It’s officially back-to-school time! Whether you’re already back in class or going back soon, there’s no way around it. And if you’re a new high school freshman, you have a big change ahead of you. Going from middle school to high school isn’t nearly as hyped up as the adjustment to college or the workforce, but it’s still an important rite of passage. Whether you’re excited, nervous, or a little bit of both, read on for some tips on how to make the most of your transition to high school.
1. Choose a course load that makes sense for you
For many students, high school is the first time they have a real say in the classes they take. You may have been able to choose an elective or two in middle school, but in high school, you gain greater control over your course load. While this may feel daunting at first, there are plenty of people who want to help you choose the best class schedule for your needs. Take time to meet with your school counselor ASAP and throughout high school to assess what classes you’re interested in as you sign up for electives and choose between standard, honors, IB, and AP courses.
Remember, the goal isn’t to fill your schedule with impossible classes just because you can, but rather to give you the option and opportunity to challenge yourself at a reasonable level. As hard as it can be sometimes, don’t take a class just because all your friends are doing it. Make sure that your course load is right for you. This is also a great time to brush up on your time management skills. Whether you thrived or struggled in middle school, high school presents new and unique obstacles to your academic schedule.
2. Try out new things
Like more class options, there are dozens of extracurricular activities available to you in high school. These include service clubs; honor societies; specific-interest groups for anything from foreign language to art to acting to business; student government; and a variety of sports. While all of these seem great on paper, it can be intimidating to know what you want to go for. However, don’t let that stop you from getting involved! Katie Cushman—a rising high school senior from Greenville, South Carolina—wishes she’d gotten involved more as a freshman and tried out more extracurricular activities. She advises incoming freshmen to “do as much extra stuff as you can, because that’s something I didn’t think of my freshman year. It’s easier to narrow down your extracurriculars later in high school than to add a bunch of new ones your junior or senior year. Plus, getting involved earlier will look better on your college applications.”
Another benefit of trying out new activities is the potential for meeting more people and making new friends—one of the hardest parts of transitioning to high school. Besides, becoming involved with a smaller community can help you not feel as overwhelmed by the enormity of your new school. While it’s worth trying as many different things as possible, the goal isn’t to join every single activity and leave yourself with no free time. Many clubs and groups have interest meetings or welcome-back gatherings in the first few weeks of school; these are the perfect opportunity to check them out and see if it might be something you’re interested in (besides, there’s often free food).
3. Learn to advocate for yourself
In the past, your parents may have emailed a teacher over a missing grade or to explain an absence. However, in high school, it’s best you learn to advocate for yourself, and part of that means taking on these responsibilities. It doesn’t mean your parents shouldn’t go to parent-teacher conferences or stay plugged into what’s going on at school; it just means you should start taking control of your education rather than someone else. This may look like getting up the courage to ask your teacher about a question on a test you believe was marked incorrectly or letting them know about an issue you’re having with a partner on a group project.
While it may feel difficult at first, this is important for building communication skills and helping you grow more confident. Advocating for yourself also means learning how to ask for help. Don’t understand something in biology class? Stay behind for your teacher’s office hours to ask questions. In a larger school environment, it’s important to stand up for yourself because your teachers have dozens of students and may not be aware of everything that’s going on. Besides, asking for help demonstrates maturity and self-awareness along with a sense of teamwork that’s important for academic success and beyond.
4. Build real relationships with your teachers and counselors
In the process of choosing your classes, getting involved, and advocating for yourself, you’ll be getting to know your teachers and school counselors. At first, you may only see them as useful beyond class when you need a recommendation or a signed permission slip. However, building meaningful relationships with the adults at your school is critical for a few reasons. First, if you run into an issue you need to talk to a trusted adult about, you’ll have someone you’re comfortable with. Second, by getting to know your teachers and counselors, they’re also getting to know you, which will help them to give you higher-quality advice as you navigate high school and the world beyond it. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your counselor and visit your teachers during office hours—it will be worth it, and they’ll be happy to meet with you!
In the end, the transition from middle school to high school is fundamentally like all other transitions: difficult but worthwhile. Change is never easy, but once you accept it and begin to make friends, get involved, and look for ways to grow and develop, you’ll adjust quicker than you thought.
After you adjust to your new life in high school, come back to CollegeXpress and start your college search with our four-year College Planning Checklist! You can also check out our Ultimate Guide to the College Search video series for high school freshmen.