Making the Most of Your Freshman Year

My youngest sister is starting her freshman year at high school this week. That’s incredibly nerve-wrecking for a number of reasons: 1) She only found out which high school she was attending two days ago, 2) High school is an incredibly overwhelming time of our lives, and I now have to guide two of my siblings through that experience, and 3) I’m deathly afraid that she’ll repeat the same mistakes I made.

Naturally, I had to look back into my own past and recover a few ideas of how to best make use of the precious time when we’re all still innocent to the ideas of growing up and still so open to possibilities.

  1. Find a passion

This is one of those pieces of advice that become trite after long use. Nonetheless, it’s absolutely necessary to find something you enjoy doing. Whether you’re continuing along some hobbies you’ve had since birth or choosing to pursue a new hobby, you need to find an activity that makes you passionate.

Having had my share of stress and depression, I know that while a passion isn’t something that can pull you out of any hole, it’s definitely a really effective means of keeping you in check when you start feeling like a cog in the machine. At any rate, finding at least one activity that makes you happy lessens a lot of the awkwardness of high school and opens up so many doors and opportunities.

2. Get some sleep

Preferably, sleep at least eight hours a night. I made this mistake myself, constantly losing hours of sleep to squeeze in another hour or studying or research. I learned the hard way that it’s worthless to stay up if you end up falling asleep during the day…especially if you do so during classes.

You’ll hear the mantra about teenagers needing X hours of sleep a day, but the honest truth is that we can’t survive on too little sleep, and our cognitive functions really do deteriorate if we don’t allow time at night for rest.

People who maintain a healthy sleep schedule claim to experience a greater amount of energy and faster reaction times to events in their lives. Whether or not this is completely true, it’s still worth your time to make sleep a priority.

3. Make new friends

You don’t have to be popular, but even making a few friends is a world of a difference. You’ll feel more comfortable in new situations, new surroundings, and have a support network during the day.

4. Especially with teachers

You’d be surprised at how many teachers are really willing to listen to your opinions and help you grow as a student. If you are interested in a field, don’t feel intimidated to seek out your instructor and ask them more about their background or the topic you’re learning in class. Not only can you end up scoring a great recommendation for future scholarships and applications, but their guidance may prove to be incredibly beneficial in the coming months.

You obviously don’t want to suck up to your teachers just for the grade, but being on friendly terms definitely eases tension in the classroom by a lot.

5. And even with upperclassmen

While it’s widely known that freshmen are typically bait for upperclassmen, this isn’t true either for most freshmen or seniors.

There’s no reason not to seek out the friendship of upperclassmen, especially if they’re involved in the same classes or activities as you. They may seem just as intimidating — if not more — than your teachers, but their experience and knowledge will definitely be a useful source of information for you if you have the courage to ask.

Don’t be annoying or arrogant, but don’t pass up the chance to befriend some of the older kids in school.

6. Learn to be independent

High school is not a time to rely on your parents. Whether it’s choosing your own classes for the first time, navigating a new building, learning to drive, deciding how you want to spend your time, or any combination, you’re going to be faced with tough decisions.

When these moments come, embrace them and utilize them to help make yourself stronger. Learn how it feels to be stressed, to have responsibilities, to hold the weight of others on your shoulders, and use the experience to prepare yourself for future moments when you have to make similarly difficult decisions.

7. Seek out new opportunities

You really never know what you’ll discover, whether it’s from joining a new club, seeking internships, joining leadership councils, getting gigs, or even just taking a class in a subject you never thought you’d like. Take risks, because you can still afford to fail without screwing up your entire life.

While your middle school self may feel like the more comfortable and familiar skin to settle into, challenge yourself to step away from your comfort zone and create new situations for yourself. You’ll never believe the people you’ll meet, the places you’ll go, or the opportunities you’ll find, but it will eventually be worth it.