10/26/2011 11:45 am ET Updated Dec 26, 2011

The Road to College: Surviving the Junior Year of High School

The struggle to survive junior year of high school equals stress with a capital "S."

My sophomore year I ended both semesters with straight As. Being a perfect student is difficult the first time around. Trying to recreate perfection might be harder. My fear: there is literally nowhere to go but down at this point. Junior year is the most important year for college applications. There is no way I can let my grades go down from last year but the struggle to be perfect might just kill me.

The classes I'm taking this year are significantly harder than last year. The first day of school when my teachers were going over the syllabus, I wanted to drop half of my classes. Unfortunately, those classes are AP classes and my school doesn't let students drop AP classes. As the school year is progressing, I see that getting those straight As like last year won't be as easy. How can colleges expect me to get straight As when I'm taking classes this hard? Is that even fair?

On top of prepping for the ACT and SAT and trying to get recruited for water polo in college, I have to try and maintain my awesome grades. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier if last year I had just gotten a couple of Bs. What will the colleges think if this year I don't do as well as I did last year? If they have any compassion, they will see that I have a lot on my plate. If they don't, then it will just look like I got lazy my junior year. Like my principal told all the juniors, "This is the year!"

What's killing me? My AP physics class is what's killing me. I honestly can't say why I took the class. I'm not really a math person or a science person or really a numbers person so why would I take an AP physics class? Confession: I took the class because colleges want to see that you are taking the hardest classes that your school offers. So even though I didn't really have any interest in the topic I took it just because it was a hard class. Now that I'm drowning in this class I'm wondering if it was really worth it. If I had taken a class that I had more interest in then I would probably be doing better. I'm not really sure which is better: to get a C in an AP class or an A in a regular class. AP physics is really hard and I'm afraid it will bring down my unweighted GPA and my self-esteem.

At least I'm not alone in this struggle to be perfect. My friend Jeff is taking four AP classes and is in an even worse situation than I am. When I asked him why he was taking this class he said, "Harvard wants me to take all the APs that the school has to I will." Jeff has done lots of research about what colleges want to see. Is it true that you have to take all the APs that the school has to offer to get into Harvard?

Trying to meet this goal is clearly stressing Jeff out. When I talked to him he was stuttering, his palms were sweaty with nervousness and there were large purple bags underneath his eyes that were filled with fear. This was not the Jeff I used to know. Throughout middle school Jeff was the smartest kid I knew but he was also funny, talkative and full of energy. That Jeff had an interest in world affairs and was always talking about the swim team or cross-country. This Jeff had to quit swimming and cross country to take on his heavy workload. Looking at him like this scares me.

On the flip side of Jeff, I see my friend Lonny who, since middle school, has just done okay in school. This year, knowing how important it is, Lonny has decided to turn on his brain full throttle. Any slight improvement for Lonny renders praise and congratulation and colleges will probably give him brownie points for that. Any stress that he might have...isn't there. Why? Because all he has to do is try a little and it looks like he's doing a lot. Lonny has nowhere to go but up while Jeff and I have nowhere to go but down. We think that we're competing with perfection but maybe we're competing against improvement, something I can't do.