Going into high school felt like everything hitting me all at once. Not only did I have to make friends, but I had to adapt to the rigorous academics of my school. I felt like I was doing amazing, but a glance at my final second semester report card of 10th grade said otherwise. Of course, your grades don’t define you, but I did not do as much as I could to help improve them, either. It was a wake-up call I wouldn’t forget.
If there is one thing I could have prevented during my high school career, it would be the amount of procrastination I let happen. As each year passed, it felt like I was watching things happen rather than taking control of them as well as I could have. Sure, I had a lot of fun times in the process, but those fun times came at a cost that I find myself still trying to fix as a senior. I hope that underclassmen can learn from some of my mistakes and the things I learned from my schoolmates and administration in the past four years. So, if you’re stressed, just take a deep breath (or let out that scream you’ve been holding in since August of 2016) and check out some of the advice I have below.
1. Keep an eye on your grades: Don’t fool around too much freshman year. Having fun is cool, until the year ends quickly and your GPA is a 2.1. Don’t press yourself too much on grades, either though. People can get 4.0’s and not get into their top choice school.
2. Stay involved in school activities: After-school activities like joining a school club, sports team or something arts-related like choir or band, provide you an opportunity to become open-minded, develop as an individual, and allow you to learn how to cooperate with your schoolmates. Take advantage of the opportunity as soon as it presents itself. [Editor’s note: VOX is an after-school activity too!]
3. Have the people you want to write your college recommendations in mind by tenth grade, at the earliest: Make sure the teachers you choose have actually been able to view your work ethic so they can create a detailed, effective college recommendation letter for you. I go to a small school so going to past and current teachers for recommendations is not a problem for me. However, it is best to pick teachers who you like and vice-versa. For people in bigger schools, try to ask for recommendation in advance before everyone else begins putting in their requests. Your school is big. Don’t play yourself. You can also ask mentors, counselors and coaches.
4. Take the SAT before 12th grade: There’s a lot you need to do senior year, and that is another thing that can add to the whirlwind of stress. You can take the SAT from 9th grade and on, but the best opportunity to take the test is in sophomore or junior year.
5. Sometimes, you have to stay at home and miss that party in order to study: It sucks, but you’ll thank yourself later. Your social life can suffer at certain points because of the amount of work you might have. Don’t risk your grades to have a good time. You’ll have a lot more good times in the future that won’t conflict with your priorities if you just work through what you need to work through first.
6. Only take AP classes if you’re sure you can handle the workload: As my music theory teacher tells me, you don’t always need to take an AP class. You might find yourself wanting to go to a school that won’t even take the college credit you received from the class. AP classes are a lot of work. Put in your best effort if you want to do well on the AP Exam, for which you will need to study beginning in December and running through the time of the exam in April or May.
7. Don’t be ashamed to stay in state for college: Your state can have amazing schools that offer what you have a passion for and want to pursue. You don’t have to attend college out of state or far away to become something great. You’ll be surprised by the amount of opportunities that are in your state or states that are three hours maximum away from home. Also, living out-of-state can be expensive. Plane tickets cost a lot of money, too. Living on and off campus can become expensive because out-of-state tuition will inevitably cost you more money.
8. Apply for scholarships: This is important. You want to incur the least amount of debt possible. Write as many essays as you can. I have many that I saved up from my AP Language class I took in 11th grade. If you decide not to take the course, look up essay prompts colleges provide and practice your writing. When you feel confident enough in your writing, save them. Look up scholarships on the Scholly app too, to see what is available and have an example of what you can receive scholarships for.
9. Find what works for you: If you want to take a gap year to take a breather and explore the world (with the funds to do so), do it. If you don’t want to go to college within the next four years, work out when the best time would be to attend. If you want to go to community college, do it without shame. An important thing to remember is that it is not where we go that makes us who we are, but it is instead, what we do wherever we are.
10. Don’t be too hard on yourself about everything: It’s easier said than done, but keeping this in mind early on will prevent a good amount of the stress. You won’t pass every test or quiz. You’ll forget to the homework sometimes. It’s okay, because we aren’t perfect. We weren’t meant to get everything right. Work hard, but recognize when you need to take a break and de-stress. You’ll thank yourself later.
Hopefully, this list has assisted you in understanding what you need to have a fruitful high school career. So, keep all of these things in mind as you discover what works for you and what you are set to accomplish! Have fun, but focus on your school work. Make the most of it, you only go to high school once.
Melina (not pictured) is a senior at DeKalb School of the Arts who enjoys collecting records.
Photo by Alia Holt