A Teen's Guide to Starting High School

Published June 17, 2022
high school students comparing class schedules

Starting high school can seem like both a wonderful and scary thing at the same time. You're getting older and more mature, but also heading to a new, much bigger school with different expectations and dynamics. So, what should you expect high school to be like? The truth is, entering high school is a big transition for everyone, and most people feel nervous or anxious about going. But remember, it's an exciting era of your life that can help open the door to amazing new opportunities, friends, and a bright future. So, take a deep breath. You've got this, and, most importantly, you're not alone.

Tips for Teens Starting High School

Although no official cheat sheet for high school exists, that doesn't mean that there aren't tips and information you can find from people who have been through the experience themselves. It's important to remember that everyone's high school experience is different and that not everyone has the same goals during their four years.

Find Your Classes Beforehand

Most high schools have some kind of orientation where students are invited to come to the campus, receive their schedule for the year, and pick up the books they are going to need. When you go to this orientation, take some time to explore the campus. Find out where the cafeteria or food carts are, search for the main office, and definitely, most importantly, see where your classes are located. Not only will this keep you from looking lost/new on the first day, but it will take away some of the nerves you're feeling on your first day of school too.

Double-check Your Schedule

Are you a particularly goal-oriented student and already thinking about college/your future? If so, then you may want to double-check your schedule to make sure you're taking all the classes you're going to need to set yourself up for success. Some questions you may want to ask your school counselor or admin about are:

  • Whether the school offers Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), etc. classes and how you can get into those programs
  • What classes the school offers, particularly surrounding AP and IB programs that can help you form your schedule in the future
  • What languages your school offers, as well as if there are grade restrictions for when you can start taking them
  • If you have a college or university you'd like to attend in mind already, ask your counselor about the specific requirements you need to fulfill to be considered for acceptance

Explore Extracurriculars

Everybody wants friends and to feel like they have found their calling. Diving into your passions feels amazing, and it'll give you a chance to meet some new people, potentially make some new friends, and, if you're looking towards college, help boost your resume. Most schools have a website that lists all the clubs they offer, as well as the sports teams they have. Peruse your high school's website to get an overview of all these possibilities. Also, clubs and teams are always looking for new members to recruit at the start of the school year, which means that you won't be the only new person joining up.

Plan a Spot to Meet Your Friends

high school friends walking together

Getting to school on your first day and not knowing where to go before the bell rings, or where to find your friends is terrifying. If you plan a spot to meet beforehand, you'll know exactly where to go to look for them. This will definitely take some of the new school nerves away since you'll be surrounded by your friends and won't have to walk around looking for them. Also, if you're nervous about what to do before the bell rings, try to make plans with your friends to arrive at the same time, or see if you can carpool together.

Pack the Essentials for Gym Class

Most high schools have some physical education requirements for students. Yes, that means that you will have to navigate gym class and all of its glories and challenges within your school schedule. Don't sweat it. Save that perspiration for when you have to run the mile. You'll most likely be given a locker with a combination that you'll have to memorize, so don't forget to write it down. You'll have gym multiple days every week, which means that you'll have to be prepared to keep yourself feeling fresh for the rest of the day. Some things you may want to keep inside your locker are:

  • A change of clothes
  • Running shoes
  • A hairbrush
  • Deodorant
  • A towel
  • Sunscreen
  • A reusable water bottle
  • Menstruation products or other necessary personal items

Come Up With a Plan to Stay Organized

high school student staying organized with homework

Depending on what kind of middle or elementary school you attended, high school can look really different. In high school, you have rotating classes and are actually able to pick from a variety of electives, which means that every person's schedule is unique. You'll need to find a way to stay organized with all of your classes and assignments that works for you. Some ways of staying organized are:

  • Using a daily planner
  • Color coordinating notebooks/subjects
  • Setting reminders on your phone
  • Using sticky-notes to help you remember important items, assignment due dates and exam dates

Don't Worry About Impressing Upperclassmen

According to almost every high school movie ever, not being extremely popular, especially with upperclassmen, can seem like the end of the world. It's not. Don't worry about impressing upperclassmen in order to seem cool, even though that's way easier said than done. Chances are, you won't really have very many classes with juniors and seniors when you're starting high school, because they've already taken classes that you're enrolled in now. Find friends that you click with, whether they already have a driver's license or not.

Take Advantage of All Your Resources

High schools offer so many resources that are beneficial for their students in the present and also in the long term. Ask about their work-study programs, scholarships and grants you may be eligible for, and any extracurricular programs that may be great opportunities for you to explore your passions and look to the future. If you have a particular program or goal in mind, make sure to share that with your counselor and teachers so they can help you along the way.

Frequently Asked Questions About Starting High School

If you're starting high school, you probably have a lot of questions about what it's going to be like and if it's really going to be so different from your experience in school so far. Starting at a new school is scary for everyone in one way or another, and having questions about it is totally normal. Here are answers to some common questions about high school.

What if I'm not popular?

Movies and TV shows make being popular in high school seem like the most important thing a person can accomplish in life, but that simply isn't true... even if it really feels like it. It's normal to want people to like you, but don't compromise your personality and beliefs to fit what somebody else wants you to be. You can still make strong, lifelong friendships in high school if you aren't friends with everyone on campus.

What happens if I fail a class?

Regardless of what people tell you, failing a class is not the end of the world. Plenty of very successful people have failed classes in high school and went on to live amazing lives. If you start to feel overwhelmed with a class or notice that your grade is dropping, then reach out to your teacher. If you have a couple of hard tests in a row and your grade doesn't improve, make plans to re-take the class next semester or even over the summer. One bad grade is not a life sentence, and it doesn't mean that you won't be able to graduate on time.

How old are you when you start high school?

Most kids start high school at about the age of fourteen or fifteen years old, but it can vary depending on many factors, like when a person's birthday is in relation to the school's cut-off enrollment date. On the other hand, people usually graduate at about the age of seventeen or eighteen. Whether you're younger or older than the majority of your classmates, don't sweat it. The numbers aren't really important, and they come with their individual perks, like graduating at a younger age, or getting your driver's license before some of your friends.

What if high school is too hard for me?

High school has a different layout than most elementary and middle schools in terms of classes and testing, which means that it can be a bit of an adjustment period. If you notice that you're struggling with a class or your schedule as a whole, talk to your teachers and counselor about it. They may be able to offer you extra assistance, or they can help you manage your study time in a way that works better for you. It may seem cliche to say, but you can do it. It may be difficult, but you are capable of handling all of its challenges.

Does detention really exist?

In movies, teachers give students pink slips or detention notices when they get caught talking in class with their friends or if they show up late to class. However, detention doesn't exist in every high school. Your school may have a policy on what happens if a student shows up late a few times in a semester, such as after-school or weekend programs that have students stay late to get more studying done. But most of the time these aren't handed out to students that make a joke at their teacher's expense. Check your school's website to learn more about their individual policies.

What if I get bullied?

Unfortunately, bullying does exist in the world and can make enjoyable things, like starting high school, difficult for some. If you experience any kind of bullying at school, it's best to tell a teacher or school administrator in order to get help in the situation, even if that seems lame or uncool. Your school may have an anonymous tip line where you can report the incident without your name specifically being attached, which may make it easier for you to reach out. You deserve to go to school and be in an environment where you feel comfortable and accepted.

How do I make friends?

Friends! Everybody wants them, but where can you find them? If you're starting high school in the same place that you attended other schools, then you probably have a few friends that will be traveling with you to your new school. However, if you are new to an area, or if your friend group has been split up amongst different high schools in the area, don't worry. You're not doomed. Some ways to make friends are to get involved with a school club or sports team, actually talk to the students you are partnered up with in class or for projects, and introduce yourself to friends of friends and the people you sit by in classes.

Are high school teachers really as tough as they seem?

The short answer to this question is: no. Of course, there are bad teachers that exist in the world and that don't offer their students the support they need to succeed in their particular class, but high school teachers aren't all like this. Some high school teachers really, truly care about their students and want them to succeed in high school and beyond. That being said, get to know your teachers. Not only are they instrumental in helping you understand class material, but they can also write you letters of recommendation that will help you when applying for scholarships, college, and even getting jobs. Honestly, they may turn out to be lifelong friends themselves.

Starting High School: A Wonderful New Chapter

You may be the kind of person who feels like they are ready to take on high school and really hit the ground running. Or, you may be the kind of person who is so worried about the first day that you are already planning your outfit and it's still the first week of summer. Either way, there are some tips to help you through starting high school that will set you up for success upon graduation, and ensure that you have a great four years while you're there. Whether you're getting involved by joining a new club or looking into summer programs that give you some hands-on experience with your passions, you are sure to make some new friends, learn some cool things, and, most importantly, enjoy this amazing time in your life.

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A Teen's Guide to Starting High School