Sometimes high school seems like a necessary evil, that step between childhood and the structure of elementary school and adulthood and the freedom of college. I remember feeling like I was just ready to be done Ė and that was only the beginning of sophomore year. Now at the end of my college journey, I know that while I did well in high school, there are some things in particular that made high school and college easier for me. And there are still more things I could have done to make my high school experience more fun, more manageable, and more beneficial.
Stretch your brain. Take a class that scares you at least once during high school. Donít let preconceptions about the class or the teacher sway you from taking a class that you know you can do well in. Maybe youíll decide to take an honors class instead of going the regular route; maybe youíll opt for Chemistry AP when youíre done with your science requirement. The experience will definitely make you a stronger student and prepare you for future academic challenges. If you can face those challenges, if you can bring them on yourself and enjoy them, you will succeed.
Donít sweat your grades too much. Getting a B here and there is not the end of the world. In fact, itís kind of a good thing. I started college at a top university with straight Aís since seventh grade, and it was hard to deal with not being able to repeat that. I shied away from taking some harder courses I might have done well in because I was afraid of doing poorly. Now, I can fully accept that if I try my hardest in a class and get a B+, that is still something to be proud of.
Ask for help. Learn how to forge relationships with teachers and guidance counselors. Ask for help on a concept youíre trying to grasp after class, meet with your English teacher to talk about an upcoming essay. Getting comfortable with talking to teachers will help once you get to college. You will need help outside of class sometimes, and you have to be able to ask for it and interact with your professors. Relationships with them may help you get a job or get into grad school. Of course, your high school teachers will also likely write your college recommendations; it doesnít hurt to get to know them early so they can have good things to say about you.
Find your own de-stress routine. Another essential skill to begin building in high school is how to manage work and stress. In college, you will not have homework to turn in every day, making sure youíre on track with what youíre supposed to be learning. A good deal of the learning will be up to you to complete on your own time. Inevitably, you will get behind and stressed out sometimes; knowing how to deal with that stress can make all the difference. Maybe you deal with stress by going for a run, or taking a break to watch a silly sitcom. Talk with a friend for a while or play with your dog. Find out what relaxes you and take short breaks from amounts of work that seem unmanageable to de-stress. Youíll find that it will be easily manageable.
Do something good. Volunteer. Not every day, not to fulfill a class requirement, not because you can use it on applications. Volunteer because it makes you feel good, and because you're a lot luckier than a lot of people out there. Make a once a month commitment at a daycare center; be an organizer for the annual holiday pageant at the Women's Shelter. Find time to give back. It'll put everything else into perspective and itís a good habit to get into when youíre young.
Spend your summers wisely. Don't take on a full-time job the first summer you decide to work Ė forty hours a week will be a huge shock and you'll have plenty of time for that in the future. Do find something to do that will make the ten weeks worthwhile. Look into programs that take you to interesting places, internships that will be good experience and connections, or a job that will give you insight into something you think you might be interested in. Don't not take something just because it's unpaid or a volunteer position if you sincerely think you will enjoy yourself or learn something important.
Donít focus too much on popularity. While the idea of the clique is definitely high school specific, there are still loose groups in college. Fortunately these are not based on the vague idea of ďpopularityĒ and instead on things you actually have in common Ė your fraternity or sorority, where you live, classes, sports, clubs and activities. You do have to be active about making friends, especially at a larger school, but those friends may be much more of a reflection of your values than kids you hung out with in high school because they were your group. Everyone wants to be popular in high school, but donít waste too much time worrying about it. In four years, youíll be in a completely new situation, and no one will care what clique you were in in high school.
Join a club/team/activityÖ Extracurriculars are what make your time in high school worthwhile. A lot of what you learn you will forget or have to learn again in college, but the experience of being on a team or president of a club or writing for the newspaper is what you will remember. You'll learn a whole lot about dealing with others, and about yourself and your own limits. If there's something you're interested in but your high school has no team or club, start one. So what if you and your best friend are the only members for the first year. If you're passionate about it, do it; others will follow. And if you find something you really love, do not give it up when you get to college. There will be an outlet. Basically, find something you like doing and pursue it - it doesn't have to be what you want to do with your life, just something you want to do right now. Be passionate about something.
Öbut do it for fun! Donít do things just to put them on your applications and please, please donít make it too serious! High school sports and clubs should be fun, not a competition to get the most awards to put on your applications. Donít join the yearbook staff because you want to be the editor next year to make your resume look better; donít join the four sports teams just to win Athlete of the Year. Take part in activities and sports and clubs because you like them, and because the experience will make you a better, stronger, more well-rounded person. You will get into college, so donít spend your time trying too hard.
Accept that you may get rejected. In terms of a Ďtop choiceí college: just because you donít get into yours doesnít mean you wonít have a completely fulfilling experience at whatever school you do choose to attend. Donít be too dramatic Ė one friend threatened to go to community college until she could transfer to her top choice. But she went to her second choice and is very happy there. Just make sure you try to make the most of it.
Finally, remember to have fun. Your life does not depend on high school Ė not on the academics and not on the popularity aspect. Do your best, but leave time for fun with friends. You will have plenty of time to work hard in college and beyond. Be prepared, but donít stress out too much about it. If you can make your high school experience fun, you will have no problem doing the same for your life in college and beyond.
Mackenzie Cooper is a senior English major at Stanford University. Her best memories from high school are from her water polo team, her calculus study group, and working on the school newspaper. In college, sheís been involved in peer tutoring, student government and the student-run newspaper and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She likes writing (especially fiction), swimming, cooking, and travel.