Being successful in high school may look different for different students, depending on their particular goals, interests, and priorities. To some students, good grades is the metric of success, while to others it’s earning leadership titles and accolades outside of school, and for many, it’s getting into the colleges of their dreams. Regardless of your teen’s unique situation, there are a number of common actions they can take to increase their chance of success on any path. While these suggestions are for high school students, mastering these actions will also help them out in college and beyond. The earlier a student prioritizes these actions, the more time they’ll have to reap the benefits.
Related: 20 Tips for High School Freshmen
Set Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
Teens in high school have a lot of different classes, tests, and responsibilities to prioritize, and those are just the class-related required ones. When you add extracurriculars and college prep on top of that, things can get overwhelming without effective goal setting and prioritization.
Teens should set both short-term goals, as in those contained within a week, month, or semester, as well as long-term goals, which may be multi-year goals. The short-term goals may focus on grades in a class, while the long-term goals may focus on getting into an advanced program, getting on a varsity team, or getting into a certain college.
No matter the goal, the best way to ensure a teen is working towards those specific outcomes is to outline each goal and write down exactly which steps they’re taking to achieve each goal. This will result in a schedule of daily, weekly, and monthly actions a teen should be taking in preparation for each goal, from daily study hours per subject to weekly SAT test prep time, and more. This type of organization will ensure the teen is not only aware of what they need to do, but they’re focused on the goal or outcome of each action, which can be a great motivating factor that keeps teens positive and ambitious.
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Master Time Management
Along with setting goals, forming a schedule will help students master time management across their course-load, upcoming quizzes and tests, and extracurricular involvement. One objective of high school is to prepare students for college, adulthood, and the real world, and mastering time management is one of those tasks that will help students across all areas of school and life.
Some good ways for teens to manage their time include schedules, to-do lists, accountability trackers, and a reward or incentive system upon task completion. These schedules and to-do lists can be very effective at giving students a sense of purpose and keeping them focused in their free time, while an incentive system upon task completion can give teens a positive association with completing their studies.
Select a Balanced Course Load
Most teens are given the freedom to choose some of the classes that make up their schedule, in terms of electives, honors, and AP classes, and this is a true test of judgment. Students should aim to select a balanced, interesting, and somewhat rigorous schedule that they believe they can excel in.
One mistake some overly ambitious students make is to load up on too many hard or AP classes and find themselves overwhelmed with difficult coursework they don’t have the time for or interest in, in which case their grades may end up suffering. A better strategy is to create a diverse schedule of a few rigorous courses and some electives that interest you. It’s also a better idea to ease yourself into the difficult classes early on in high school, so you can determine exactly how many honors or AP classes you can handle at any one time. This will better prepare you for the coming years of more difficult classes, as well as prepare you for a future university schedule.
Be Active Outside of Class
Classes and grades can seem like the most important thing in the world to teens in high school, and they are important, but it’s also important for teens to be active in activities outside the classroom. Students who spend all their time on their studies will miss out on valuable hands-on experiences, extracurricular enrichment, community service, and social development.
In order to make the most of a student’s time outside of school, they should dedicate it to at least one or two independent activities or causes they’re passionate about and show continued commitment to these activities. This could mean involvement in a community service project, participation in an independent project or individual pursuit, engagement with a local organization, or involvement in independent extracurriculars that aren’t affiliated with their school. This type of outside-the-class involvement demonstrates that students are well-rounded, intellectually curious, ambitious, and independent go-getters, all of which is highly impressive to both admissions officers and future employers.
Related: College Versus High School
Participate in Classroom Discussions
Most high school students are aware of the importance of completing their homework, studying for tests, and aiming to get good grades; however, few students realize how important class participation really is. Even shy students should try to make vocal, meaningful contributions to classroom discussions and debates on a regular basis.
While a student doesn’t need to monopolize the conversation to get noticed, the more meaningful contributions a student makes in a class, the more they’ll stand out from their peers and impress their teacher. If your class has a participation grade, this may seem obvious, but even if participation isn’t graded, you should aim to make those contributions and forge a positive working relationship with your teacher.
This will lead a teacher to become your biggest advocate, who may write you a glowing recommendation letter and nominate you for honors, awards, and scholarships. Given all the potential benefits of participation and the little effort it takes to contribute, there’s no reason to neglect your meaningful participation in every class.
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Practice Self Care
Though this might seem trivial, maintaining good self-care is incredibly important for teens, especially as they advance towards independence and adulthood. The teenage years are formative ones in most everyone’s life, and the habits created in this period may last a lifetime, so better those be positive habits than negative.
Additionally, practicing good health, hygiene, and self-care will improve a student’s capability and potential performance in school, extracurriculars, sports, and every other aspect of their life. This means students should work on maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and keeping healthy sleeping schedules.
They should also dedicate some time to a personal interest, project, or passion that is rewarding and fulfilling and entirely unrelated to their academic requirements. This is a great outlet for students that can keep their spirits up, make them a more interesting person, and also add a unique differentiator to their resume, depending on their passion or interest.
Find Your Passions
Along the lines of spending your free time on a passion or interest, high school teens who have not yet found their passion should be on an active pursuit of seeking it out.
The best way to discover your passion is through experience and experimenting, so try out a variety of different activities. You could participate in sports, music groups, or other local activities or extracurriculars, or you could look online for independent programs of interest.
Whether your passion is singing, hockey, writing, or business, once you find it, you’ll be motivated to pursue it further. This could lead to a future career in the subject, or it could be a unique talent that might score you a college scholarship.
One of the best things about teens finding their passion is the sense of purpose and fulfillment that goes along with that, and it can really alleviate the pressure of their other responsibilities and the classes that they’re less passionate about.
Learn to Say No
We’ve already discussed how high school students are tasked with balancing diverse schedules and outside-the-classroom requirements and extracurriculars, but it’s also important these students learn to say no to the tasks they don’t have time for. Ambitious and motivated students, especially, maybe pulled in many different directions, with too many extracurricular, honors, and other opportunities to pursue. Taking on far too many activities at once can be just as detrimental as failing to pursue any, especially if these activities result in an overwhelmed teen, declining grades, or a student failing to follow through on the tasks they’ve voluntarily committed themselves to.
A good rule of thumb is for students to hone in on two to three activities outside of class to pursue. This is a manageable number that allows most students to successfully participate in the activities, while also doing well in their studies. If you do decide to try out a new activity here or there, that’s fine, but it’s important to make your studies and your well-being top priority, and if that means saying no to or stepping out of an activity for a time, it may be worth it.
Earn Leadership Roles
The truth about extracurricular activities these days is that almost all students participate in them, and a padded resume full of ten different activities isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk on a college application; alternatively, advancement into leadership roles in select activities is much more impressive and something fewer students will achieve.
Every student can participate in ten different clubs, but not every student can become team manager or club president, and the students who do will stand out. This is another reason why it’s important to hone in on fewer activities about which a student is passionate and to dedicate the majority of their extracurricular time to contributions to and advancement in those activities.
Utilize a Support Network
High school is no walk in the park, and it’s not something to be done in isolation. Teens should be sure to build and utilize a support network to help them get through the difficult aspects of school and their teen years, and every teen should have access to this type of network.
For teens who are close with their parents, this is a great opportunity to be open about the obstacles you face and request their help or feedback. That said, parents don’t have all the answers, and they may not be the best-suited to help a teen in certain areas, so teens should be sure to remember the other people they can go to for support. This includes peers, teachers, tutors, mentors, guidance counselors, and college and career centers, depending on the issue at hand. No teen should go through this time alone, and every teen should feel important enough and empowered enough to seek out help and support from any of the aforementioned sources.
This is something we include as a vital piece of our Beta Bowl Virtual Enrichment programs, as each teen who participates is assigned an individual startup mentor, and between startup mentors and peer collaboration, teens are never going through our programs alone.
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Develop a Growth Mindset
Being successful in high school, or anywhere for that matter, is primarily determined by your values and how you view your experiences. A growth mindset may be a phrase you’ve heard before but aren’t clear on what it means. A growth mindset means that you believe it’s possible to improve your experience of life. You know that with effort, time, and the input of others, you can increase your knowledge, develop new skills, expand your talent, and eventually become the person you want to be. The growth mindset is in stark contrast to the fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset believes that you are stuck with who you currently are and with the level of skill and intelligence you already have. This is a mindset focused on their limitations. For instance, when faced with a challenging math class, a fixed mindset believes that they “aren’t a math person” so, they won’t do well in this class. But the growth mindset decides that there is no such thing as a “math person” and sets about to learn the material and aims to do well in the class.
It isn’t that the person with the growth mindset doesn’t see the challenges or limitations in front of them – they do. But they factor in their ability to face challenges and to expand the boundaries of their own limitations. Developing this mindset in high school is beneficial in many ways.
- You are more likely to take advantage of great opportunities, believing that you can make a reasonable attempt at doing new things.
- You don’t feel as daunted by the difficulties of high school or planning your future. You feel excited about the possibilities.
- Because you set yourself to learn new things, you enjoy enhanced brain development.
- You may meet more interesting people because you recognize that the input of smarter people is beneficial to you.
- You may experience fewer mental health issues as you have more positive emotions than negative ones daily.
- You’re more resilient. When things go wrong, you recover faster.
- You’re more motivated to succeed than students who don’t believe that it’s possible for them.
Taking the time to develop a growth mindset while you’re in high school will help you succeed there and help you do well when you leave.
Learn for Personal Growth, Not Just for Your GPA
This success tip is closely connected to the one above. See the value in learning beyond how it will affect your GPA. Of course, your grades are important. They impact the college or university you attend, but there is so much more to gain in the learning environment of high school.
If your grades and other similar achievements are your only focus, you will find yourself feeling constant pressure and stress. It will drain your days, weeks, and months of the potential enjoyment you could be experiencing. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to step back and evaluate what your values are. Ask yourself if you’re missing out on fun opportunities and pleasant people to get to know. When high school is over, will you have gotten all that you could have from it?
Becoming a person who loves to learn will not only make your high school experience more enjoyable, but you will benefit for the rest of your life. Life long learning has many advantages:
- You will be more fulfilled in life. The things you learn connect you to enriching experiences and relationships that you might otherwise miss.
- Your brain will be healthier. Researchers have found that the activity of learning keeps your brain’s cells working on high levels and defies cognitive decline.
- You will do better in your career. Even after university, most jobs will require supplemental education or training. If you love learning, your attitude and likely, your outcome will be more favorable than the person who is resistant.
- It’s easy to engage in lifelong learning. Education is readily available online in many formats and free of charge. So, no matter where you live or your financial state, you can continue to have access to learning new and useful things.
The more you enjoy learning in high school, the more fun you will have. You will see and engage with more opportunities and realize that life is filled with exciting discoveries and lessons to learn.
Navigating high school successfully can be tricky for some teens, and it definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. However, teens who prioritize their classes and activities and make productive use of their time can excel in many areas, from grades to extracurriculars and college prep. While high school might appear as a stressful or chaotic time, it really doesn’t have to, and in fact, these teenage years are when many people find their true passions and interests. The key here is to plan well, reevaluate your time and commitments often, and continue to seek out and pursue enriching, challenging, interesting new opportunities along the way, inside or outside the classroom.