1) High school is the time for exploration.
Don’t be afraid to try new activities. If I had not agreed to take Drama on a whim in my freshman year, I wouldn’t have joined Technical Theatre and become a stage manager and lights technician, which I ended up loving.
It’s even better to join activities you don’t have friends in.
2) Surprisingly, there is a whole world outside your high school.
I can’t emphasize enough how many opportunities there are in the world.
Ignorance is no excuse! Unless you live in Tanzania with the Hadza tribes. In that case, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.
But to everyone else, the internet is a portal of knowledge. You can search online and find countless organizations that cater to your passions, such as Youth Journalism International or Dosomething.org.
Not only will you meet new friends and expand your social network, but you will also have the chance to grow and learn.
There is a lot more to high school than the normal routine. Try to get involved in activities in your community that aren’t related to school.
If you like politics, join your city’s youth council or intern for your mayor. Get an internship or a job and always be on the lookout for opportunities – if not for yourself, then to share with others.
The world is a fascinating place and it would be a shame not to discover what it has to offer.
In my junior year of high school, I was accepted to a summer workshop for L.A. Youth, a newspaper that circulates around Los Angeles County. I was unable to attend due to a transportation conflict.
But that did not stop me. I searched Volunteermatch.org for opportunities to combine my interests in activism and writing, which is how I found my freelance job at Looktothestars.org and my internship at Do Something.
3) Learn to love academics.
Yeah, I just said that.
Rather than giving you the whole, “You go to school to learn, after all” spiel, I’ll just recommend that you truly learn to love your classes and the material you are learning. Take classes that interest you. Remember that what you excel in does not necessarily equate to a career in that field, though I’ll confess it’s easier to love something that you’re good at.
Learn to build relationships with your teachers. In a public school, there are often too many students per teacher for the teacher to pay attention to every single student. So take initiative and talk to your teachers. Teachers are very intelligent and can also offer resources and advice, especially if they have experience in a field you hope to enter.
Teachers are delighted by a student who loves a subject enough to pursue independent study, and it is always good to challenge yourself.
4) There’s a reason for everything.
If that AP Biology course you so passionately wanted ends up full and you didn’t make the cut, don’t be too miffed that you ended up in AP Language & Composition. Maybe you will find out that analytical writing is your calling instead of biology, even though you’ve excelled in biology since elementary school and have enough aced tests to fill the biggest refrigerator in Sam’s Club to prove it.
That’s the great thing about high school. You have the freedom to explore without consequences.
If I hadn’t chosen Journalism over Yearbook, then I wouldn’t have become the Business and Advertising Manager of my school’s newspaper, and I wouldn’t have decided that I want to work in the publishing and communications industry.
5) Take initiative.
This goes hand-in-hand with Tip #2. If there are absolutely no resources around you, or there are none that interest you, create them.
If you are looking for an underwater basket-weaving club and there aren’t any in your neighborhood, start one and make yourself President. (I’m not kidding. There actually is an underwater basket-weaving club at the University of California, San Diego). If you can’t find a club that knits socks for orphans affected by the genocide in Rwanda, start one. No one can ever stop you from taking the initiative and doing what you please.
6) Do more than you are supposed to.
Keep this mentality and you will excel anywhere you go.
If you want to impress an employer or a club president or a teacher or anyone in particular, you have to show that you are willing to work hard and go beyond what is expected. This shows that you are on top of things.
7) Find a few – not many – things that you absolutely love and go beyond the limits.
Colleges will be more impressed with a dancer who places high in national competitions than by a dancer who is involved in eight other different activities.
Or what about a dancer who has spent summers with a traveling troupe, has taught dance classes to underprivileged children, has organized a production to raise money for dance therapy for runaway youth, and on top of that works with her community’s dance group on the weekends? That would be going beyond the limits.
Though it may be evident that the dancer is a social activist and that she likes to work with children, she has used her passion for dance to benefit others.
Make your passions and interests intertwine somehow. Though you can be good at everything, don’t spread yourself too thin or you will be too scattered. A passion takes up a lot of time.
As I mentioned in Tip #3, being good at a particular subject does not make that your passion. If you love journalism, join Youth Journalism International, write for your school’s newspaper, find a mentor at a community newspaper, and intern for an editor.
Of course, these things are easier said than done, but remember that there are always resources lying around waiting to be found and used.
8) If you’ve made getting into college your one and only goal, start as early as freshman year.
Read the books The Truth about Getting In and Rock Hard Apps by Dr. Katherine Cohen and A Is for Admission by Michele A. Hernández.
Even if you’re not considering any of the Ivy League colleges these books focus on, don’t forget about Tip #6. In order for you to get into your first choice for college, your application should be top-notch and the best it can possibly be.
These books have incredible insight, and both authors provide great behind-the-scenes accounts of college admissions (Both Cohen and Hernández have worked in Ivy League admissions offices).
Speaking of colleges: Start researching schools early.
You don’t have to shoot straight for the top universities on U.S. News’ Rankings. Remember to research schools as thoroughly as possible. Talk to professors, admissions officers, alumni and students, and get advice from forums on College Confidential.
At first, I thought I wanted a big university because I thought a bigger school would offer more diversity. But I found out that a liberal arts college would better suit my personality and expectations.
9) Find yourself.
Sounds cliché, huh?
This is the simplest but, at the same time, the most complicated piece of advice. High school is all about finding yourself and learning how to separate the past that you came with and the future that you want.
Find out what makes you tick, what you have grown to love, and what interests you – and only you, without any outside influences (Ahem, parents).
High school is a time for you to develop a character. If high school is about finding the pieces, then college is about putting them together. (So I’ve heard.)
10) Have fun, of course.
Elaine Truong is a Junior Reporter in California for Youth Journalism International.