The transition from middle to high school can be a pivotal one for many students, but with adequate preparation and the right attitude, it can be a smooth and enjoyable step up. Students can look forward to a diversity of classrooms and teachers, more elective class options, and a host of extracurricular enrichment opportunities to participate in. While high school can be a rewarding and enriching growth opportunity for students, it’s important that they get started on the right foot. The proper preparation will ensure that students don’t enter high school intimidated or overwhelmed, but rather excited and prepared.

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1 Know Where Your Classes Are

The last thing you want to be worried about as you enter high school is finding your classes and getting there on time. One typical difference between middle school and high school is that high schools are often larger, with more students, and many more classes and floors to navigate. For some students coming out of smaller middle schools, this can be scary and intimidating – but it shouldn’t. As in most cases, preparation is key and the antidote to fear. The best way to prepare is to get a map of your school and locate your classes (once you have your schedule), and spend some time walking the classes to determine the most direct route to get from class to class. This can ensure that teens feel comfortable and confident locating their classes and getting to each one on time, come the first day of the semester.

2 Buy the Right School Supplies

This one might seem obvious but be sure to buy the right and necessary school supplies for the particular classes you’re taking, and none of the unnecessary ones. While you don’t want to be underprepared and lacking in essential supplies, it also won’t help you to lug around a huge backpack of unnecessary binders and colored pencils. In most high school classes, you’ll find that teachers will give you a rubric and a list of required supplies at the start of the semester. Since you’ll likely have a locker to store your items between classes, you’ll also be able to split your binders into those for your morning classes, versus those for your afternoon classes. This way, you can cut down on the clutter, keep your load light, and stay organized with what you really need for each class.

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3 Get Enough Sleep

Even though many high schoolers may enjoy staying up late and watching their favorite shows on Netflix, it’s important to prioritize nightly homework and studying early to ensure they’re able to get a good night’s sleep and be well-rested for the next day of school. High school is different from middle school in that there are more quizzes, tests, pop quizzes, and situations in which a student’s preparation really matters. If you’re handed a pop quiz on a day when you’re groggy and spend the night binge-watching your favorite shows, you’re going to have a much more difficult time performing well. Sleep is necessary for students’ health, memory, and performance, and students who come to school well-rested will clearly come across as sharp and engaged.

4 Manage Your Time Wisely

One of the hallmark traits of a successful person and top student is the ability to manage their time wisely. Well-organized students are able to plan ahead and set aside time for schoolwork, time for extracurriculars, time for college prep, and time for friends and family. One trap some students fall into early on is devoting either far too much or far too little of their time to extracurriculars, both of which are big mistakes. Students should focus on a few meaningful extracurricular activities and dedicate an adequate amount of time to each one every week, as spreading yourself too thin among many activities is a recipe for disaster. 

Figure Out a Plan for Your Next Four Years

One great way to keep yourself on track and ensure that each semester of your high school career has meaning and purpose is to figure out your four-year plan. You can do this by considering which subjects interest you most, which subjects you naturally excel in and may want to pursue in honors or advanced classes, and what type of university or career path may suit you down the road. Once you have a goal in mind regarding these subjects and areas of interest, you’ll be in a much better position to map out your ideal classes for each semester. This type of roadmap for your high school career can make class scheduling so much easier in future semesters, as well as give you the motivation to excel in your classes right now.

5 Take Classes Over the Summer

While it’s not necessary, taking summer classes can be a great time hack and advantage for students who are looking to get ahead or free up time in their future semesters for more electives or advanced classes. Summer school is clearly a productive use of the summer vacation, and if there are a few core classes you’d like to get out of the way, it can be an ideal option. Summer school is usually shorter (and a bit less work, and less comprehensive) than regular-term classes, which is why you probably want to keep this option for those basic and core classes you aren’t super jazzed about. However, taking those classes over the summer can put you semesters ahead, and allow you to achieve a schedule that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible during the school year.

Related: Things to Do Over the Summer for High School Students

6 Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

High school can be a competitive place, but it’s important to keep your focus on what matters: YOU. Every student is on a different path, and the most important thing is that you do your best and excel in every aspect you can. Comparing yourself to others won’t help with either of those goals unless you find that comparison as a great personal motivator. Regardless, your motivation shouldn’t rely on the people around you, but rather on your future potential and what that can lead to. Good grades in the subjects you care about can lead to acceptance into the university you desire, which can lead to a degree in the major of your choice, which can lead to the career of your dreams. None of this is predicated on what your fellow high school peers are doing right now, and you shouldn’t base your goals, progress, or motivation on those around you.

7 Get to Know the People in Your Classes

Making friends and networking is a big part of high school, though few students think of it that way. The truth is, your peers are your network, and they can be very helpful to you, both now and in the future. As a safety net, it’s prudent to get to know a handful of people in all of your classes, in case you ever miss a day and need a question answered, to borrow notes or a quick review of what you missed. Additionally, knowing people in your classes can lead to productive study groups, as well as outside-the-classroom group involvement in clubs or extracurriculars. These friendships might be more helpful to you than you realize…haven’t you heard the phrase “your network is your net worth”?

8 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

As a teenager, it’s your time to learn, and being intellectually curious and inquisitive is a big part of that. Whether you have a question that delves further into a topic of study, or you simply don’t understand the new formula your teacher is introducing, bringing up your questions early is incredibly important. What some teens don’t realize is that asking questions is a show of student interest, engagement, and eagerness to understand, so there is no negative connotation with seeking out answers. High school is also a great time for shy students to get over their anxiety by speaking up in class and asking questions at a time when the stakes are low and their peers and teachers are there to support them.

9 Make Sure Your Backpack Isn’t Too Heavy

The more different classes you have, the more binders and textbooks you’ll likely gather…but that’s no excuse for an unnecessarily heavy backpack! No teen should be carrying tens of pounds of textbooks around on their back all day, no matter how many classes they’re taking. The first step to alleviate back pain is to ensure you’re not carrying any unnecessary items in your backpack, especially if they aren’t pertinent to the class at hand. The second step is to organize your binders and books to allow for locker breaks, in which you exchange one set of materials for another. By keeping only the binders and books you need at that time in your backpack, you can easily shed pounds off your backpack, and you’ll be thanking yourself in the long run.

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10 Take Your Teacher’s Advice

Students and teachers are really on the same team, and once students realize that, they’ll have a much better academic experience. Your teacher’s goal is for you to learn and excel in the subject matter, and as a student, your goal is likely to do the same. Therefore, it only makes sense that seeking out and following your teacher’s advice will be helpful to you. Your teacher will only make suggestions that will improve your understanding of the subject matter and increase your performance on schoolwork and tests, so they’re truly your biggest resource, cheerleader, and guide, and should be relied on as such.

11 Don’t Cram for an Exam the Night Before

Exams can be stressful, but there’s no need to make them worse than they need to be, and that means avoiding cramming and all-nighters at all costs. If you wait until the day or night before a test to begin to prepare, you’re setting yourself up for a bad night, and probably a bad day following. The truth is, in most classes, you’re given a schedule and are made aware of test dates far in advance. Well-organized students will use their time wisely and plan their study hours leading up to the exams ahead of time, to ensure the night before the exam is simply a review or refresher. In other words, you shouldn’t be learning anything new the night before the exam.

12 Stay Organized

We’ve alluded to the organization many times already, but it truly is the key to keeping on top of your studies and avoiding overwhelm. Keeping a weekly planner and daily schedule on you and up-to-date at all times is a great place to start. Keeping separate binders and folders for each class’s assignments is another. Making a special test prep calendar with planned study schedules and major exams highlighted is also a crucial step to an effective organization that can ease the pressure of a heavy high school course load. Whatever your method, keeping things organized and consistent is a skill that will help you in high school, college, and beyond.

13 Stay On Top of Deadlines

High school is a bit different from middle school in that students will have more moving pieces to account for, in terms of a more diverse and busy class schedule. Therefore, staying on top of deadlines is more important than ever before, and this is something freshmen should highly prioritize. A well-maintained planner and project and exam calendar are a great solution, as well as weekly check-ins to ensure you’re prepared for any upcoming deadlines. This is one test of a student’s ability to self-manage their time and responsibilities, and the sooner you get the hang of it, the easier all of the high school will become.

14 Find Some Balance Between School and Your Life

As much as school is a large priority in every high school student’s life, it isn’t the ONLY priority, and students need to make the effort to keep a balance of the other important aspects of their life. These important aspects include extracurricular, hobbies and passions, friends, and family. All of these aspects deserve your time, and you won’t benefit by pushing everything out of the way and solely focusing on your schoolwork. Be sure to set aside separate time for each of these other important pieces of your life, including time with friends and family, whether it’s after school, once a week, or on weekends – this is important for you and the people around you.

15 Never Change Who You Are

No teen is a stranger to peer pressure, but it all comes down to how you deal with the people around you and it’s up to you to stick to your morals and principles. Some of your peers will be a positive influence, some will make you rethink certain viewpoints, and others may pose a negative influence. You need to be discerning enough to determine which influences you should consider and be open to, which you should ignore, and which of your viewpoints and morals are non-negotiables on which you won’t budge.

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16 Get to Know Your School Counselor 

Similar to the relationship between students and teachers, guidance counselors are there to help you and should be utilized and relied upon. Your guidance counselor can be a vital part of your high school and future college application journey, but they can only be as helpful as you allow them to be. This means getting to know your counselor, telling them your goals and plans, and seeking out their advice as it pertains to achieving those goals with the proper course schedules, extracurriculars, and other involvement. Counselors have a good pulse on the college admissions space as well, so when it comes to prepping your application, be sure to get feedback from your counselor to improve your process.

17 Bad Grades Happen

As a diligent freshman, it’s easy to put a huge focus on grades and worry about anything less than an A+, but the occasional bad grade is likely to happen. You may experience an abnormally difficult class in which, no matter how much you study, the subject doesn’t come naturally to you, and you may experience a suboptimal grade on an exam or quiz, here or there. While you should try your best and aim to achieve the best grades possible, you can’t let one bad grade ruin your attitude or crush your motivation. One bad grade is not the end of the world, and it’s your task to either use this as a learning lesson from which to improve or to simply move on. Nothing good will come of dwelling on your sub-par performance, especially if you know you tried your best and did all you could to succeed.

18 Make New Friends

We’ve already mentioned how your friends in high school are your network, and it’s important to make the effort to build and expand that network. Whether you came into high school with a handful of close friends or a wide net of acquaintances, you should go out of your way to make new friends in all of the classes and activities you’re involved in. These friends will expand your interests, perspectives, and support team, and they may be the conduit to new clubs, activities, or opportunities you wouldn’t have considered without them.

19 Find Leadership Opportunities

High school not only gives students a variety of enriching extracurricular activities to participate in outside of class, but it also affords students valuable leadership opportunities, for those who pursue them. The goal of extracurricular involvement isn’t simply to pepper your resume with a dozen activities; instead, it’s to show meaningful involvement in a few that you care about. This is a great opportunity to put significant effort into those few and work to advance to leadership positions, such as team captain or club president. These opportunities will enable you to develop your confidence and independence, as well as help you stand out further on your resume and college applications.

20 Don’t Let One Bad Day Get to You!

Similar to the one bad grade you may get, don’t let one bad day here or there get you down. In the grand scheme of things, one day in high school is likely not all that important, and any small issue in one class or with one friend will more than likely blow over soon. Instead of focusing on the small stuff, keep your eye on the prize, also known as the long game. This means keeping your focus on your long-term goals, like advancement in certain classes and extracurricular, perhaps embarking on some big independent passion project, or getting into the college of your dreams.

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Entering high school as a freshman is one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life, and you should be eager for what the next four years will bring. The high school journey will be a different one than you’re used to, and you’ll be given more independence and responsibility than you’ve had previously. Likewise, you’ll be given more opportunities than ever before, and it’s up to you to seize that opportunity and use that independence wisely to become the best version of yourself possible. These are the years that will form who you’re going to be as an adult, and what path you may pursue beyond high school, so go in with a positive attitude and remember the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

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