24 Pieces of Advice for High Schoolers
August 7, 2016 Erica 1 Comment
TLDR; Be kind, work hard, and plan ahead!
I’ll be starting my second year of college at the end of this month, so it’s been a little while since I was in high school. However, I still want to provide encouragement and advice for high schoolers. So here’s a list of things that came to my mind when I sat down to think about what advice I would give my high school self:
1. Get over yourself.
Hear me out; I mean this in the nicest way possible. It would be beneficial for everyone involved if you just took a step back and assessed. You’re in high school! The last step before college, which is the last step before the real world! But really, you’re young and (I’m sorry, it’s a fact of life) you’re not as smart or experienced as you think you are. You still have a lot to learn. I do too, don’t think I’m singling you out.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad or to say you won’t do as well as you think, because honestly you are perfectly capable of every goal you set your mind to (and more, believe in yourself). I only mean that you need to recognize you’ve got a way to go. Your teachers’ advice, and mine too, may sound irrelevant and be immediately dismissed with an eye roll (for which I don’t blame you, everyone always has their two cents), but at least do me a favor and just keep this information in the back of your mind. Maybe you don’t believe me, but I promise you five years from now you’ll go back and look at something you posted on the Internet and feel a mighty need to bury yourself in the nearest ditch.
(Also, being apathetic and mean and spiteful doesn’t make you cool. Ever. You’re making an idiot out of yourself, calm down.)
2. High school’s not forever.
People change people. It works both ways, so don’t be afraid to cut toxic people and bad influences out of your life. High school isn’t forever, but you are, so you should take care of yourself. It will probably hurt now to cut off that friend who thinks ditching daily is a great plan, but you’ve got things to achieve and places to climb.
Also, it isn’t the end of the world if you grow apart from people you care about. People change and grow, and sometimes they grow apart rather than together. It doesn’t mean your relationship was a failure. If anything, you still have all the memories with that person, and with internet these days you can at least keep up with what an amazing person they become while you do the same.
3. It’s never too early; it’s never too late.
I mean this mainly in the college preparation context, but I’d also like to add that if you didn’t join a club or sport or something your freshman year and you think it’s too late now, it isn’t. Join!
I’m already an anxious person, so you can imagine what thinking about anything college-related did to me. I pretty much refused to think about anything related to anything past high school for my first two years, which I think was a mistake.
It didn’t ruin my life or anything, but, as much as it sucks sometimes, planning early for college is to your benefit. It’s never too early to start researching schools you’re interested in, or studying for and taking standardized tests like the SAT and ACT.
Especially for the standardized tests, I would start early. They’re only given a few times a year, and the earlier you start, the more opportunities you have at your disposal, and the less stressed you are about it. I didn’t focus on standardized tests until I think December of my junior year, which meant that I had quite the freak out when I forgot my ID for what was supposed to be my second time taking the SAT. I couldn’t take the test, and I was concerned that I didn’t have enough time to take it again and still be able to send those scores to colleges. (Another important lesson, kids. Always be prepared.) Anyway it ended up being fine because I did well enough on my first SAT and on the ACT.
Another thing, you don’t have to take both. I think some colleges may require both, so you should always check specifics of where you’re applying, but for the most part you can pick and choose. Do some research into both and see which one you think you’ll do better with. Personally, I like the ACT more because of its different subjects and penalty system, but it’s your decision.
I’d say for the sake of your sanity, the latest you should start focusing on these things for college should be your junior year of high school. That’s not to say that you’re doomed if you’ve waited longer, of course you aren’t. It’s never too late to start either, don’t psych yourself out. You can do it! Google is your friend, and there are plenty of resources out there for researching schools, finding scholarships, and helping you with your application. Good luck!
4. Bring a sweater and a water bottle.
This is kind of self-explanatory. I’m pretty sure I only drink water because of my water bottle, and air conditioning is cold.
5. Be a “teacher’s pet”.
I’m not sure that this term has ever been applied to me as a genuine insult? I remember jokes, but I don’t think they were made with malice. Anyway, that is not everyone’s experience, but I can tell you: “teacher’s pet” is exactly what you want to be. First of all, teachers are awesome (for the most part). They dedicate their lives to enlightening and encouraging and developing the future, and they spend most of their days dealing with children. If that’s not bravery, I don’t know what is.
Second of all, there is literally no downside to having a good relationship with your teachers. It makes it less stressful to ask questions or ask for help, they are more willing to help you in the first place since they can see the effort you’re putting in, and they can provide plenty of important life advice along the way.
I love plenty of my teachers from high school; they were honestly a huge part of my experience and my development into who I am. I go back and see them all the time, and they still give me integral advice. Be a teacher’s pet.
6. Extracurriculars are key.
Because life is a struggle, colleges are looking at much more than just your grades these days. But really, extracurriculars make school so much more enjoyable. Join some clubs that interest you, try out for that sport, volunteer with an organization you’re passionate about, you really can’t go wrong. I joined the Random Acts of Kindness Club my freshman year of high school and stayed through all for years; it was honestly such an amazing experience that I am so thankful to have had. I did plenty of volunteering, too, and let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of helping someone else out or making their day. Extracurriculars are great for meeting people, for developing relationships with teachers (since even coaches have to teach, too) and your community, and for widening your horizon of experiences and perspectives.
7. Your grades are important.
Alright, I’m a huge nerd and I literally cannot even fathom how someone can consciously make a decision to not do their work. But your grades are important! Colleges are paying attention now, so maintaining good grades is more important than ever. If you get an assignment, just do it. Especially homework! I view homework as my fallback cushion (unless you’re in one of those classes that grades homework on accuracy instead of completion, ugh) for my grade, so I always do the best I absolutely can so I have cushion for if I mess up on something else later.
8. Extra Credit!
If you’re being offered extra credit, do it. Do it! How can you turn your back on extra points for your grade?! The only reason I can see for not doing extra credit is if it’s the last week of school and you have a very high and stable grade in the class…
9. Get P.E. and health out of the way ASAP.
Following up on the fact that I’m a total nerd, I also stereotypically hate exercise. One of the best decisions I ever made in high school was taking P.E. and health as online classes the summer before my freshman year. Not only did I then have them out of the way immediately, but online P.E meant I just had to wear a heart monitor and keep my heart rate in a certain place for a certain amount of time about 8 times a week. Dance Dance Revolution, anyone? Wii Sports? At one point I started jogging in place while watching Netflix; it was a fantastic decision.
Anyway even if you can’t take these classes online, I would recommend getting them over with as soon as possible. You don’t want to be in that situation where you accidentally forget to plan for them and then your graduation status is affected because, oh yeah, you haven’t taken health yet!
10. Respect authority.
Do you have younger siblings? You know how they’re annoying? So are you, honestly. The teachers and administrators at your school are people too, and while there are always people who really should not have dedicated their life to children, most of them are truly trying to help you and your future.
There’s no reason to be rude, just take a deep breath and realize there are no benefits to sassing off. You’re either burning a bridge you really could have used for college applications or life in general, or you’re blemishing your record and wasting your own time by getting put in detention or suspension or something worse.
I’m not saying they’re always right, I’m just saying being respectful is much easier for everyone involved.
11. Be Kind.
In relation to respecting authority, just be kind. It costs $0.00 to be kind to the people around you. Even if they suck. Why would you want to stoop to their level of suck, anyway? That’s not good for you.
You never know what is going on in someone’s life, and while tough experiences are by no means an excuse for awful behavior towards others, it really isn’t worth starting anything. Especially if someone has done nothing to you, and you’ve just decided to target them. Why?
I know there are bullies, those people who think they’re cool for being the literal worst, but my response to someone attempting to make fun of me has always been to not care at all. I’m privileged, of course, to be able to say that this method worked for me, because some people are relentless, but really that person isn’t worth your time or your energy. Do you really care about the opinion of that kid who thinks he’s hilarious for asking if your hair is that thick everywhere? No, because clearly their opinion is irrelevant to everyone but them. They don’t have anything intelligent to offer anyone, which is probably why they’ve settled on this communication “method”.
Anyway, truly the best revenge on anyone is your own health, happiness, and success. So smile, be kind, someone who’s trying to get to you may be watching and driving themselves insane at their ineffectiveness.
(Side note: if someone is truly tormenting you, it’s not ok. Tell someone. Tell teachers, tell counselors, tell administrators, tell your parents, tell the news if no one else takes action. You’re important and you do not deserve, under any circumstances, to be treated in such a terrible way.)
12. Good Habits start today.
…Procrastinating is so easy. I actually procrastinated on writing this post, but at least I’m doing it now.
Good habits are very important for your life, academic and otherwise. You might as well start as soon as possible.
Try to do your work as soon as you get home. I mean, eat or something, and then go work. It is much easier to do homework while you’re still in the school mindset than it is to start homework after a nice break where you’ve shifted into relaxation mode. Also, if you start sooner, you’ve got more time to work. You can take short breaks while you work. You can avoid anxiety attacks about the late hour and the amount of work you still need to do… it’s really a better plan than procrastinating.
Get a planner. Use the planner. Some people are more comfortable with physical planners, but you could also use apps and websites on your devices to keep track of your school work, extracurriculars, and anything else you want, really. Google Calendar is great, but while I was in high school I used a physical planner provided by my school every year, which I loved.
You know what works for you, go with it.
13. Ask for help.
You’re there to learn! Your teachers are there to teach! Ask questions! There’s no shame in it at all, and if you have one of those teachers who makes you feel stupid for a question, I assure you the problem is them, not you. Ask questions!
14. Take as many AP and/or IB classes as you can handle.
I’d like to stress the as you can handle part of this advice. AP (advanced placement) and IB (international baccalaureate) classes aren’t for everyone, you know yourself best, and if you know you can’t handle these classes then there is nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t take them! It’s as simple as that. Don’t set yourself up for failure, that’s just self-sabotage.
If you however know that you can handle these types of rigorous courses, go for it. Again, take your own abilities and dedication into consideration, don’t go overboard. That would be counterproductive. My freshman year of high school there were only two AP classes that freshman could take: AP Biology and AP World History. I knew some people who took both, but I also knew that was not a good plan for me at all. I decided to take one, AP Bio, so that I could ease myself into these types of courses without overwhelming myself, and also because I’m not a fan of history. Taking an AP World History course sounded awful. AP Biology on the other hand, I loved. I was right and it was a lot of work, but thankfully I knew what I could handle and I didn’t overload myself with that second AP class at the time. Of course, you get into a sort of rhythm as the school years go by, you adjust, and if you had told my freshman self I would be taking a schedule of entirely AP and IB classes my senior year, I probably would have passed out. So know what you can handle, but at the same time, don’t completely write off challenging yourself. Just don’t overdo it, work your way up!
There are plenty of benefits to taking AP and IB classes, even if you don’t get college credit from the final exams. They prepare you for college in the sense that they have rigorous course work and expectations, much like college. The best part, though, I’m not gonna lie, is if you manage to get college credit. AP classes usually are yearlong classes at the end of which you take a standardized AP Exam from the AP People. IB classes on the other hand are two-year courses and you take the big exams at the end of the second year. Depending on your score, you could get college credit and therefore save yourself not only the grief of taking a college class on that subject, but also save yourself credit hours and plenty of money. Plus, you get to your major-specific classes a lot quicker. One of my proudest achievements is getting IB Physics credit and never having to take physics ever again. Not only this, but along with the AP Biology credit, I had all my lab credit for my major, meaning no lab classes! (Another beast entirely, but not relevant to high school so moving on)
As of now, there are two levels of most IB classes, Standard Level and Higher Level, and these different levels also have their own final exams to match the level of the class. If you choose to take IB Diploma, all of your classes would be IB and you would additionally have to complete a certain number of community service hours in certain areas, and write an essay. Sorry if that explanation is a little vague, I didn’t take IB Diploma. Anyway, in this case you get to choose a mixture of Higher Level and Standard Level classes, and I think there’s a minimum of 3 Higher Levels you need to take, but I’m not sure.
Another choice is the IB Course Candidate route (or whatever they’ve started calling it now), where you pick and choose the specific IB courses that you want to take. In this case, you can only take the Higher Level version of that class, you don’t get a choice. I went with this option for many reasons, some of which include that I wasn’t interested in the course work for Diploma and there were a lot of classes and electives I wanted to leave my schedule open for, but ultimately the decision is yours. I don’t mean to discourage you from IB Diploma if that’s something you’re interested in or something you know will make an amazing difference for your future, but personally I am very happy with my decision. I ended up taking the IB classes I was interested in while also having room to take other classes, including AP classes that gave me the same credit I would have gotten from IB courses, but in a subject matter that worked a lot better for me.
So the choice is yours.
15. Take practice exams.
I really only took practice exams for the SAT, ACT, and my various final exams for AP and IB classes, but I still recommend taking practice exams for any other tests you might have.
Practice exams are very helpful for introducing you to a test’s format and for gauging your knowledge on the subject, you really can’t go wrong. The saying “practice makes perfect” exists for a reason.
(Side note: The SAT, ACT, AP, and IB exams all cost money to take, unfortunately. You can check with your school for fee waivers, of course, but practice tests will also help you get the most out of your money.)
16. Pick classes wisely.
You need specific credit to graduate, and while you don’t generally have the most freedom to pick different classes to match credits, you do still normally have electives. You may get more freedom to choose core classes when you’re an upperclassman, too. Just keep in mind what credits you need, and choose classes, if you can, accordingly
When it comes to electives, take classes that interest you. This is definitely the time to explore your interests and even find new ones. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in college until my junior year of high school. Until then, I had just been telling people I wanted to be an architect because my dad had suggested it once and I liked pretty houses and designing houses in The Sims 2. It wasn’t something I was really interested in, but it was an easier answer then “I have no idea!” Anyway, my junior year I took Web Design as one of my electives and completely fell in love with programming.
So explore things you like and things you just find interesting, maybe you’ll find your calling.
17. Take a foreign language.
I’m pretty sure all schools, or at least most, require students to take some amount of foreign language, but that amount may not be all four years. I really think you should take it all four years if you can.
Learning another language is really important for communicating in general, for widening horizons, and even for developing your skills in other areas. There’s not really a downside to learning another language, and while I’m not fluent in Spanish by any means and you probably won’t be fluent in the language you choose (because America and its fantastic language-learning-system), I still find it really useful and interesting.
18. Don’t grow up too fast.
Yeah, ok, I sound like your grandmother, but listen. You’ve got the rest of your life to be responsible and “cool” and “an adult”, but your childhood, or teen-hood whatever, is a finite amount of time. Not that you’re going to live forever, I just mean enjoy it while it lasts.
There’s no reason to act like your favorite toys are immature or that Disney show you love isn’t cool enough for you to be watching because you’re “mature”. My favorite show my first two years of high school was the same one I had all through middle school, and I refused to act like I didn’t love it just as much as I did before just because it was on Nickelodeon. I turn 19 next week and I just bought myself a stuffed animal and caught up on Girl Meets World.
Plus, let me tell you, adulthood is no fun. I am by no means an adult, I’m barely an adult in training, but I still have to reschedule a doctor appointment later this week and figure out how to vote. Take your time.
19. Be yourself.
It’s cliché advice, but that’s for a reason. There’s really no reason to change yourself for other people, it’s a waste of your energy.
You do you.
20. Know what’s where…
Trust me, it’ll make you feel a lot better to know where your classes are and how to get from one place to another. While you’re getting used to your schedule, I’d suggest setting a picture of it as your phone’s lock screen or just carrying a hard copy in your pocket.
21. Pace yourself.
Don’t try to do everything at once. If you’ve got summer assignments, your life will be a lot easier if you spread out the work over the three months rather than trying to do everything in the few days between Meet Your Teacher Day and the first day of school. Everything is just a lot nicer if you give yourself enough time to do the work.
22. Get into the school spirit!
I’m not saying you have to paint your entire body in your school colors, but school spirit is fun! My freshman year I didn’t really participate because I thought I was “too cool” (ha.), but spirit week is really fun! Participate! I dressed as Snow White my sophomore year for Dress Like a Disney Character Day.
Just wear a school t-shirt if you don’t feel like anything else; it’s a little something but it makes a difference.
23. Go to a pep rally at least once.
I’m gonna be honest, I think I went to one pep rally in all my four years and then participated in another one, but that’s because my school didn’t have the best pep rallies. Still, I’m glad I went to the one I went to and I’m even more glad I helped out with the other one! It’s a fun time, I think you should go at least once. At the very least at least you’re not in class!
24. Go to the art show!
I might be a little biased, but really, school art shows are amazing. Your peers are so talented and the work they come up with is honestly stunning. I absolutely loved seeing the art show every year, so I’m imploring you to go have this amazing experience as well.
If you’ve made it this far through all my babbling, I applaud you. I don’t have anything to say on lockers because I didn’t use one at any point in high school, but obviously it depends on the person. I just found them tedious, out of my way, and a waste of time.
Anyway good luck with whatever amount of high school you’ve still got ahead of you.
I believe in you!