Take high school step by step, year by year

By Natalia Naranjo on August 28, 2013
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Although my high school years are over, I often reflect on those four years and think about how different  I was, what I did and what I should have done. I don’t have any regrets. In fact, I really enjoyed high school; I worked hard and played hard. Some of you reading this are coming from middle school, others are stuck in the middle of high school and then of course the class of ’14 is starting their last year. For each step of high school there is a different set of advice because each grade brings its own special situations.

Freshman, take your time
Having been a freshman in high school and in college, I have experience being the scared and intimidated first-year student. It gets better; you learn from the mistakes, the experience accumulates, and you make better decisions. You are standing on the precipice of the next four years, but don’t let that stress you out, and don’t think it’s necessary to know what your exact life path will be. Yes, it’s important to have an outline of your goals, but leave some wiggle room. Middle school and high school aren’t that different, so don’t let the perceived difference be an excuse for poor grades or bad behavior. Take school seriously, but take time to explore your interests by joining clubs.

Sophomore, build relationships
Remember that only last year you were a freshman so don’t treat the new stock of ninth-graders with disrespect (or anyone for that matter). This is the year when students can start taking most AP classes, and I highly recommend it. Not only does taking the AP classes and tests save you money when you go to college, it saves an incredible amount of time. While college may be far off, it’s never too early to start making plans. Keep your GPA up, talk to your counselor more often about your post-grad options, and develop good relationships with your teachers (you may need a recommendation letter later on). Stay involved in the clubs you’re passionate about and try to get a leadership position in them – but don’t let it be the only reason you stay.

Junior, start a short list
This is the year that everything starts changing. College is more at the forefront of all the things you do. SATs are just around the corner – take them early and often. You should have a good relationship with your counselor, a better idea of where you want to go to college and what you want to study. It’s fine if you don’t have a set college or field of study --  but do have a short list of schools. This is when I started to realize that high school was nearly over and I had to continue to work hard and not get lazy about grades or extracurriculars. Though this is one of the hardest years because so much is expected of you, don’t forget that you’re only 15 or 16 years old and don’t have the answers to everything and you shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean you should be apathetic either.

Senior, enjoy -- but stay focused
What they say is true: It goes by quickly. Enjoy all the senior activities like dress-up days, sports games, senior skip day,  because you only get them once. Go to college visit days not only as a way to skip class but to get more information about a school, ask questions and be prepared. It’s easy to get lost in the excitement of it all, but don’t take your mind off your goals. The stress levels are high, there are strict deadlines, and everything is going a mile a minute. Work on applications early, have a teacher or parent read your essays, and send out all the college paperwork with a lot of time in advance. Don’t mess up the AP tests. Just because you may be done applying to college doesn’t mean you’re done with high school. Keep a level head and celebrate when it’s time.

About the Author

Natalia Naranjo

Natalia Naranjo

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