High school is often regarded as the best years of one's life. Why that cultural phenomenon is, I have no idea, but one fact about it is that it's difficult. Advice on how to make the best of it is often written by people far removed from the present high school scene.
Where are the tips from current high school students? Recent graduates? College students who are reflecting on their adolescence?
This article seeks to provide some informative pieces of advice I wish I knew when walking into high school. Things that I had to learn on my journey through it. So to freshman high school me, I'll say: hi. Here are some things you need to know in order to tackle these four years head-on.
Don't Be Afraid To Approach People
As an introvert, hearing this advice would make my past self cringe. But someone's gotta initiate conversation, so it might as well be you! Try approaching someone you think looks cool; one of the first ways I started talking to people was through complimenting their fashion, or asking a question about an assignment we were doing.
It's tough to pick out who is approachable, especially when they may not be reciprocating the effort, so I recommend trying to talk to someone who strays from the crowd. Normally, it's the quiet people in the back of the room that have the best personalities.
Best case scenario, you hit it off and you've made a new friend. I know it's an intimidating prospect, but something you need to remember is that the people around you are just as awkward and unsure. All it takes is one point of conversation for a great friendship to take off.
Take Those Fashion Risks
This may not be entirely possible for those in private schools or schools with uniforms, but to all readers without a strict dress code: listen up! You've probably already heard the spiel of "fashion's a great way to express yourself," but did you know that people actually notice when you step up your outfit game? There's a reason why many of the students with style tend to be the most talked-about.
A fashion "risk" is different for everyone: some people don't think they can pull off crop tops, others worry about skirts. Regardless, taking that step and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is going to pay off!
Cultivating a style not only makes you appear more put-together and collected, but makes for a great conversation piece. I met some of my closest friends simply because we bonded over our love of combat boots! I know what's trendy nowadays can be pretty expensive, so I recommend picking a style you feel comfortable with, not one that's necessarily popular.
Do Things Outside of the Classroom
What are the chances you're going to end up back in a classroom after you've graduated high school? Well, there's a small chance if you decide to pursue a career in teaching, but for most of you readers, you'll never set foot in a high school again. So, might as well build up some skills to better prepare yourself for those times out of it.
Participate in a sport outside of school. Get a part-time job. Volunteer for community service. These are just some of the activities you can do in order to spread your horizons and not spend all your time focused on academics.
Your entire life is going to happen outside of the classroom, so you might as well do things to gain some experience.
Join Clubs/Activities You're Actually Interested In
Here's a hard fact: colleges are getting smart! They're quickly realizing that students are just filling up their applications with random activities to look impressive, not because they have genuine interests. It's a problem I've seen my peers run into all the time.
It pays to do the things you have a real interest in. Not only will it allow for a more rewarding experience, but doing things you enjoy helps it not feel like work! For example, I'm interested in writing, so I've tried to base my extracurriculars around that. Writing for my school's newspaper, taking an internship with a journalism startup, etc.
This both makes college applications much easier by showing commitment and dedication to one interest, as well as allowing you to participate in things you genuinely enjoy. It saves time, since you're not wasting your energy doing activities merely to check a box or fill in an application.
Actually Do College Research!
So many high schoolers make the mistake of pushing college research off to the last minute. The reason why is understandable: thinking about the imminent future and planning ahead for that is definitely scary. But it's better to walk in prepared than have little to no idea of what you're doing.
Research the colleges you're interested in. Talk to people involved in your prospective field. Remember deadlines!
For any US students, that means things like Early Decision, Early Action, and the FAFSA. It's all tedious work, but it'll pay off once you have a solid amount of information. Plus, I found the college process easier to understand once I learned more about it.
Getting this information can be done through a variety of ways: asking a college counselor, talking to a teacher, Googling questions online. One of my personal favorite resources is a site called CollegeVine, which helps students narrow down the colleges they're interested in based on location, major, price, etc. It's a great way to get started, because the more you know about the college process the better.
Find Friends You Truly Connect With
Having good friends can really make or break the high school experience. Friends make those long classes that much shorter, those tough assignments a little easier, and school just that much more bearable. That's why it pays to have some good ones, who you're not only comfortable around, but can help you through these four years.
It may take some trial and error to find a solid group, but that makes it all the more rewarding once you do. It's always helpful to have someone to bounce your question about an assignment off of, or to just act as a nice break from the constant stress of schoolwork.
That being said, friends shouldn't pull you away from your academic career. It's important to find that balance and not prioritize one over the other. A great way I love to balance both is by making a study group! That way, you can help one another with any particularly confusing classes while also remaining in relaxing company.
Don't Be So Hard on Yourself
It was Daniel Smith who said, "Live a life that is well balanced, don't do things in excess." This is a motto that should be applied to one's high school career, as well as in life, since I've seen too many of my peers beat themselves up over not being able to achieve it all.
The fact of the matter is, you're not going to get to do everything offered to you at your school. It's impossible to join every club, run for every student government position, take every high-level course. So you can't berate yourself over it, or be scared you're "wasting an opportunity." It's good to do things— whether that be to gain experience or expand upon a previous interest— but don't get upset if you can't do everything.
I understand the pressure to involve yourself in your school community. That being said, it's just not realistic to do it all. You're not gonna be on the varsity basketball team, and be student body president, and star in the school play, but that's okay.
It's better to apply yourself to the things you love rather than try to spread yourself thin across multiple ventures. The sooner you realize that, the better.
Prioritize Your Physical/Mental Health Over Everything
This may arguably be the most important piece of advice in this article. Too many times I've seen my friends crying over a tough homework assignment, or stressing about an upcoming project, or pulling all-nighters to study for a test. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this behavior isn't healthy.
True story: my junior year got so stressful that I had to face medical repercussions as a result of my overexertion. Nothing is worth sacrificing your health; not straight A's, not a 1600 SAT score, not college-level courses. Going in with the mindset that you are your first priority is crucial to maintaining your success, both personal and academic.
High School Isn't Your Life
In fifty years, when people talk about you and your accomplishments, will they say that you were part of the cool clique in your high school? Will they remember the 85 you got on your trigonometry test, in lieu of a 95? Maybe, but the point I'm trying to make here is that high school isn't your life!
It doesn't follow you into your college experience, your job, your eventual start in the real world. So why place so much emphasis on it?
It's okay if you don't have the "high school musical" experience of your dreams. It's okay if high school's just another stepping stone for you (like it is for me). A fresh start will come later, once you hand in your last assignment, once you get your diploma, once you throw that graduation cap in the air.
If your high school experience ends up being amazing, that's great! But it pays to remember that your life really starts outside those walls.
High school can be a rough period for many, and even harder to handle without tools to guide you through it. So, I hope this advice can act as a sort of push in the right direction, and help any readers in high school or those about to enter it. Just remember that everyone's experience is going to be different, and that the most important thing is conquering those four years head-on.