[Opinion] The pressures of being a valedictorian negatively impacts students’ learning


Dhaanya Balaji

Students feel pressured when they are valedictorian or in the top of their class.

Mariana Neri Sapori, Writer

From the start of high school, many students try to find ways to spice up their college applications by maintaining good grades and participating in extracurriculars. Although, some may try harder than others. Those who decide to compete and exceed academic expectations compared to other students are rewarded with a very special title: valedictorian.

Simply put, becoming the valedictorian means being ranked number one out of their entire grade. This is called a class rank: a hierarchical ranking on students based on their GPA. In order to compete for a good rank, many students take an excessive amount of hard courses. This includes Advanced Placement classes which enables students to boost their GPA by one point from a 5.0 scale to a 6.0 scale and potentially earn college credit.

While this goal is achievable, it is difficult to pursue a healthy lifestyle if the pressure of gaining the valedictorian title creates bad habits such as sleeping late, comparing oneself to others to the point where it reduces self-esteem and causing unnecessary stress.

School has created a competition amongst students to be considered “the best” by encouraging a fixation on the letter grade that is shown rather than the actual comprehension of knowledge. This projects the idea that they are defined by their grades and therefore creates a negative overview on those who may not be achieving their goals academically.

Students all have different interests that not only consist of knowledge but also creativity in the mind. The narrow standards school has set for children have limited their abilities to think above and beyond and flourish their creative arts to produce unique ideas. Schools offer many courses that enforce the mighty title of valedictorian, which is diminishing the confidence of those students that want to excel in other areas that are not academic.

Not only schools, but parents may also play a role in the fight to be valedictorian. This contest is already tons of pressure and the parents pushing their kids around to become better can lead to perfectionism and this habit follows a series of negative effects.

According to a 2018 article published by Harvard Business Review that discusses the pros and cons of perfectionism, such negative effects include “…that perfectionism is strongly and consistently related to numerous “detrimental” work and non-work outcomes, including higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, and depression.”

Due to the negative impacts on mental health these strict lifestyles have created, many schools have decided to cancel valedictorian awards during the graduation ceremony. For example, a school district in Colorado, named Cherry Creek, preemptively canceled the declaration of a valedictorian in their 2026 graduation which led to a mixed series of emotions of relief and inclusivity but also unfairness to those who have worked hard for the title.

Many stress factors have created problems not only for other students, but those valedictorians themselves. Students will always compete academically no matter what, but the competition can be detrimental to one’s health meaning it should be addressed by schools and other education systems.

Overall, the title of valedictorian does more harm than good. While schools praise those who have dedicated their lives to an achievement, students are at the risk of decreasing their mental health. Schools are more focused on the end result and their pride in the amount of students aiming for high goals than the remaining student population and how this contest affects them.

Schools tend to reward students for achievements that are mostly based on route memorization and not creativity, those students who join the academic contest facing many negative factors. The education system should begin to put less pressure on students and begin to encourage and reward those who are skilled in the areas they are passionate about, instead of making them fight to become the best.