It’s been awhile since I walked the hallowed halls of Mission San Jose High School, but I still keep in touch with several of my friends. In fact, the other day we were reminiscing about senior year and laughing about how naïve we were back then. We also lamented about the things we took for granted; there are so many things we wish we could do over. Most of us have children who are now in high school, so it’s hard watching them make some of the same mistakes we did as carefree teenagers. Unfortunately, as any parent knows, our children don’t want to hear about our high school glory days and they certainly don’t want our advice on how to make the most of their time there. I know I didn’t, but I have since apologized on several occasions to my parents for failing to heed their advice. So, in an effort to help those who are unrelated to me, and therefore more willing to listen, I offer the top ten things I wished I had known before I graduated from high school.
I was one of those students who could put in minimal time studying and still get decent grades, but that will not work in college. Waiting until the last minute to pump out a five-page paper or studying for an exam will set you up for failure, so start learning how to juggle your activities, social time and academics while you are in high school. Become friends with a daily planner or download a phone app to help keep you organized, otherwise you’ll feel seriously overwhelmed by senior year.
There’s a reason why so many high school students have no idea what they want to do in life; they followed the crowd instead of following their own path. You don’t have to be popular or run with the ‘in’ crowd to have a great time in high school. Instead, surround yourself with interesting people and those who share similar interests. You’ll spend less time worrying about what others think and be able to concentrate on figuring out who you are and what you want.
High school is the best time to take risks and try new things. I wish I had known that when I was there. You don’t have to worry about missing work or not being able to pay the mortgage, so now is the time to explore and step out of your comfort zone; audition for a play, try out for the swim team, take a sushi class, or ask someone you secretly adore out on a date. Otherwise, you may spend your adult life wondering ‘what if?’
When you find someone you really connect with, whether it’s a friend or a significant other, treat those relationships with respect and give them the attention they deserve. You can’t always expect the other person to give in and you have to be willing to say ‘I’m sorry’ when you are wrong. Pride, ego and selfishness can destroy even the best relationship, so take the time to appreciate the people in your life and put in the effort to make your relationships last.
I spent a good portion of my junior and senior year trying to decide which college major I would choose when applying to colleges, but guess what? I’m not doing anything remotely related to what I thought I wanted when I was 16. It’s perfectly fine to be ‘undeclared’ and not know what you want from life. Take the time in high school and college to explore your options and find your bliss. Once you find something that makes you feel alive, you’ll want to get up every morning to do it. Life is so much better when you choose a career and don’t settle for just a job.
Right now, you are probably counting down the days until you can leave home and not have to follow your parent’s rules. Trust me when I say you will miss your mom’s cooking and having your clean clothes delivered to your room. You’ll also miss their advice and those $20 bills they slip you every now and then. You may find out many years later about the personal sacrifices they made to help you go on school trips, pay for team uniforms, and cover those college application and tuition fees. Now that I am a parent, I totally understand how your one goal is to help your children succeed, even if it means putting your dreams on hold. So, do yourself a favor and thank them now because you might not get the chance to later.
High school is a roller coaster ride; one minute you feel on top of the world and the next minute you just want to curl up and disappear, but you’ll get through it. When someone rejects you, like a boyfriend or best friend, try to learn from the experience. The same thing applies to not making the team or failing to make call backs for the school play; each rejection is a chance for you to grow and learn from your mistakes. It will also prepare you for those college rejection letters, which can make you feel like the world has just ended. Just remember, at some point we all hear the word ‘no,’ so don’t let it keep you from getting back up and trying again.
When you get rejected (and you will), it always helps to find others who are going through the same thing. Misery loves company! I didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to use as a sounding board when I was in high school, but I wish I did. Reach out and share your grief; you’ll soon find you are not alone. In April, when seniors are learning their fate at colleges, it’s especially important that you remember that thousands of other students are sharing your pain. No matter what issues you may be having, there is someone else going through it, too.
I know it’s tempting to buy new clothes and video games whenever you get some cash for your birthday or the holidays, but be sure to put aside at least half in a savings account. Let your parents cover your expenses when they offer because that gravy train will dry up soon enough. You may also get a rude awakening senior year and find that your parents are unwilling or unable to help cover any of your college expenses, so having some money set aside can be a real life saver. Developing good savings habits now will help you manage college debt and stay out of trouble with credit cards.
Whoever told us to wait until senior year to start applying for scholarships was misinformed. If I knew back then how much college would cost and how many scholarships were available, I would have made time to apply for as many as possible, beginning my freshman year in high school. I had more time as an underclassman to commit to searching for scholarships and completing applications than I did as a senior. It makes me sick just thinking about all that free money I let pass me by. Do yourself a huge favor and set aside time every month to work on scholarships. They are definitely worth it.
I can say that I am honestly happy with my life, but who wouldn’t like to change a few things from their past? I’m sure my kids will make some of the same mistakes I did, and I’ll just smile when they tell me I was right. Who knows? Maybe their kids will be smarter and actually listen to their words of wisdom, but I’m not holding my breath. We each need to find our own path and follow it, bumps and all.
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