As I scoured the halls of Channel Islands High School as a timid incoming freshman, I had no clue what to expect for my next four years.
Nowadays, memories flood my brain of the times when I would stay up late to complete assignments, lead a club meeting during lunch, and practice my lines over and over throughout evening Mock Trial practices.
High school was a time filled with discovery, discomfort, and growth. I had plenty of opportunities to crack my own shell and to meet interesting teachers and peers, all of whom have taught me a lesson about myself, my life, the meaning of success, and quality relationships.
Despite the various nuggets of wisdom I’ve obtained throughout high school, there were many moments when I made a reckless decision or times when I had deep regrets.
Here are a few things I wish I was told as a naïve, shy high school freshman:
- Popularity is irrelevant. In five years, no one will recall what you wore that one time to second period or how many Instagram followers you had when you were 17. Yes, the glistening spotlight may seem appealing, but later in life, you won’t recall who was prom queen your senior year or who was the leader of the jock clique. Popularity is seldom remembered and only exists for the four years you’re in high school. Get over the concept of popularity and focus on what will help you advance in college or your career, such as your academics or a sport in which you excel. Speaking of academics…
- If you have the choice between a party and studying, choose to study. Who cares if your friends think you’re lame? When you make a conscious choice to study, you’re choosing to invest in your future. A party may feel like temporary entertainment, but studying for the SAT, taking practice quizzes for AP Biology, or reading through flashcards for Spanish class will put you ahead of the game. Be competitive – inside and outside the classroom – and be selfish with how you spend your time, especially in high school. If there was anything I wish I had done more often in high school, it would be studying over socializing.
- The “well-rounded student” narrative is B.S. Your teachers and counselors may preach to you that all universities are searching for a “well-rounded student” who excels in STEM and humanities, plays varsity in one or two sports, knows how to play three instruments, and has all-around perfect SAT and ACT scores. But your teachers and counselors are giving you the wrong information – colleges are searching for a well-rounded student body.
What does this mean? During college application season, most universities (not all) aim to build a diverse community filled with students who shine in one field of study or sport. If you give the impression on your college application that you are only in certain clubs just to have an impressive application rather than demonstrating a knowledgeable passion for the organizations in which you were involved, you may be denied admission from one or more universities.
Find one or two activities or subjects in which you can fully immerse yourself, and dive right into them. If you discover that you love writing, enter slam poetry competitions or write (and finish) your own book. If you’re a huge STEM geek, join your school’s MESA or Math Club and work your way up to a leadership position. If art fascinates you, take as many pottery, art, and/or design classes as your high school offers. The trick is to discover your true passion(s) and to stick to them wholeheartedly. In other words, find something you can’t half-ass. Your college application will stand out more if you shine in one area of study rather than being proficient in multiple fields.
- It’s never too early to begin your college search. I was fortunate enough to have a middle school English teacher who ingrained the concept of higher education and academic success in my brain before I entered the doors of Channel Islands High School.
If you didn’t have the same experience, then hop on Google as soon as possible and search for colleges you may be interested in applying to someday. List as many universities as you’d like, and as you traverse your high school years, either add to or cross off the colleges on your list. As a freshman, you may love the notion of a particular university, but you may find that you hate the college when you visit its campus during your junior year. You may initially be attracted to a prestigious Ivy League, but after your sophomore year, you might discover that the academic rigor is too much to handle. Aim to concoct a solid list of multiple colleges you plan on applying to before your senior year.
- Get used to public speaking. Public speaking is one of the most feared acts in the world, but if you can overcome that hurdle, you will soar way ahead of your peers and future colleagues. You’ll use public speaking in almost every facet of academic life, whether it be in group presentations, speeches, or even a public speaking class in college.
If you’re not sure where to start building your rhetoric, try running for an officer position in your favorite club, auditioning for the school’s broadcast journalism team, emceeing a pep rally, or volunteering to go first during an oral presentation. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.
- Never stop reading. If your middle school curriculum was anything like mine, you may have felt forced to read books each week until your brain was fried. In high school, you won’t have anyone (hopefully) babysitting you at all times, encouraging you to read a new book every three days.
However, it’s imperative that you stay well-read and informed of the world around you by making an arduous effort to read every single day. Read the Sunday newspaper, your high school’s print publication, the last page of your French textbook, your monthly subscription to your favorite magazine — read as often as you can, and read as many things as you can. Reading enhances your vocabulary, adjusts your perspective, and allows you to form informed opinions regarding society, law, and the environment.
- Most high school relationships are faulty — get over it. I thought my first relationship was going to last until marriage, but I thought wrong. Your first significant other (and second or third, if you’re still in high school) is likely not going to be your eventual husband or wife. It may feel like butterflies and rainbows when you two first meet in school, but you’re still an adolescent. People grow, feelings change, and similarities dissipate. Young teenagers are still finding themselves and discovering their identities. The person you marry may not be your high school sweetheart. Accept the fact that love may come and go throughout high school, and that is perfectly normal. (Also, don’t make out in the school hallways.)
- Start early. Procrastinating is tempting, but it’s the prime enemy of your mental health and productivity. To be a more competitive athlete or student, you need to start earlier than your peers in the classroom or in the gym. Do those extra reps. Read an additional chapter or two than the number you were assigned. You may be perceived as a kiss-ass to your teachers or coaches, but it’s much better to stress now rather than later. The moment you decide to procrastinate, you’re already behind everyone.
- Rumors will spread about you and people will talk — it’s OK. What people may or may not believe about you is insignificant in the long run. Focus on growing and improving yourself without the constant distractions that rumors, lies, and feelings may harbor within you. If the rumors are coming from people who aren’t contributing to your personal development and happiness, then it’s not worth listening to. Drop the lies and move on.
- Connect with your teachers, administrators, and fellow students. At the start of every class, greet your teacher with a warm smile and a simple “Hello” and leave his/her classroom with a modest “Goodbye.” Know who your school administrators, counselors, and officers are, and make time to have a meaningful, friendly conversation with them. Support your peers by helping them in class assignments or lending your notes to them when they’ve been absent. Part of your high school experience is about cultivating deep connections with people who matter the most to you, so be a genuine, amiable soul wherever you go. No matter how cliché it sounds, your smile may brighten someone else’s day.
- Make a goal for every day of school. It doesn’t have to be a life-changing goal, either. Each day of the week, I would have an intention in mind before leaving my house for school. These intentions would be something as simple as, “I will make someone laugh today,” or “I will feel calm before my calculus quiz today.” Setting mini goals and achieving them gives you a sense of pride every day after school and creates a purpose for the long, busy days ahead.
- Take rejections as a sign of a redirection. I used this topic for my valedictorian speech, but it’s so true. For every rejection I encountered in high school (trust me, I faced a lot), something positive grew from it. When I was denied the position as ASB Sophomore Class Vice President, I was devastated beyond belief. However, I used that devastation to my advantage and instead invested all my energy into working toward the position of Key Club Division 42 West Lieutenant Governor. When I was denied admission to USC, I cried for hours on end, but the same energy propelled me to apply for — and eventually secure a spot in — the Cal Poly SLO University Honors Program. Use your adversities as opportunities for growth and strength, and you will be successful in all you do. Embrace challenges and learn to love the “ugly” that comes with struggling. There is beauty in that struggle.
- Use the various resources at your disposal. If you have access to a college and career counselor, visit him/her often. If you want to score 1500 on the SAT, talk with a local standardized test prep coach and ask for a quote. If you’re sexually active and need some condoms, go to your school nurse and ask for them. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious and need to talk to someone, schedule an appointment to speak with your guidance counselor. If you’re struggling in math class, go to tutoring sessions.
For almost every problem you face on a daily basis, there is a solution at your high school that you can use at any time. Take advantage of the various opportunities available to you, even if they terrify you.
- Choose your inner circle wisely. The sentiment that you’ll leave high school with different friends than the ones you entered it with is so accurate. As I mentioned earlier, be selfish with who you spend your time with. Do you want to hang out with people who have no clear goals or ambitions in life? Do you prefer to spend time with people who have solid college and career aspirations? Are you the type to sneak off campus to hang with your friends at the park every day, or are you the type of person who reads at Starbucks with a study group each night leading up to finals week?
Think about the type of person you wish to become someday, and surround yourself with people who emulate precisely that. If they don’t help you grow as an athlete, student, or person, let them go. You’ll find a set of honest, goal-driven friends who are compatible with you as high school passes by.