Academic burnout leaves students scarred


Owen Phillips

Academic burnout, once thought to be confined solely to university and graduate-level students has swept through high schools worldwide in recent years.

Owen Phillips

High school students face many difficulties in the modern day: grade point averages, standardized testing, extracurriculars, athletics, university, scholarships, the list goes on and on. 


Colleges and universities are much harder to get into than ever before with new standards on acceptance, larger pools of applicants and easier access to applications than students applying thirty, twenty or even ten years ago.


However, according to a study conducted by, an organization that works to assist in the application process, the applicant pools are shrinking.


According to their data, 2015 was the largest ever recorded number of college applicants and each year since the number has decreased between 2 and 3%.


The question is, why are fewer students applying to college? Some would say population sizes are a factor, others cost, neither of which would be incorrect or insignificant ideas, but there is another less popular solution: academic burnout.


Burnout is a condition characterized by distinct feelings of apathy or being overwhelmed by the activities associated with daily life, more specifically, work-life. Academic burnout is a condition applied exclusively to students and until recently was considered a condition that only applied to those at a university level.


 However, studies as recent as 2010 indicate that high school students are more commonly showing signs of academic burnout in unseen numbers, roughly one in every eight students. 


Academic burnout is usually associated with three main symptoms, with several other smaller or less common ones. Most commonly, feelings of apathy towards activities that are usually engaging or fun, feelings of frustration, hopelessness and existential dread and higher and lower back, neck and chest pain.


In a recent episode of the podcast, Stuff You Should Know, about gap years in which the hosts discuss the benefits of taking a gap year and the economic, cultural and ethical barriers that often prevent them, (recent surveys show less than ten percent of U.S. students take gap years, compared to 15% of U.K. students, down from a high of 22% in 1993) academic burnout was discussed, and more importantly how academic burnout only really began to be validated in high schools in recent years.


Academic burnout affects students in different ways but is often misdiagnosed as being depression. Treatment for academic burnout is often difficult because students today are working in far more competitive environments than previously and in a society that does not support taking steps to pace oneself appropriately.


Self-preservation is seen as a weak and destructive attitude in American society and is not permitted in almost any form in modern high schools. Academic burnout affects so many students because they are put into a competitive environment in which collaboration is discouraged and often punished, told to work at extremes never expected of students before, and then expected to be able to keep that pace into college and then in the workforce.


High school students are one of the most marginalized populations in the country because they contribute little to the economy, cannot vote and are largely ignored by their elders as being immature and naive. Yet they are expected to work for hours on end, both in school and out, manage to be well-rounded students (i.e. athletics and extra-curriculars), in many cases are expected to find jobs and then find their way into college and manage to pay for it. 


Students in the modern day are not treated as human beings, as people. They are students: heavily regulated, pushed to their limits and branded failures if they do not play the game set before them. Is it any wonder that they are burning out? Is it any wonder that they are rejecting the prospect of university, where the concept of academic burnout originated? Why is there any speculation as to the cause of this silent rebellion? Their voices have been systematically stripped away. That is why they remain silent.