracurricular success with happiness and strong mental health.

Causes of High School Stress

Balancing good grades, studying for SATs or ACTs, making the varsity team, joining club activities, and managing a social life—the stress can pile up fast.

By your senior year, you’re managing all that plus your college applications, which is in and of itself like a full-time job.

It may feel like your performance in high school will determine what the rest of your life will look like. And in some ways, your high school record will definitely shape your future.

But trust us when we say that your entire future, security, and happiness do not depend on whether you receive an A+ or A- in AP Chem.

Strategies for Reducing Your Stress

To alleviate your stress and regain some sense of control, start by distinguishing between what's urgent and what's important. This might sound basic, but realizing that not everything marked as urgent is vital, and vice versa, can be a game-changer for your time management.

Example: I have an hour tonight to do my homework. I have a math assignment due tomorrow, a biology test next week, and an extra credit assignment for a class I have a 95% in.

Urgent and vital: Completing the math assignment due tomorrow

Vital but not urgent: Studying for the biology test

Urgent but not vital: Completing the extra credit assignment

Using this reasoning, it’s easy to plan out that hour of studying: I’ll do the math assignment first. If I have extra time after that, I don’t need to study for my biology test because I’ll have time to do that this weekend. So I should do the extra credit assignment, but I won’t stress about it if I don't have time.

Next, consider the 80/20 rule. That means identifying the 20% of your efforts that result in 80% of the benefits. It's about prioritizing smarter, not working harder. Identify your tasks and focus on those that have the most significant impact.

Example: I have a history test coming up. My teacher told us that the test is broken up into three parts: multiple choice (20 points), short answer (30 points), and essay (50 points). Since I know that the essay questions will make up half of my test grade, I’m going to spend most of my efforts studying the material I’ll need to write a good in-class essay. I’ll spend the second highest amount of time studying for the short answers. I’ll still review the multiple choice material, but I won’t spend too much of my limited time on it.

Remember that sometimes, good enough can be better than perfect. Perfectionism can spiral into stress, so try to understand when your hard work is leading to diminishing returns. Learn when to say "this is good enough" and move to the next task.

Lastly, don't forget your health. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and enough sleep are all critical to managing stress. Your well-being is an investment in your academic success, not a distraction from it!

Why Less Stress Can Lead to Better Application Outcomes

Reducing your stress doesn't just lead to a happier time in high school—it can also enhance your college application outcomes.

Frankly, the vast majority of colleges aren’t really interested in students who have sacrificed everything for academics. They're looking for passionate individuals who can balance responsibilities and demonstrate passion and engagement.

With lower stress levels, you’ll have the time, space, and energy to pursue your passions and engage with the people around you. You're more likely to dive deeply into your extracurriculars and achieve better academically. Plus, you're able to write more authentic essays, showcasing the real you rather than a super-polished, stressed-out version of yourself.


Yes, high school can be stressful as your responsibilities pile up, including the college application process. However, by distinguishing between urgent and important tasks, applying the 80/20 rule, taking care of your health, and acknowledging that 'good enough' can sometimes beat 'perfect,' you can learn to prioritize and reduce your stress. Not only will this make high school more enjoyable, but it can also enhance your college application outcomes, since colleges value balanced, resilient, and passionate students. Plus, you’ll do extra well in college when you’re already a pro at these balancing skills.

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