Freshman Year of High School: What to Expect

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Beginning your freshman year of high school is a big, exciting step. Like any big step, of course, it can also feel intimidating at times. High school brings new classes, new people, new rules and routines, and new expectations. It’s normal to feel a little nervous about navigating all these changes.

In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what you can expect as you begin your freshman year of high school. We’ll also include some helpful tips for making the most of your first year as a high school student. When you know what to expect, you’ll feel less worried and more confident and prepared.

What’s So Different About High School?

In most cases, your high school is bigger than your middle school. You’ll attend classes on a larger campus with more students and more teachers. You may follow a different bell schedule and spend longer blocks of time in each class.

Transitioning to high school also means higher expectations and harder classes. But there’s good news too: you’ll meet more people, make new friends, and have more activities and opportunities to choose from. Plus, you’ll have fun experiences like high school football games, dances, learning to drive, and more. There’s a lot to look forward to!

Harder Classes

When you get to high school, your classes naturally become more challenging. Your teachers want to prepare you for college and life in the real world. This often means more homework, more studying, and harder tests.

Luckily, your middle school teachers were likely preparing you for high school. By building on the knowledge and skills you already have (like organization and study skills), you should find that you’re able to rise to the challenge.

Higher Expectations

Now that you’re a high school student, you’re expected to demonstrate maturity and responsibility. High school teachers won’t necessarily “hold your hand” as much as middle school teachers did. You’ll need to be self-motivated and keep track of your assignments and deadlines more independently.

You may have more students per class than you did in middle school, and your teachers may move faster through lessons. If you have questions or need extra help, it’s important to speak up. Your teachers will expect you to advocate for yourself and your educational needs. If speaking up makes you nervous at first, you can start by using email to build your comfort level and confidence.

High school teachers enforce higher standards, and most don’t tolerate some of the behaviors that were acceptable in middle school. Again, the goal is to prepare you for college and real life. Even if the expectations seem tough at first, remember that you’re learning helpful and important life skills.

More Friends

In most cases, you’ll have more classmates at your high school than you did at your middle school, and many of them are probably new faces. At first, you might feel nervous about meeting so many new people. Try to think of each new person as a potential new friend.

More people can actually be a great thing! If you didn’t find a lot of classmates you connected with or related to in middle school, high school provides a better opportunity to find “your people.” Participate in elective courses and extracurricular activities that interest you, and you’ll find like-minded people with similar interests.

More Activities and Opportunities

High school offers a much wider variety of activities and opportunities to pursue. You’ll get to choose from a wider variety of elective courses, including some that might fit your future college plans or career goals.

You can also join several clubs from a range of options, play on a sports team, participate in chorus or band, and much more. In high school, there’s truly a club for everyone. Whether you’re into dance, chess, cooking, robotics, poetry, or planting, there’s probably a club you’ll love.

My high school even had a Walker’s Club (I was the Vice President). We literally just met up and went on walks together—it was relaxing, good exercise, and a fun way to meet people. So, if you’re feeling nervous about starting high school, get excited too! You’ll have so many more choices, and more choices means that you’re more likely to find opportunities and activities that are perfect for you.

Fun Experiences

Of course, you’ll also get to enjoy classic high school experiences like football games and dances (if these experiences interest you). During your time in high school, you’ll reach exciting milestones like learning to drive, applying to college, and gaining more responsibility and freedom.

Although high school does bring new challenges, it also brings plenty of new adventures.

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How to Make the Most of Your Freshman Year of High School

Now that you know what to expect, let’s discuss some tips for making the most of your freshman year of high school. It’s important to have a healthy balance of hard work and fun, so we’ll talk about both!

Get Organized

To manage harder classes and higher expectations, you need to boost your organizational skills. Staying organized will reduce your stress. It’ll also help you manage your time wisely, meet your deadlines, and keep those grades up.

Get a planner or calendar to record important dates and deadlines. Some students like to use a different color for each class, or different colors for homework/tests/other activities and dates. When you complete an assignment, cross it off. It’s a satisfying feeling to successfully check something off your list!

Settle into a routine to make time management easier. For example, give yourself an hour to relax when you get home, then finish your homework and studying for the evening. If you create good habits now, you’ll have a great foundation for the rest of high school (and beyond).

Improve Your Study Habits

Speaking of good habits, you’ll find that you need to get more serious about studying. Cramming the night before a test (or winging it without studying at all) isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Take Notes

Start by taking notes in class. Get a spiral or composition notebook for each class, and jot down new and important information during each lesson. How will you know it’s important? Often, your teacher will say, “This is important!” or, “You’ll need to know this for your test!” Otherwise, pay attention to what’s printed on your teacher’s slides or handouts, as well as information your teacher repeats.

If you want to make studying much easier, set aside time each afternoon to reread your notes. You don’t have to do anything special—just read over the notes you wrote once or twice. The act of hearing the information, writing it down, and then reading it will help you remember. Plus, if anything seems confusing, you can make a mental note to ask your teacher about it the next day.

Review Material

When it’s time for the test, read through your notes and textbook chapter(s) again. If you come across something that seems unfamiliar, write it down. Revisit these notes again before concluding your study session. Use any study guides or other tools that your teacher provides, or make your own flash cards or two-column notes.

Have a Study Group

It’s also useful to have study groups if you can keep the focus more on studying than socializing. You might have questions about a topic that your friend is an expert on, and vice versa. Coming together to ask questions and discuss the material is often highly valuable preparation.

When I was in high school, my friends and I found that trying to do our main study session together wasn’t productive, but we liked to review together. We studied separately in the evenings, then met at a coffee place across the street from our school in the morning. We reviewed our notes, asked each other questions, and clarified any confusion or misunderstandings about the material. It was extremely helpful!

Put It All Together

Experiment with a few different strategies to figure out what works for you, then stick with your favorites. By taking and reviewing notes throughout the week, you’ll have a solid grasp on the material, making studying much less stressful. Then, your more in-depth study and review sessions will solidify your knowledge and get you ready to ace your exams.

And of course, you’re not only learning the material for the test. You want to retain it for mid-terms, final exams, college, and life in general. Creating good study habits instead of cramming helps you remember valuable information long-term.

Find Your Passion

With so many new activities and opportunities, high school is the perfect time to find your passion (if you haven’t already). Join a few different clubs to see what appeals to you. You might discover a new interest, hobby, or even career path.

Finding something you’re passionate about will make high school an even more enjoyable and enriching experience. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment with new ideas—you never know what will spark your interest and inspire you.

Take Steps to Prepare for College

Freshman year is not the time to begin overly focusing on college or stressing about your chances of admission. However, it’s a great time to begin taking small steps to prepare for college and build a strong foundation for the next four years.

Here are a few small steps you can take during your first year of high school:

  • Develop strong organizational and study skills, determining what strategies work best for you.
  • Get good grades.
  • Build relationships with teachers at your school.
  • Discover an area of interest(s) and stick with it—colleges love to see that you’re passionate about something and dedicated to pursuing it.
  • Take rigorous courses, but don’t overwhelm yourself. Strength of schedule is an important factor in college admissions, and weighted classes can boost your GPA. But start with only a few advanced classes, build your study skills, and then add more when you’re ready.
  • Eat nutritious meals, get plenty of rest, and remember to relax. If you don’t take good care of yourself, you won’t be at your best.

Enjoy!

High school is an interesting and exciting time in your life, so don’t forget to enjoy it. It’s great that you’re motivated, hard-working, and eager to take steps towards a successful future.

But it’s equally important to remember to relax and have fun sometimes too. Pushing yourself too hard leads to burnout, so it’s actually unhelpful and damaging to your productivity and success. Take good care of yourself and find a healthy, satisfying balance between work and fun.

You only get to experience high school one time. Make the most of it! Build solid habits, do your best, work hard, learn, and enjoy the new activities and opportunities that are yours to explore.

Final Thoughts: What to Expect Your Freshman Year of High School

As you begin your freshman year of high school, you can expect:

  • Harder classes
  • Higher expectations
  • More people and new friends
  • More activities and opportunities
  • Fun experiences

To make the most of your high school debut, helpful tips include:

  • Build your organizational skills.
  • Develop good study habits.
  • Find your passion and pursue it.
  • Take steps to prepare for college, like creating good habits, building relationships with teachers, and earning good grades.
  • Enjoy yourself! Balance work, fun, and relaxation so you’re mentally and emotionally healthy.

If you have other concerns about high school, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more information you have, the less nervous you’ll feel. Remember that you’ll have an adjustment period at first, and that’s completely natural and normal. By following the tips in this article, you’ll catch on quickly and hit the ground running. So, take a few deep breaths and relax. You’ve got this!

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