09/18/2015 12:04 EDT | Updated 09/18/2016 05:12 EDT

How to Avoid the Destructive Impacts of Competition at School

Final examination for student in a university
jatuphol via Getty Images
Final examination for student in a university

The biggest impediment to a university student's success is competition -- the kind that spurs more anxiety than it does motivation. The new academic year is upon us and there's no better time to prepare students for the inevitable emotional roller-coaster to which they are so accustomed.

Competition for academic preeminence in post-secondary institutions is heightening year after year. The reason is simple, more people are getting educated, jobs are becoming increasingly specialized and require more diplomas as criterium. A PhD today is comparable to an MBA when my father went to school -- I'll try not to further exploit his age. Whatever the reasons may be, however, it's not hard to see the impact that competition has had on students today.

I can almost hear someone reading this article saying that students today need to "suck it up" and that the competition is "part of university" and the entire learning process. That's fair and certainly shouldn't be discounted, but we have to clarify the varying degrees of competition and its very real deterioration towards a young persons confidence.

Competition between peers for top academic status, internships, and research positions is positive until its ability to motivate higher performance turns into chronic anxiety that pushes students towards emotional instability, and in many cases to feel academically inferior. I'm no psychologist, but it doesn't take much to notice the emotional pressures that young people today face to get into medical school, law school or graduate school.

Take this argument with a grain of salt. Not every student is under the kinds of stress and anxiety that I speak of, and yes, often times students aren't pushed to their limits. Suffice it to say, competition that becomes counterproductive for academic performance is gaining prevalence and we need to talk about it.

As a student, I don't know much what the solutions ought to be -- I'm just an observer. Nevertheless, for those entering university it's important to be aware of the side effects of this so called competition -- to know that they're smarter than they think and that there're not supposed to feel like they're living in a pressure cooker. To come to this realization takes at least a few years in the "pressure cooker" to notice -- as has been my case. It's quite liberating to finally feel like I don't need to measure my success relative to my peers. Beyond liberating however, it gives me a sense of genuineness for the things I learn and why I learn them.

So next time you're in the cafeteria comparing grades, or you're hearing about all the amazing internships your friends are getting, think to yourself two things: other peoples' successes are often not as glamorous as they self-describe, and secondly, do your own thing. Don't measure your self worth relative to others, because that's the easiest way to feel inferior. Cliché alert: try and cancel out the noise, no matter how loud or irritating it is, you'll thank yourself later.


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