Signet Education Guest Post

How to Survive the High School Whirlpool

December 3, 2021

Are you and your teen caught in the high school whirlpool? 

The high school whirlpool is a concept we talk about quite a bit at Signet Education. In our experience helping students navigate the high school journey, we’ve found that it’s one of the most insidious parts of high school.

The high school whirlpool begins churning when parents and students start to “hear things” about what it means to be “successful” in high school. If you have a high-achieving teen, there’s a good chance they’ll get sucked in—and you may get sucked in along with them.

The Epicenter of the High School Whirlpool 

high school students
Courtesy of Unsplash

While this phenomenon begins as early as 9th grade, the epicenter of the high school whirlpool is the college admissions process, which means college-driven juniors and seniors and their parents are particularly at risk. 

If any of these statements sound familiar, you may already be caught in the current: 

So and so’s daughter had a low GPA but still went to [insert selective college name] because she played chess and was a legacy.

So and so has sent three of his kids to top schools, and he says that colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT.

So and so’s son is involved in so many extracurricular activities that I’m nervous he’ll have a leg up on my son if they apply to the same colleges. 

The consequences of getting caught in the whirlpool can range from heightened stress and anxiety to full burnout or breakdown. Juniors and seniors who can’t escape the current of “he said, she said” conversations—most of which are largely unsubstantiated—could end up making choices about college that don’t serve their best interests. 

Strategies for Surviving the High School Whirlpool 

guest editor Signet
Courtesy of Unsplash

The whirlpool is impossible to avoid, but with the right approach, it’s possible to keep your head above water: 

Focus on the right fit. Discussions about applying to college tend to revolve around getting into the “best” schools, but we suggest shifting your focus to begin identifying schools that are the right fit for your teen. Facilitate self-reflection by prompting your teen to think about who they are—and who they want to become. Then, help them seek out schools that will support them on this path. 

Avoid comparisons. First comes waiting for SAT/ACT scores, then comes waiting for college acceptances. Needless to say, these waiting periods are incredibly stressful for teens and parents alike. The buzz around other students’ scores and acceptances only adds to the pressure everyone is feeling. Do your best to avoid unhelpful comparisons during these times. It’s easier said than done, but it can make a big difference. 

Keep a steady pace. When the whirlpool is churning, college-driven teens are at risk of spinning out of control—especially if they’re constantly struggling to keep up with what’s next. Tasks like studying for the SAT/ACT, applying for college, and writing a personal statement are much more manageable when structured and planned accordingly. Help your teen outline their goals for the year and make a plan for achieving each one. This strategy will help them focus more on what’s right in front of them and less on what’s happening around them.

Enjoy the ride. High-achieving teens can get so caught up in everything they need to accomplish that they forget to stop for a moment and soak in this sacred time in their lives. All too often, parents unwittingly exacerbate this tendency. Take a deep breath and remember that this is your teen’s last chance to be a kid. They—and you—should cherish it.

If you and your teen need support navigating the high school journey, Signet is here to help. Contact us today for a free academic consultation.

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Sheila Akbar, Author

Sheila Akbar is the President & COO of Signet Education, a global academic advising firm for high school and college students. Sheila joined the Signet team in 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings. Sheila has a contagious passion for both teaching and learning, and finds nothing more rewarding than helping students to overcome the unique challenges they face. From subject tutoring and test prep to admissions and executive function coaching, Signet Education inspires a love of learning and provides world-class guidance. Whether it’s boosting a grade in a difficult subject or test, getting into the best college, or improving your study habits, Signet supports the entire educational journey.

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