“If you could change one thing about your high school experience, what would it be?”
I get this question more often than you might think, from parents and students looking to get some perspective on maximizing their child’s or their own success in the formative years between ninth and twelfth grade. Although I’m eternally grateful for those incredible four years, I came up with four things that I wish I could change.
Freshman year grades matter!
As a freshman entering high school, the college process seemed way too far away to think about. Being an anxious teenager fearful of stepping into a completely new environment, I was much more focused on finding new friends and having a good time than joining clubs, working hard, and challenging myself.
Once I became more comfortable in my new environment, I started caring more about my homework and extracurricular passions than I had before.
However, once junior spring rolled around, so did my first meeting with my college counselor. I was a little too confident, thinking that I had the perfect qualifications for any university, comparing my own student profile to those of the ivy-bound graduates of my Massachusetts prep school.
As it turns out—unsurprisingly—this meeting did not go as I had expected. My very average first year in school may have been erased from my mind, but it left an unmistakably large imprint on my transcript. Every kid that I was looking to compete with for admission to top schools, as I was told, would not only have great scores, passions, and extracurriculars, but great grades—great grades from all four years.
Strike a balance between your schoolwork and social life.
As I said before, my four years in high school were four of the best years of my life so far, and that’s not a statement you hear often from kids my age. Sure, I could have absolutely been more studious my first year, but there is a balance between working and having fun that is essential to one’s mental stability as an adolescent. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of sacrifice (sleep slowly became one of my lowest priorities), but once you discover it, it will transform the way you feel.
Lose the FOMO!
It may seem like every little party, dinner, movie night, or sleepover is going to be so fun and memorable that missing it would automatically make you a social pariah. This is beyond false—and I wish someone had told me that. Your friends may not share in your drive for success, but if they can’t respect you for wanting to work hard, maybe they shouldn’t be your friends. So every once in a while, before a big project or test, decide to sit out on an event. If you’re still feeling a little left out, start a study group with them. You’ll get some work done without experiencing social withdrawal.
Try everything and anything your freshman year
In terms of extracurricular activities, I would use your freshman year to try everything and anything, because you never know what you may end up feeling incredibly passionate about. Moreover, you want to find that passion early on so you can figure out how to invest a lot of time in exploring it. A big thing I found helpful in the college process was having something I loved—journalism—that I was able to discuss and display commitment too, and I never would’ve found that if I hadn’t applied to my school newspaper in my first month of school.
Public or private, big or small, urban or suburban—high school experiences are wildly different for everyone. You can’t put a strict set of rules on how exactly your actions will correlate with experience and collegiate success. Just remember that you only have four years, and every day counts. Don’t waste them!
by Elana Golub, a rising sophomore at Northwestern University. You can read more of Elana’s writing at HerCampus.