When I was in high school, I personally found it challenging at times balancing my academics, extracurricular activities, and social life. At times, you have to choose one or the other. Making a decision like that, especially when it’s studying versus going out with your friends to see a movie can be tough.
Other times, you may feel stretched too thin between everything that you’re doing and you feel like you can’t breath. In my personal experience, my fall semester of my second year I would wake up at 5AM everyday , catch a 6:20 AM bus so I could take gym before school officially started in order fit in an additional class. My school day would end around 8 or later because I was in theater, orchestra, and badminton. I was taking two AP classes and self-studying for a third. I won’t lie, I found it extremely challenging especially because I was taking a trigonometry class with a lousy teacher and I hated it.
Looking back, I think that my organization skills saved me and I want to share with first generation students my personal tips for surviving high school.
Remember: High School is only 4 years
“But in your life you’ll do things
Greater than dating the boy on the football team
But I didn’t know it at fifteen” -Taylor Swift’s Fifteen
High school lasts for four years and then it’s over. You’ll make friends along the way and only the ones that truly care about you will continue to be your friend after that. After high school, everyone goes in their separate directions. Chances are the person you’re dating isn’t going to stay with you past high school and you should let yourself be pressured into doing things you’ll later regret.
It may seem like your whole life revolves around what happens in high school, but it doesn’t. There is so much more to life than prom and football games. I sacrificed part of my social life in high school for my studies, and I rewarded with the opportunity to go to college in New York City. Let me tell you something, a lot of those “popular” students are now working dead-end jobs, have children, and all they have to hold on to is their expired high school popularity.
Invest in your high school education and you’ll be rewarded with so much more.
Use Some Type of Calendar/Planner
One of the easiest ways to keep track of your schedule is to use a planner or a calendar. No, it doesn’t mean that you have make one of those Pinterest/Instagram worthy planners. I personally recommend taking advantage of online calendars like Outlook Calendar (if your school email is through Microsoft Outlook) or Google Calendar (if your school email is through Gmail) or even using the one on your phone. These are super easy to use and you can set notifications on your phone if you download the applications for Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar.
I recommend you type in your class schedule as a start, along with your official quiz/test/project due dates and slowly add all your extracurriculars. That way, you can see when you’re free to do work, and avoid forgetting important club meetings. You can write notes for each event.
Take Practice Standardized Tests
If you want to be a competitive applicant for college, you need good test scores, whether you decide to take the ACT or the SAT. It is in your best interest to start taking practice tests as early as possible to get you used to the format and style of the tests. For those who struggle as test-takers, I urge you to practice early. Take a practice exam every two months or so and gradually increase studying by the time you’re a third year.
As a first generation student who was also low income, I didn’t have the opportunity to take private classes to prepare and sometimes I found the prices of practice books to be too expensive. However, I was able to buy used books from garage sales, used bookstores, thrift shops, and sometimes on the internet. However, your school library and public library are places that let you check out free ACT and SAT books for free.
Join Student Clubs and Activities
Colleges will want to see who you are aside from your academics. But more importantly, you should join clubs that truly interest you because it is in those clubs where you can shine as an individual and earn yourself a leadership position. In other words, why are you joining a club that you don’t care about. Some colleges will ask you to talk about a time you showed leadership in a club or describe your passions within an extracurricular. If you don’t have that, how can you expect yourself to write a essay?
Putting aside college application reasons, being in student clubs is a way for you really get to know your classmates and for your classmates to get to know you. A lot of my friends, I met through clubs and to this day, we are still friends! At the same time, student clubs were a way for me to decompress after a long day of classes.
Check with your school to see what clubs are offered. Alternative, start your own club!
Invest in Language Classes
A lot of colleges will want students to have taken three to four years of a language. That being said, there are still language requirements that students may need to take. Students who are fluent in a language may opt of taking additional classes. Many college students have opportunities to study abroad that may be partially or wholly subsidized by a university program, and language fluency can increase your opportunities to explore different parts of the world.
Additionally, jobs today will want to see their employees speaking more than one language. Therefore, it is important for you take a language class and take it seriously because it’s worth it. You don’t have to take Spanish if you don’t want to but learning Spanish may be easier for Latinx students.
Get to Know Your Teachers
If there is something you don’t know, do not be afraid to ask for help! Ask your teachers for help during homeroom, lunch break, or even after class. It is important for you to reach out to others for advice because they may be able to help.
In my personal experience, teachers are help you succeed so ask your questions. They’re being paid to teach you. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for you to form relationships with them. College application require at least one letter , sometimes two letters of recommendation.
Take Care of Yourself
Yes, it is important to do well in school and be involved, but you have to remember to take care of yourself. Don’t pull overnighters every week. Try to get as many hours of sleep as possible. Eat healthy and stay hydrated. Take good mental care of yourself. Workout regularly. It’s okay to take time off to focus on yourself.
Mental breakdowns are not a joke and as first generation students, sometimes we forget to do check ups on ourselves. Go for a long walk, take a hot shower or do a face mask.
Learn to Say “No” & prioritize
Recognize that your time is finite and only you can choose how you spend it. I myself am the kind of person who wants to be in every single committee and event possible but it’s not realistic. Joining every single club is not a good idea nor is it a good idea to say yes to every project. Your priority is your education and everything else is secondary. It’s important to learn how to say “no” in a way that is respectful and understanding.