How to get the most out of high school, before it’s too Late

April 24, 2019

High school is commonly found to be one of the most memorable periods of one’s life, yet it is also one of the periods that is most often stained with regret. Because from standardized tests to cliques to college application pressures, high school can prove to be a turbulent and taxing time that requires students to make many quick decisions about their futures, both immediate and otherwise. What only adds to one’s stress, however, is the feeling that one has been going about high school all wrong.

Over the years, I realize that I have made an abundance of mistakes, mistakes that have included both academic blunders and opportunities missed, and all too often I see underclassmen making the same mistakes that I did. Therefore, I have compiled a list of five things about high school that I wish that I had learned sooner in order to get the most out of high school and be as prepared as possible for what comes after.

When Picking Classes, Think Long Term

When I entered high school, I had the mentality that I had to select classes that pertained to my career interests, and since I wanted to be a dentist at the time (why, I now have no idea), I signed up for PLTW and science classes that pertained to the healthcare field, so I spent my freshman and first half of my sophomore year wearing an over-sized lab coat with a beaker held awkwardly in each hand.

Naturally, when I (like nearly all high schoolers) changed my mind and decided that I eventually wanted to become a lawyer and politician as an adult, and wanted major in political science as an undergrad, the relevance of those healthcare courses declined… or so it seemed. Because, had I not enrolled in them, I would not have realized that I did not want to spend my life treating patients or conducting research, and thus I would most likely have been required to change my major in college, which is much more burdensome than simply filling out a neon-colored course selection sheet in high school.

The lesson, then, is to take courses pertaining to your career interests until you firmly decide upon a college major to pursue, or at least decide upon a future career, and then take as many AP or dual-credit courses as you can to build up your college resume. For example, now that I know which major I want to pursue, I have begun to take as many AP courses as possible spanning all subject areas.

Take the SAT and ACT Early and Often

It is the spring of my Junior year, and I only just now took the SAT for my first time. This is seemingly when most juniors first take the exam, yet, it is my opinion that this is a costly mistake, for I regret not taking the test sooner and feel that all students should begin to sign up for these standardized tests, beginning their sophomore year.

Given that the SAT is administered seven months out of the year, or at least typically is, students in high school of all ages should be taking the exam as often as one’s schedule allows in order to ensure adequate practice. Because while your scores will most certainly be higher as a junior or senior than as a sophomore, taking the exam is the best way to prepare for the exam, and you will have more time to study for the SAT your freshman and sophomore years than your latter two years in high school due to the increase in workload that comes with being an upperclassman.

To study, I personally recommend The Princeton Review: SAT Premium Edition, for the 832 page book offers eight practice tests, a comprehensive review of all major mathematical and English concepts that will appear on the test, and an engaging writing style that actually uses humor to prevent one from falling asleep too quickly while studying. My only regret is that I waited until now to begin this studying process, for I have found very little time to do so, and fear that my scores will have suffered as a result. Thus, the message is clear: study early, and study often. Otherwise, you risk neglecting one of the key aspects of every college application.

Look for Opportunities Wherever You Go

Students often get caught up in the mindset not only that “What happens at Carroll, Stays at Carroll” but also that nothing actually does happen outside of Carroll. For the microcosm that is our high school is nothing compared to the vast city that surrounds us, and the extracurriculars that are offered here are few in number compared to the abundance offered by the community.

Join an oratorical club such as Optimists International. Work for a local organization or charity. Engage in the downtown area. For the list of activity period clubs and sports roster at Carroll is indeed expansive, yet the community is where one can cause the most positive change, help the most people, and grow as an individual.

For example, this year I joined the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council, which hosts seminars to educate the community on issues such as The Opioid Crisis, engages in volunteer activities such as working at a local food bank, and attends city functions, such as Riverfront meetings and conferences with The Downtown Improvement District.

Get a Part-Time Job as Soon as Possible

Students often wait until the end of their sophomore year to get part time jobs, yet I recommend doing so as early as one’s freshman year. This may be a controversial opinion, yet it is one that I firmly believe based on my personal experience.

I was one of the many who waited until the summer between my sophomore and junior years to get a job, and I feel that this is one of the worst times to do so. Many students already have jobs at this point, so gaining employment at a restaurant or store means that you will be working with students who already have been working there for months. In other words, your seniority will be harmed and you may get less hours, in addition to being labeled a “newbie” and thus feeling inferior to your coworkers, at least for the first few months.

Joining as a freshmen would eliminate these problems, as by the time that you became a junior, you would know how to best perform your role and would have worked there for a longer amount of time than your peers, and thus would be more of an insider with a stronger attachment to your coworkers.

Additionally, as I touched upon earlier, the workload one’s freshman and sophomore years is vastly lower than that of their junior and senior years, so one should be able to work more. Due to my busy schedule, I am only able to work two days a week, which I feel makes it hard to get to know my coworkers and makes me more expendable in the eyes of my employer and makes me more inexperienced. Had I began working my freshman or sophomore years, I could have gotten to know my coworkers better and could have established more personal credibility and experience at the company.

I acknowledge that many cannot get jobs upon entering high school due to not being able to drive and having parents who cannot transport them to work, yet if one can work around this, I highly suggest doing so.

Enjoy It While It Lasts

Upon entering high school, the first thing that I wanted to do was leave. And yet, now, as a junior with college resumes approaching me from the horizon, leaving is the last thing that I want to do.

High school is the last opportunity that you will ever get to simply be young, for it may seem that you have a lot of responsibilities right now – between homework, extracurriculars, and working – yet these are trivial compared to those of one’s young adulthood. For in high school, the homework is much less rigorous, the grading policies much more generous, the teams and clubs so much less involved, and the jobs so much more flexible and elementary.

Thus, high school should be a time of experimentation and enjoyment, for you should savor every bus ride to the next “big game,” every minute waiting tables, and every one-sided worksheet. Because high school will be a high point in your life only if you allow it to be.

And let it not be forgotten that high school offers to potential to make lifelong friends, take part in a vast array of teams and clubs to fulfill one’s athletic or intellectual desires, and an opportunity to do the most important thing that one can do: grow as an individual.

But of course, high school is something that we will only ever get to experience once, so we have to make the most of it, and realize that as long as one exercises patterns of long-term planning and an openness to new opportunities, than there is no reason that the stormy waters of high school cannot only be navigated safely, but conquered.

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