“Prestige Trap?” – the Role of American Prep Culture in Mental Health

What is American Prep Culture?

The prep culture emerged with the development of old Northeastern college prepatory schools. These schools are designed to foster rigorous academic, athletic, and fine arts programs for students, in efforts to well-prepare them for prestigious, higher education after graduating from high school. 

Let’s face it. There are a lot of stereotypes around prep students. Here are some of them. 

  • they come from a wealthy family
  • they have Ivy League legacies
  • they dress to look preppy
  • they present themselves in a dignified manner
  • they live in a perfect bubble, sheltered from the outside world
  • they are spoiled kids

What It Means to be a Prep Student

Prep schools are associated with prestige, excellence, success, etc. Naturally, prep students are expected to embody these characteristics – that’s quite a burden they have to carry around at all times. This burden is put on prep students by society, family, and themselves. 

Like all other students, prep students may experience a rough patch at some point. When they do, their identity as a prep student can complicate their mental health journey. 

Now, some of you may think, “wow, what a first-world problem!Yes, it is a first-world problem, and first-world problems are still valid problems that should not be trivialized. 

The Topic of Mental Health in Prep Culture

[data collected through social media poll]

Prep Students Talk Mental Health

Students were asked to rate their mental health. (0 ~ 100)

[data collected through social media poll]

Students were asked to rate how positively attending a prep school is affecting their mental health. (0 ~ 100)

[data collected through social media poll]

What Can We Do?

  • Initiate and encourage conversations about mental health. 
  • Form student clubs that support the mental health of the community. 
  • Share your story. Every story matters. 
  • Support each other and reach out to the community. 
  • Avoid comparing the magnitude of stress/suffering to that of others. It is not fair to invalidate what someone is going through. 
  • Take advantage of the resources available. Schools have been actively developing mental health resources to make available for students recently. Ask people in your community about what resources are available. 

Feedback Time!

Comment below: How else can we reduce the weighty stigma on prep students? Are these high expectations becoming more prominent and widespread these days, and applicable to a larger community? 

Works Cited

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  1. April 26, 2020 by Natalia

    Hi Angela! Great presentation on an issue I haven’t really seen talked about before! I definitely think that kids nowadays are feeling more and more pressured to succeed academically. In order to begin to lessen the stigma and pressure on high school students, I think that we need to start with the parents. Teaching parents about the negative effects of stress and realistic expectations would hopefully allow them to form a more forgiving and genuine relationship with their child, who can then feel like they can talk to their parents more if they are struggling in school. I am lucky enough to have parents who expect me to do my best and work hard, but are also understanding if I don’t exceed in every single subject. I definitely feel that it has helped me approach school with a healthier mindset and set of expectations for myself.

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