10 Tips for High School Freshmen

Entering high school can be nerve-racking, especially given that movie and television portrayals of those years have historically included students being shoved into lockers and divided by social cliques.

“A lot of things you hear about high schools are just urban legends,” says Jeff R. Sherrill, lead for community engagement at the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ department of student leadership.

Students will face both social and academic changes as they move into their final four years of compulsory schooling, including increased accountability for their academics and time management. Here are 10 tips from experts to ease the adjustment from middle school to high school.

1. Learn the School

Prior to the start of classes, many high schools offer an orientation to rising ninth graders. Take the time to explore the building — noting the location of your classrooms and locker, as well as the gym, lunchroom and school nurse and counselor offices, experts say. If you have your locker assignment, practice opening it.

Orientation also provides a chance to meet your peers and teachers.

[Read: How Colleges Weigh High School Extracurriculars]

2. Challenge Yourself

Experts advise students to pick classes that challenge them, but not to the point where it’s overwhelming. To understand what type of load you can take on, consider the whole picture, including your home responsibilities and extracurricular activities.

“I know the transition is scary and every student’s experience is going to be individualized,” says Richard Tench, a school counselor at Saint Albans High School in West Virginia and chair of the American School Counselor Association’s board of directors. “I think that all students and parents alike need to really reflect on how their middle school years went,” looking in particular at test scores and demonstrated work ethic.

3. Pick Classes of Interest

Freshmen usually have limited choices for their classes compared to upperclassmen. But to the extent possible, it’s important to pick classes that interest you. Electives, for example, are a way for students to explore their passions or develop new skills.

“I understand there’s some kids who enter ninth grade already thinking about college and what colleges want to see,” says Kimberly Greer, principal at Langley High School in Virginia. “Really at this point, they need to get to know where their interests and passions lie. It’s really a great time during that freshman year to begin to explore and to answer those questions by way of the elective.”

4. Get Organized

Compared to middle school, high school comes with more assignments, tests, group projects and activities. It can be easy to lose track of deadlines, so find a way to stay organized, experts say.

Be sure to track important dates on an online or paper calendar or get a planner, for instance.

5. Connect With Upperclassmen

Some schools pair freshmen with seniors as part of a mentorship program. But ninth graders can also make the effort to connect with an upperclassman — like a friend’s older sibling, a neighbor, fellow club member or teammate — on their own.

“Just keep in mind that the upperclassmen were freshmen, too,” Sherrill says. “It’s not like you’re the first one to go through this. There are students that can share their stories, be helpful and give good tips.”

6. Stay True to Your Values

Students may face pressure to fit into a certain mold in high school. But don’t let that dissuade you from sticking to your values and passions, experts say.

“Just being yourself is so incredibly important and powerful,” says Stephanie Owens, executive director of Reach Higher and vice president of student advocacy and engagement at the Common App. “The middle school to high school transition is tough because you’re figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Recognize that is totally OK.”

[READ: How to Involve Your Child in Choosing a High School.]

7. Connect With Others Through Activities

High schools offer a number of activities throughout the year, including sporting events, concerts, plays and pep rallies. Attend these activities when you can — go with friends or use the opportunity to meet other students. You can also connect with peers by participating in a club, honor society or volunteering.

“Find a way to make the large school community a small one,” Greer says.

But don’t just join a number of clubs to boost your college application, as it can lead to burnout. Instead, find a select few that you’re interested in. College admissions officers “are going to know that you just did them because you were checking off boxes,” Owens says. “So be intentional about how you’re using your time.”

8. Build Relationships With Teachers and Staff

As soon as the bell rings, students are generally in a hurry to leave the classroom. But instead, take the time after classes to get to know your teachers and counselors. Developing those relationships can ease the transition and be helpful in the long run — especially as students start to apply to colleges.

“We often see teachers within schools that actually attend events that kids are involved in, be it performing arts performances or sports,” Greer says. “If you see your teacher at an event, make sure to acknowledge that. Tell them thank you because they are there in support and have an interest in seeing you do well.”

Sometimes it’s “hard to connect with teachers on an academic level since some students are only at school because they have to be there,” Tench says. Participating in a club is another way to relate to teachers over shared interests.

[READ: Understanding School-Based Mental Health Services.]

9. Prioritize Your Mental Health

The coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the mental health of many teenagers and young adults. Thirty-seven percent of students at public and private high schools, for instance, experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021 report. Female and LGBTQ high school students were more likely to report feelings of sadness or hopelessness within the last year than their peers.

Experts advise students not to be afraid to seek out help, as most schools have mental health resources and services available, including counselors, psychologists and social workers.

“There are so many big emotions that happen from your freshman year of high school to your senior year of high school,” Owens says. “The development that just your body goes through is huge. So take care of yourself mentally, physically, socially. But absolutely pay attention to your mental health.”

10. Be Present

Some students enter high school with their eyes already on college. But stay in the moment and make the most of your four years in high school.

“If you have a bad day, remember a bad day only lasts 24 hours,” Sherrill says. “It’s a moment in time and then you go on. Enjoy your high school career. Figure out ways to make it fabulous.”

More from U.S. News

How to Choose High School Classes for College Benefit

3 Test Prep Goals for High School Freshmen

What to Know About STEM Public High Schools

10 Tips for High School Freshmen originally appeared on usnews.com

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