10 Advices All High School Students Need To Hear

Back to school is an exciting time for students and families.  It can be a big step – particularly for those starting prep, or moving to high school. ​​​​​

Starting high school is a significant milestone in a student’s life.  It marks a passage into adolescence and brings about several significant changes.  You will go from being the oldest in school to being the youngest, having to find the way around a new school with different teachers for different subjects.  High school students have a lot to think about, from test preps to extra-curriculars to new social situations – not to mention the big “Where will I go to college?” question on every teen’s mind. 

However, it’s also an exciting transition – you’re finally getting to high school, which means new friends, more privileges, and new opportunities for exploring who you are.  High school has a lot to offer  – a chance to figure yourself out, find your limits, and do your best academically.  By taking advantage of all these benefits, we bet you will walk away from high school with a lot more than a diploma!

In this article, we compile a list of advice for high school students, recommended by recent graduates.  We hope from this list, incoming freshmen will be able to gain some insight into how to start your high school years with the right frame of mind – and get off to a great start.

If you’re a parent reading this, let’s pass along these tips to your son or daughter, and use them as talking points at home to help them survive – and thrive – in high school. 

1. Get yourself a daily planner

High school is a busy time between classes, friends, extracurricular activities, studying, family, college prep, and the rest.  A daily planner will help keep everything in your life in order.  Every assignment due date, test, deadline, or appointment will all be in one place.  Stay organized so that you can keep up in your classes and still have fun:

  • Set realistic long-term goals, and work backward from those to set smaller short-term goals to act as stepping stones.  Then, make a plan to achieve these goals.  We recommend WOOP – an easy-to-follow but effective goal setting framework to get you started.
  • Buy an academic planner/calendar with large daily blocks in which to write your assignments and class schedule.  Get in the habit of writing assignments in them while you are still in class, as teachers are writing or handing them out, to cut the risk that you’ll forget.Get yourself a daily planner
  • Plan manageable chunks of time to work, not one long slog.  This will lower your resistance to settling down to work and you’ll get positive reinforcement each time you finish a chunk.
  • Schedule personal time as well as work time in your planner.  It’s important to put aside time for things you want to do, so that you know that schoolwork isn’t taking all the fun out of your life.

Since the COVID-19 virus has not been defeated yet, there’s a good chance your school year will involve some distance learning, depending on where you live.  If that’s the case, you’ll need to take responsibility for your own schoolwork and assignments, even more so than if you were enrolled in strictly traditional courses.

2. Get the best grade you can

Middle-school grades certainly matter.  But grades matter in a different way in high school.  This is because colleges will see them.  Remember your freshman year grades do count.  They will affect your GPA and will be viewed by colleges. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll have plenty of time to bring your grades up later.  Every year will affect your overall chances of getting into the college of your dreams.

The work in high school builds on what you learned in middle school, giving you a more advanced knowledge of many academic subjects.  So you may find you have more work to do or that it’s a bit more challenging.  But these challenges can make you feel less bored with the usual routine – it feels great when you’ve mastered something really tough.  Maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for biology or discover a passion for literature.

3. Build relationships with teachers

When you get to high school, your academic performance really matters.  To excel in your classes – other than hard work and studying – is to respect and communicate with your teachers.  Ask questions, and thank your teachers at the end of class.  Make an effort outside class to connect with your teachers. Even if your peers make snarky comments or accuse you of trying to be a teacher’s pet, at the end of the day, your teachers are the ones controlling your grades and giving you your education.  Not only will they be able to help you throughout your high school career, but you’ll also feel much more comfortable asking them to write the recommendations for your college applications.

4. Find extracurricular activities

High school also has more extracurriculars than middle school did, such as clubs, music and theater groups, student government, and sports teams.  While this is a great time to try new things, figure out what your skills and interests are, also be willing to try activities that are new to you whether it’s volunteering, a new sport, or a club.

Find extracurricular activities

Successful high school students don’t disappear outside the walls of their classroom.  They are also engaged members of their community.  Get involved with issues that impact your student experience.  Educate yourself about the issues facing your community and learn to use your voice productively so that people will listen to your ideas.  The experience you can get out of these activities will also enrich your school life, provide you with more materials to craft your personal statement – in case you want to apply to a school abroad.

While too many activities can get in the way of homework, too few may get in the way of getting into the desired college.  Think quality, not quantity.  Non-academic activities – clubs, sports, community service – matter to admissions departments.  It’s better to be very involved and productive in just a few outside activities than minimally involved in a lot.

5. Make meaningful connections

As cliché as it sounds, your friends in high school are going to be the ones who make your final year the best it can be.  Academic success is a huge part of high school, but socialization is just as big.  Your friends will help you have fun at school and get through any tough experiences life throws your way.  You have the rest of your life to be an adult; this is your time to still be a kid.  Find a group of friends with similar interests and stick together to make the most of high school.

Try to make friends with everyone.  Be kind to everyone you see.  Making these friendships can be the determining factor between an isolating high school experience full of drama or a positive one with meaningful connections.  Branching out your social groups can mean making new friends that have different interests, talents, backgrounds, and values as you.  By doing this you’re preparing yourself to meet different kinds of people when you go off to college.  It’s important to note that not everyone will dress like you, like the same music as you, or celebrate the same holidays as you.  But by exposing yourself to that early you’ll be more tolerating and accepting of other people and the transition to college will be much easier.

6. Take practice standardized tests

The SAT, ACT, IELTS, or TOEFL are an important aspect of your college application if you want to study abroad, and will be a plus point to take you straight to a local university with decent results.

Take practice standardized testsCheck out test prep books from the library and work on a few practice problems or vocabulary words a night, then take a timed practice test every other Sunday. If you’ve been studying, chances are your scores will start to go up, and you’ll be much more prepared and confident when test day rolls around.

Even though some colleges are going to stop requiring SAT test scores for admissions, we still recommend students sitting the exam, especially if you are an international student and want to apply to competitive colleges, as this is a concrete data point to compare you among thousands of applicants, and is what makes your application stand out more.

7. Don’t compare yourself to others

When it comes to grades and learning, comparison is always a bad idea. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so don’t get nervous when yours don’t align with the majority. Even though there will be some times when you do badly and everyone else does well, there will also be times when the opposite happens. Similarly, don’t be discouraged if there is a subject or topic with which you are not completely comfortable. All students have academic weaknesses, but these can be overcome by working a little bit harder, asking plenty of questions, and getting extra help, if necessary.

You’ll get the most satisfaction out of high school if you focus on the subject, people and activities that feel right to you, rather than spending time comparing yourself to others.

8. Ask for advice

You might think that juggling all this by yourself is the marker of true strength and independence, but successful students are those who know how to use the resources available.  Build strong relationships with teachers and peers, establish connections with learning resources like the writer’s center or study hall teachers, and connect with mentors to ensure that you have a support system in place, even if you never use it.

Further, don’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate resource should you need a hand.  Don’t wait until you’re drowning to call for help; instead, let others know when you’re worried or confused and let them help you out before it gets over your head.  It’s amazing to see how people will open up, so don’t hesitate to ask a teacher, parent, or older student for some tips.  Even a brief question can lead to further discussion, and you might make a connection or form a friendship you wouldn’t have otherwise.  Recognize that some things just have to be learned the hard way — through experience.  Ask for advice, think about what other people have to say, and ultimately do your best to make the decisions that are right for you.

If you need any help relating to college admissions, feel free to reach out to us at College Compass – a college admission consulting program by Everest Education. We have assisted many students get into top colleges in the world, including Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Cornell, Williams, Amherst… Read the story of My Hien – a College Compass alumni who who received a full-ride scholarship from Harvard last year here: Meet the girl who received a full ride scholarship from Harvard just listen to yourself


9. Take time to break (and reflect)

When university application deadlines approach, you’ll want to focus your time and energy on doing your best in your classes, but make sure to take time for yourself.  High school can get stressful, particularly in your final year, but all your hard work will pay off in the end!  Different people have different ways to manage stress.

Take a step back to relax, and leave space for yourself to do reflection.  Reflection is also a natural part of learning, which allows you to reflect on academic and social-emotional growth. This can feel like just one more thing to cram into an already too-short course.  But stopping to take a breath rather than jumping right to the next project or activity helps students learn from mistakes and recognize strengths and weaknesses.  It can make the difference between success and failure, in school and beyond.

10. Enjoy high school! 

The high school years will fly by.  Take your time and don’t let things get you down.  It won’t be memorable if your only memories are of you sitting alone in your room watching tv or listening to music.  The best memories are the ones you make with your friends on crazy adventures, where nothing happens twice.  Be intentional about making memories and having fun.  Be the person who cheers for their team, asks someone to dance, and has fun with their friends.  Those are the memories that you could one day tell your grandkids!

Enjoy high school! Take lots of pictures. Get pictures of social events, parties, important moments, and just humorous or extremely memorable moments. You can never have too many memories!  Chances are you’re not going to the same college or university as all your friends next year, so now’s the time to take pictures and capture those unforgettable moments with your friends.  Go on your senior trip.  Buy your high school yearbook and have everyone sign it.  Make a photo collage or a photo album.  These activities are sometimes overhyped, but the moment when you graduate from high school, you’ll know how precious those photos and memories are.

To sum it up…

High school is a great time to figure out who you are as a student, friend, and peer.  Some things, like dances, some friendships, and many memories are fleeting.  But the lessons you collect from your experiences will stay with you.  You’ll face challenges no matter how you approach high school.  Sometimes, you’ll come out on top of these challenges, but other times, you’ll mess up or make a wrong decision and face the consequences.  Think of high school like a dress rehearsal.  You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll also improve immensely by learning from those mistakes.  Be open to new opportunities, and challenge yourself to be present. Let’s be back to school, we know you can make it your best year yet!

Should you have any concerns or any topics you want us to cover, feel free to leave your comments below.  You can subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox, and find more useful articles about college admission and studying coverage HERE


Tips for getting off to a good start in high school

Tips for your high schooler advice from recent grads


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