Celebration of academic achievement has changed quite considerably in the last decade.
Long gone are the days when school or university certificates were proudly hung in the hallway or hidden away in a storage box never to be brought to light again.
With more than two-thirds of the UK’s total population active on social media, it has increasingly become the norm for successful students and proud parents to flaunt academic success online.
Many pupils and university students are also turning to so-called ‘StudyTubers’ – the umbrella term given to content creators on YouTube providing studying tips – to help with motivation and boost academic success.
A recent study by NCS (National Citizen Advice) revealed that as many as one in five teenagers admitted to using ‘StudyTubers’ to help them revise for their GCSEs.
But, can social media be held responsible for placing added pressure on young people by creating unattainable academic expectations?
Recent Durham University graduate Elena told Unsaid that her university results day was particularly ‘anxiety-inducing’ due to students posting their final results on social media.
In several cases, they were also uploading pictures of their university transcripts detailing every mark they had attained.
Elena said: “I think for some, results day can be anxiety inducing, and it has been for me at times. I think some will automatically compare even when there is no comparison because their degree is a completely different path to yours.”
Current Glasgow University student Maryam agreed that social media creates added pressure since it only shows the ‘success in academic achievement stories’.
She mentioned: “Social media can sometimes add to the pressure of university by setting unrealistic expectations as you tend to only see when students/graduates succeed and seemingly without any slip-ups or failures.
“Set-backs are a lot more common than people tend to think they are. But, on social media, you only see the success stories.”
StudyTube and the road to great academic achievement
Social media has bred the growing trend of ‘StudyTube’ – the term used to describe the community of content creators on YouTube who provide motivational study tips for their subscribers.
As successful students at top universities, ‘StudyTubers’ often post videos of themselves studying, particularly showing the methods they use to block out distractions, create a structured revision timetable and effectively revise for exams.
The ‘StudyTube’ trend has become increasingly popular in the UK with creators such as Eve Cornwell (Bristol Law graduate), UnJaded Jade (Biology student at Bristol) and Vee Kativhu (Classics and Ancient History Oxford graduate) each have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Amongst the most popular videos created by ‘StudyTubers’ are live reaction videos to opening exam results.
Recent Durham University graduate Jack Edwards, who began his channel with GCSE study tips, has uploaded 4 years’ worth of reaction videos of himself opening exams results, from A-Level to his final year of University.
Jack attained A* A* A* at A level and received a First Class Honours degree in English Literature from Durham.
Abdul, also a student at Durham University and aspiring YouTuber, thinks that watching ‘StudyTubers’ can be counterproductive, with unrealistic study routines potentially leading to students feeling inadequate.
He said: “A lot of StudyTubers tend to be very intense with the way they live their lives making it seem as though our 24-hour day is more like 36 for them.
“I like to call it hyper-productivity. Some will document themselves studying for 8 hours plus with very little breaks. To them, it may be fine but it’s not a sustainable model of how to study at University.
“Personally, I always felt like it meant if I wasn’t doing that much I wasn’t doing enough. Which of course isn’t true.”
Elena Handtrack, a recent law graduate of Cambridge University often documents her early morning starts, waking up at 4 am each day of university.
She continued to maintain her early starts and strict studying timetable during lockdown, uploading the videos ‘My 5am Quarantine Morning Routine’ and ‘My Quarantine Nighttime Routine for 5am Mornings’.
Elena posted a live reaction video of herself opening her Cambridge exam results, for which she attained a 2:1 degree, with the caption ‘this did not go well’.
A few days later, Elena posted on her website a reflection on her results with the title ‘On Failure’, and explains the disappointment in her results:
“During my study period, I filmed seven hours of live study with me time on weekdays and I worked even more outside these times.
“Even though the work I did did not pay off in the way I had hoped, I did that work. And I deserve to be proud of the effort I put in.”
Francesca, a student at Strathclyde University, commented that Elena’s blog post is ‘unconvincing and unhelpful’. She said:
“She says that she is trying to feel proud of herself – as she should be, a 2:1 from Cambridge is a fantastic achievement! – but it’s unconvincing when she deems it a ‘failure’.
“The idea that only A*s and First Class Honour degrees are worthy is a dangerous notion which some StudyTubers spout to impressionable viewers,”
It is clear that social media contributes vastly to the pressures of academic achievement and ‘StudyTubers’, given their growing popularly amongst teens and university students, must take some level of responsibility.