To my freshman sister,
As I prepare for this school year, I reflect on the last three years of high school and excitedly anticipate the glory of what is supposedly the best year of American education: senior year.
You, on the other hand, are probably awaiting anxiously to meet the bustling hallways full of daunting upperclassmen, the-shoving-into-lockers and stealing-of-lunch-money, the formation of new friend groups and “cliques”, and all the “stress you’ll have in high school” that your middle school teachers have been warning you about since the beginning of time.
I’m here to tell you that high school is not all that. It’s actually pretty great—if you make it great.
Now I hope that was relieving, but don’t get too settled. High school can be an amazing experience, even some of the best few years of your life. But is it just Friday night football games featuring jam-packed bleachers of school spirit? Is it screaming at the top of your lungs during pep rallies? Is it exploring lot’s of clubs and learning things about yourself you never knew? Is it making new friends who you would trust with your life, for the rest of your life? Is it going to parties, homecoming, and prom? Is it really that amazing?
My answer for you would be: yes, and no.
In my eyes, high school is really about creating the careful balance between working your butt off and enjoying the last of your youth—all for the purpose of finding yourself and your voice. Who are you? What’s your role in this society? What do you want to do with your abilities and passion?
Now, time for me to quell some misconceptions you may have.
Choose your courses carefully, and don’t let anyone sway your course selections too much. You’re going to have a lot more choices in course options and levels. Ultimately, only you will know what you can handle and what’s best for you. You have to learn your own limits and push them without breaking them and giving up.
When I came into high school, I had gotten quite the broad selection of advice on choosing classes. I was mostly told to take a mix of honors and regular classes so that I could manage my time well and spend more time on the more challenging courses. As I progressed into my high school career, I found that I needed to be taking mostly the hardest classes I qualified to take in order for me to work my hardest. Sophomore and junior year, I decided to opt for more of those honors and AP classes because I knew I wanted to surround myself with extremely intelligent and motivated classmates. I knew it would work because I know I hate letting myself fall behind. That was how I learned best and how I challenged myself. That was how I learned my limits and pushed them, without breaking them.
The portrayal of American high schools in Hollywood film could not be more off. Yes, I guess I could categorize individuals into cliques (i.e. nerds, jocks, etc.) if I really tried to, but I think people and their personalities are a lot more fluid than that. No one can really be labeled with one word, because that’s human nature. We are multidimensional creatures, and even though there can be visible groups of friends, people shift around, people are friends with people who would be labeled differently. The point is, don’t come into high school looking for a clique to join. You won’t find one, and if you do, never forget to explore outside that group of friends because you never know who you’ll click with.
That leads me to my next point: most people are much more mature than they were in elementary school, at least, friendship-wise. Once again, don’t expect the typical bullying scenes from your favorite high school dramas. They don’t happen as much as they seem, if at all. Girls don’t regularly walk past textbook-obsessed teens to spit in their faces and football players don’t push tiny freshmen into lockers. Yes, girls can be mean and guys can be rough, but generally, I think people just mind their own business. During school people seem to just focus on themselves, maybe their own image, but mostly just going from class to class and staying awake during those classes.
Find those people who you can trust, who make you laugh, who motivate you to be the best you can be. FInd those people and cherish them. Hang out with them, invite them over, do homework with them. Just because you think everything you do academically in high school “counts”, doesn’t mean friends don’t count. They’re important, and will keep you sane in admist your hectic schedule and heavy workloads.
Stress is natural, and despite its negative connotation, it’s crucial. But there are some ways I’ve learned to live with stress.
Stress won’t get to you if you don’t let it. I think that’s the most important trick that I’ve learned in the last three years about stress. For me, it was about acknowledging that no matter how much pressure I was in academically, no outcome is really the end of the world. For example, even getting a low test score on the most important test of the year will not matter that much after that class is over; it probably won’t impact your class grade that much! Of course, you always have to study your hardest and do your homework and assignments on time. But when you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that no matter the outcome, you will be okay.
The second most important trick I’ve learned about reducing stress is that you must work extremely hard before any test, presentation, etc., but after the fact, don’t worry about it. Let’s say you’re preparing for the SATs, arguably the universally important exam for high schoolers. For months leading up to the test, you should absolutely be allotting time weekly and even daily to taking practice tests and studying unfamiliar concepts. However, as soon as your SAT is over, and your proctor utters the words “You are dismissed.”, you should not stress over how you think you did on the test that much. Maybe it’s healthy to reflect for notable ideas if you’re taking the exam again such as “bring a jacket next time” or “choose a different test center because this environment distracted me”, but don’t you dare over-analyze your every decision from those four hours of testing. Why? Well, this tip is one of my favorite tips because after something (an important test, presentation, etc.), you can’t do anything to change the impact or the outcomes, so don’t stress about it. It. is. not. worth. it. With formulas and theorems you’ll be forced to remember for school, you don’t have the brain space for that nor will you have the time.
This is crucial. This is probably where I struggled the most in my transition from middle school to high school—and probably where you’re going to struggle in the months to come! No big deal though, you’ll figure it out. From school clubs to sports teams to extracurricular classes to social events to homework, there is a lot to keep track of. What I’ve learned is that you need to write it down. I personally did not use my agenda most of middle school, and even found it extraordinarily silly when our teachers forced us to write “no homework” in the designated boxes, but trust me, it is absolutely essential now. Don’t think you’ll remember it, because no, you won’t. Don’t think you’ll study without plotting study time in your to-do list, because no you won’t. It’s not your fault! There is a lot going on in your life, and it’ll definitely be a step up from what you’re used to. Take my advice and be prepared. Don’t let the influx of newness hit you like a train. When that train is coming, plan (in your agenda) to jump aboard, and enjoy the ride.
Hope you’ve found this useful! Don’t forget that high school is such a thrilling ride—definitely full of ups-and-downs. Don’t let the downs handicap your strength and resilience. Get up after you fall. Learn from your mistakes. Remember that I’ll always be here for moral and emotional support. Remember that mom and dad, our teachers, all the staff, and all your classmates and I are right along with you for the ride, and that you can ask anyone if you ever need help. And most importantly, enjoy the four years and have so much fun!