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Dear Freshman: 15 Tips for Surviving -- and Thriving -- in High School

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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Dear Freshman: 15 Tips for Surviving -- and Thriving -- in High School | Faith Permeating Life

My little sister started high school yesterday. I can't believe it! This prompted me to compile a list of tips about high school based on my experience. It may not cover every high schooler's experience because it's geared toward my sister and, in a way, myself, circa 2000. Please add your own advice and thoughts in the comments!

  • Pick electives based on what you are interested in -- not what your friends are taking, not what your mom thinks you should take, not what's going to boost your GPA. You are the one who will have to sit through the class every single day, and if the teacher sucks, you'll at least be interested in the material.
  • Demand a quality education. If you don't understand something, ask, and if you don't understand the answer, ask for clarification. That's why you're there -- to learn! And if a teacher is truly making it impossible to learn, you can go to the chair of the department; they may not do anything, but it never hurts to ask.
  • You will forget your homework at least once, and the teacher may embarrass you for it. You will live through it, and you will be fine. Be the best student you can the rest of the time, and you'll have more license to make mistakes.

  • Have more than one group of friends if at all possible. A huge blow-up drama is going to happen at least once, and you will need other friends outside that group to rely on.
  • Even your best friend is going to hurt you sometime. Tell them how you feel. The difference between a good friend and not a good friend is not so much what they do, but whether they care that they've hurt you.
  • Assume that everything you say about someone else is going to get back to them, no matter how much you trust the person you're talking to. Speak positively whenever possible.

  • A relationship should not be like a glass ball, where you're afraid one wrong move will break it. It is not worth your energy to stress over doing the "wrong" thing; be kind and be yourself, and if that's not enough, he or she is not the right one for you.
  • We sometimes have higher standards for others than for ourselves. If you're not sure if you're being treated well, ask yourself what you would tell your best friend if she were in the same situation.
  • In the grand scheme of your life, going to dances and dating in high school are not as important as they will seem at the time. Nothing that happens in high school has any bearing on whether or not you will be married, and is not an indication of your self-worth in any way.

  • Explore until you find something you love. Try new things. It doesn't have to be at all related to your future career; many colleges prefer people with a range of interests.
  • Your time is valuable. Don't feel guilty about quitting activities that are not providing enough value to you for the time you're putting into them.
  • Extracurricular activites can be a great place to make friends -- or not. Sometimes you'll love the activity but not click with the other people in the group, and that's OK.

  • Achievement will never be worth more your health. Take care of yourself: drink enough water and get enough sleep, even if that means you have to finish your homework on the bus the next morning -- or not at all.
  • You'll be sitting in a desk all day and sitting at a computer at night to do your homework (even my mandatory gym class was mostly sports, which involved a lot of sitting). Find a way to stay active -- whatever works for you.
  • When you reach that point that you feel like you just can't handle everything, go see your school counselor. Skip class if you have to -- they'll work out the details for you. Taking care of you always comes first.
Those are my tips. What else would you add?


  1. Great points!

    I would like to add a few...
    *Being yourself can be hard in situations where it's you versus, possibly your entire class. I remember I was one of handful that supported the right for a gay student to go to prom with another male. I was chastised as hell, but thinking back on it I am glad I did it.

    *Grades aren't everything and no one thing will ever determine the rest of your life. I didn't join the National Honors Society because it didn't mean anything to me.

    *Dating is fun. Enjoy it. You can define your relationships however you see fit.

    *Get into trouble. Stay out late sometimes when you aren't supposed to. Sneak into an R rated movie. Someday you will be able to do all these things without anyone telling you what to do, and what's the fun in that!

    *You can have "sick" days. I like to call them personal well-being days. Just do it on days when you know you won't be doing anything anyways. Just sleep all day or watch tv, read a good book, catch up on some homework.

    *Teachers can be amazing, inspiring people that will do awesome things for you; they're still human. They don't know everything. If they say something that sounds like BS, then there is the possibility that it is. Google it - you are so lucky to have the internet.

    *If you suck at a subject, get help. Get tutoring. Let the teacher know.

    Everyone's experiences are different. Have fun and good luck!

    -Jessica's Husband Mike

  2. I have a big one to add: Do not accept the stereotype that "Kids can be so cruel. You can't let it get to you." When adults constantly repeat this mantra to make you feel better about having troubles with classmates, they only solidify the stereotype that young people can't handle their issues with maturity and respect. Yes you can!

    I personally also recommend getting a job. Just like extracurricular activities, it's a great way to make friends, broaden your horizons, interact with a more diverse group of people, and learn new things.

    Finally, as an add-on to the "you're going to forget your homework," I suggest that you apologize sincerely. Don't just sit there with your tail between your legs, letting your teacher make assumptions about you. Tell them you're sorry, you just forgot. Something else got in the way. Tell the truth.

  3. Thanks for adding your ideas, Mike! :)

    Great tips! I think they seem to boil down to the notion that you're no longer a child deferring to authority when you're in high school; you can interact with your teachers and others as an adult. Of course it's a transition period--but it is what you make it. I definitely was more outspoken in high school than I think some of my teachers would have liked :)

  4. I definitely agree with "Be the best student you can the rest of the time, and you'll have more license to make mistakes." I usually had at least one moment every semester when I freaked out because I forgot a homework assignment, had to turn something in late, or didn't follow the directions correctly. But when you develop a reputation for doing things the right way, on time, and well, teachers are MUCH more understanding! Paraphrase: You can get away with murder if you act like a saint 99% of the time. :P (Except that does NOT translate to real life!)

    The thing that is difficult with a post like this is that it's easy for us to look back and say, yes, that was true, every high schooler should believe that and act on it. Unfortunately, developmentally speaking, adolescents (in general) don't have the psychological and emotional maturity to step out of their own lives and adjust their perspective to the long-term. It just doesn't happen except in rare cases. If there's anything I learned from my parents when I was a teenager, it's that adolescence isn't pretty or easy, but you have to let them figure out these lessons on their own. So much of it is the fact that brain development that hasn't caught up with hormonal development! I'm not excited about someday being a parent to an adolescent, but like every other future parent, I hope to do as good as or better than my own parents did. :)

  5. @Missy
    Unfortunately, developmentally speaking, adolescents (in general) don't have the psychological and emotional maturity to step out of their own lives and adjust their perspective to the long-term.
    I thought about this after I wrote the post. If someone had given me all this advice when I was 14, would it have done any good? Possibly not. But at the same time, sometimes just that one thing can resonate with you. I mean, I think I would have panicked a lot less about forgetting my homework if someone had told me ahead of time, "It happens to everyone. There will be no lasting consequences." I might have made some different decisions if I latched onto the phrase "Achievement will never be worth more than your health," even if I didn't fully understand why that was true at the time. That's my rationale, anyway.

    Also, I know the vast majority of my readers are not high school students, so this was more about, "If you could go back and tell your high school self something, what would it be?" I like seeing everyone's different perspectives from their own experiences :)

  6. Hey Jessica! Thanks for sharing this link on my blog. It's definitely a big help to me! How doid you find my blog?

  7. @writerkid
    I'm glad it was helpful to you! I wrote it mostly for my sister, but since I know I don't have many other high school students reading my blog, I did a quick Google blog search for anyone saying they were about to start high school. Thought I'd pass on the link just in case.

    Good luck to you!

  8. All of the advice, the comments included, should be of benefit to a person starting high school. True that teenagers won't grasp it all, but one piece of advice may apply to one, and another piece of advice apply to yet another. If a teen takes just one thing from the post, it will do them good. Haha, I could have used some of it back in the year.

    One additional thing I would add: You may not agree with a persons opinion about something, but always respect the person regardless. If more people made the distinction between the person and the person's opinion, there would be social acceptance in the world.


  9. @Dave Keller
    An excellent point about separating a person's opinion from the person. A lot of adults could stand to learn this still :)


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