I had an enjoyable high school experience, and if I could do it all over again… I would definitely do some things differently. Alas, humanity has not yet evolved to the point of bending the space-time continuum, so the best I can do is share my wisdom with you. So here are 4 things I would like to tell my former high school self:
1. Grades aren’t everything.
At the end of the day, we attend high school to learn. However, in today’s world of ever-decreasing college admission rates, it is all too easy to get caught up in a counterproductive race to the top. We get so fixated on the idea of receiving the perfect grades and overloading on APs in hopes of ultimately attending the college of our dreams that we can lose sight of the rest of our lives.
In ninth grade, I didn’t go to visit my newborn sister in the hospital with the rest of my family because I wanted to spend more time studying for a history test. Of course, I saw her a few days later when she was released from the hospital, but the entire situation seems absurd now.
How could one test in one class of a four-year high school career ever seem more pressing than the birth of my sibling? Of course, studying hard and learning as much as you can is important, and I do not endorse consistently blowing off homework to hang out with friends. But the universe will not collapse if you get one C on a quiz.
As college applications loomed closer, keeping things in perspective and remembering that my worth was not determined by my transcript was a skill I failed to master in high school.
2. Your teachers are cooler than you think.
I cannot stress enough the benefits of hanging out with your high school teachers, after class, during lunch breaks, or in after-school activities they are in charge of. Your teachers bring practical knowledge, years of personal successes and struggles, and, most crucially, years of teaching teenagers just like you that even your parents cannot match.
Whether they got into Harvard and chose not to attend, backed into a wall from utter disbelief when meeting Bruce Springsteen, or changed their major halfway through college from a lucrative petroleum engineering degree to become a math teacher, your teachers have lots of life experience to share with you (all of these are true stories, by the way). And they’re usually excited to do so.
So give your teachers your undivided attention both in and out of the classroom, stop by to chat after school, and give them a chance to get to know you better. They will expose you to new ideas, help you through many difficulties, and share unbelievably funny stories (bonus points if they also write you a heartfelt college recommendation). Fair warning though, befriending your teachers will make leaving high school that much harder.
3. One passion is worth 1,000 club memberships.
When it comes time to apply to college, it is tempting to overwhelm the admissions committee with countless activities, signing up for clubs left and right to seem more impressive.
As a high school freshman, I joined the school paper as a photographer and there quickly discovered a passion for writing, graphic design, and all things journalism. However, as senior year approached, I was increasingly worried about my resume and the way admissions officers would evaluate it. So I started joining any club I could get my hands on: Model UN, Model Congress, Red Cross Society, Relay for Life, Lions’ Club….I was dutifully attending every meeting and signing up for extra projects.
Soon I was completely burned out. And as I looked over college application prompts, I realized I had very little to say about each individual club, despite the countless hours I spent attending their meetings. I had neglected my love for the newspaper in order to buff up my resume and make myself seem a more well-rounded individual. I even missed out on an annual staff trip to New York because I was too busy carrying out projects for several clubs I didn’t care about.
Although I strayed from the journalism path in my last year of high school, I rekindled that passion in college. I never majored in journalism, but I continued to work and intern in various publications, and I am now considering a career in communications.
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon journalism as a high school freshman, and my only regret is the year I spent ignoring my calling in order to impress colleges. High school is a time to explore, try new things, and learn something about yourself. Don’t get caught up in what looks good, find something that feels good!
4. Whatever it is, it will get better.
Somehow, everything seems more dramatic in high school. One mediocre grade means that you will be doomed to live with your parents for the rest of your life and one broken heart convinces you that you will never love again.
During my years in high school, every setback felt personal and impossible to overcome. And I was absolutely convinced that no one in the world could possibly comprehend the nature of my struggles.
James Baldwin wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” Unfortunately for my high school self, I did not come across this quote until college. The point is that there is always someone out there who has faced similar challenges in life and who is willing to help you overcome them.
It may seem a silly example, but I remember having a huge fight with my best friend and feeling convinced that I will never make a real friend again. I have since met dozens of amazing people and made incredibly close friends. I spent the last two years sharing an apartment with a girl I met in a freshman seminar (and didn’t particularly like), who is now my best friend. During my study abroad semester, I went on a trip to Scotland to visit someone I met during a one-week high school summer program with whom I have been in close touch ever since.
Right before high school graduation, while feeling particularly nostalgic after signing my friends’ yearbooks, I actually asked my mom what she now wished she knew in high school. And here is what she said: It always gets better.
So, wherever you are in your high school experience, don’t let your grades control your life, take advantage of learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom, and pursue your passions, whatever they may be! Whether high school will become “the best four years of life” is entirely up to you, but try to enjoy the ride anyway.
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