Academic Pressure: How to Deal with it

Apr 24, 2021

Are you feeling burdened by the demands of the time and energy required to achieve your academic goals? Academic pressure can come from a variety of sources and can lead to stress, and academic burnout

In this post, we talk about academic pressure – what it is, what causes it, how to deal with it and more. 

What causes academic pressure?

There are a wide range of factors that can cause feelings academic pressure. Here are some common examples. 

Self-imposed academic pressure

You may have high aspirations to push yourself to achieve high grades. This can result in you placing a lot of pressure on yourself. You may feel as though you will regret not working hard enough if you do not achieve the grades that you want. 

How to deal with self-imposed academic pressure

Remember grades do not define you. Your performance in exams and assignments at school, college or university is not a true reflection of the value you can offer. Whilst academic achievements are great, they won’t differentiate you from the hundreds of thousands of other students who perform well academically.

If you are prone to being hard on yourself when it comes to academic performance, take some time to reflect on your skills, personality traits and interests outside of academia. Perhaps consider pursuing more extracurricular activities to push yourself to become an all-rounded student and to focus on enjoying your studies. 

Also, take some time to reflect on your ‘why’ ask yourself why you want to achieve such high grades. If it’s to be successful in life, for example, redirect your mindset and determination to tell yourself that regardless of what grades you get, you’ll be successful.

There are endless examples of incredibly successful people who did not do well at college or university. It might be worth researching some of these individuals and you’ll quickly realise how true the statement ‘grades do not define you’ is. 

Academic pressure from a career aspiration 

Do you aspire to enter a highly competitive profession such as law, medicine, software engineering or consulting? If you do you may place high academic pressure on yourself because you need specific grades to enter the profession. 

Maybe you don’t know what you want to do after leaving university, but perhaps you want to achieve high grades to keep as many options open to you as possible. 

How to overcome this

If you know that you want to enter a competitive field that requires specific grades a key thing to understand is that there are many routes and pathways into most professions.

The most common or traditional route may seem desirable but remember, this is your unique journey and the experience you will gain from a less conventional route will contribute to the unique value you’ll bring to a company. For example, you may end up becoming a paralegal or a legal apprentice before qualifying as a lawyer.

Perhaps this route will take a bit longer, but the experiences and insights you gain a long the way could give you a competitive advantage in the long run. 

Maybe you want to become a doctor and are worried about not achieving the grades that you need. If you don’t achieve the grades to get into medicine straight out of college, you could do your undergraduate degree in another subject, then apply for graduate entry medicine courses.  

The point being made here is if you really want something, you won’t let a few bad grades stop you from achieving it. You may need to persevere and possible spend more time working on achieving your goal, but ultimately you’ll become a more resilient, determined and self-motivated person. 

If you are not entirely sure about what you want to do but are still worried about your grades affecting your job prospects. Realise that employers are much more interested in the skills that you can bring to add value to their companies. The best way to gain skills is to gain a variety of work experience, this will help you to create a CV that will stand out and give you lots to talk about in interviews.

With varied, high-quality work experience, you may get a position over someone with a perfect academic record who has never worked a day in their life. 

Also, another thing to bear in mind is that if you have a dream company in mind for when you finish your studies, if you do not get the required grades to apply for their graduate scheme or programme, you can gain experience elsewhere, then get a job at your dream career as an experienced hire when grades will have much less weighting on your application. 

Family pressure 

Your parents, family and friends may have very high expectations for you to achieve high grades. This can make you feel as though you will disappoint them if you do not get certain grades. 

It is natural for your loved ones to want you to do well academically. However, If it is causing you stress, remember that this is your life and your journey, not theirs. If you are an extremely determined person who is determined to succeed in life, your grades won’t be a factor in stopping you from doing so. 

Academic pressure from upcoming exams or deadlines

If you have an exam or assignment deadline coming up you may feel more stressed. This is quite normal. However, if you are putting too much pressure on yourself in the run-up to your exams or deadlines, this could have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing, 

The key to reducing academic pressure on the run-up to exam dates and assignment deadlines is to work smart not hard. Understand what you are going to be assessed on and tailor your studies around that. 

Also remember that exams, in most cases can be retaken. This does not mean you shouldn’t try hard for the first sitting, but if you find that you really need a specific qualification in order to fulfil a certain career aspiration you can always retake the exam often at any age/stage of your life.

Further to this point, if for example you are in the UK and achieved a 2:2 in your undergraduate degree and a particular company has asked for a 2:1, they may accept your 2:2 with a master’s degree in a related subject to the role, so it is very important to do your research. Furthermore, if you did not achieve your desired grades due to extenuating circumstances, let your prospective employers know. They will take this into consideration.

Many top companies have dropped their grade requirements for their graduate roles. For example, The law firm Ashurst has ditched its A-level requirement for training contracts to increase the diversity of applicants. 

Instead of academic requirements, many companies are adopting game-based assessments, as many say these are better predictors of candidate success in the role. 

Academic pressure from your course 

Some courses and qualifications are more demanding than others. If you are studying a subject that is particularly academically rigorous such as a STEM subject or for a qualification such as The Bar Practice Course, you may be prone to feeling more pressure. Your academic pressure may be amplified by the institute that you are studying at. For example, the Russel group university such as Oxford or Cambridge is known for being much more academically challenging. 

If you are enrolled in an academically challenging institution or are studying an academically rigorous course, if you are struggling, seek help and guidance. 

In this video, Holly Gabrielle shares her experiences with academic pressure at a top university and highlights the importance of mental health. 

Holly Gabrielle

There are plenty of resources available from your university or externally. 

You may find it helpful to incorporate productivity and organisation tips into routine in order to manage your time better. This will enable you to get a better work-study balance, freeing up more time for yourself to unwind and pursue other activities which will help to reduce your stress levels during your studies. 

Comparing yourself to your friends or peers 

If you have a competitive nature, you may find yourself comparing your grades to your friends/peers. This can be unhealthy if it is causing you to put more pressure on yourself to perform academically.  

A little bit of friendly competition may help you to stay motivated and on track. However, if you  are feeling low due to everyone around you seemingly working less and achieving higher grades, this may hinder you. 

Whilst this sounds cliche, you are on your own journey. Your friend’s grades being higher than yours does not make them better than you or indicate that they will be more successful in life. That comes down to many other factors. 

Ultimately, if your friends are doing very well, shift your mindset to appreciate that this is a very positive thing. Not only for them, but for you also because they are a part of your network. You never know what the future holds but your friends may play an instrumental role in getting you referrals and recommendations for jobs. It’s not always what you know, but who you know that counts. 

How does academic pressure affect students? 

Academic pressure can become counter-intuitive. This is because it can result in psychological and physical problems that in turn negatively impact grades. Academic pressure can result in: 

  • Stress 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Low self-esteem and confidence 
    And more. 

Where to get help if academic pressure is making you feel down

Featured photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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