How To Do High School “Right”


Looking back on my high school years, I could have done many aspects differently, and possibly should have. I could have better set myself up for success, both academically and mentally, and discovered healthy and important coping skills. From freshman year to senior year, here are the things I wish I would have done or done differently to make myself more well-rounded and balanced. 

School isn’t everything. It’s really not. Your 4.0 is nice, but unless you’re set on going to an Ivy League school, you don’t need it. You can pride yourself on your straight As and hard work, but others also should pride themselves on their hard work that got them Bs or Cs. I believe your work ethic and responsibility should speak more than a few numbers on a page. Additionally, in the long run your high school GPA does not hold much weight past applying for colleges and scholarships. A 3.9, a few Bs, is just as good with less stress. 

I remember my freshman year AP Human Geography class. I was so fixated on maintaining that 4.0 that I pulled many all-nighters to finish projects, study for tests, or even just trying to get all of my homework done for all of my classes. I was constantly worried about something. Unfortunately, this continued until a few months ago. I received my first ever B in my junior year math class. I worked my butt off. I was constantly asking for help and for more review problems to complete before the test day, doing test corrections — you name it. But I believed when that B popped up in the gradebook that all of my hard work had just been shoved in my face like a mud pie and smeared around for good measure. I was upset. Logically, I knew I would be okay, it wasn’t the end of the world, but in the moment, it sucked, even after the moment. Heck, I’m still bitter about it. And that my Spartan friends, is what not to do. I’m not saying get a B just to get it out of the way. Although, hey, that isn’t a horrible idea. What I’m saying is give yourself some grace. You know what your best is. You know that you worked hard. Let that be enough. Whatever grade that got you, a B, like me, or a C, or D. You tried. You put in the time. You put in the effort. You asked the questions. You advocated for yourself. You did it. Cut yourself some slack. 

After all of that stress, I got a full ride to an in-state school. My GPA is not a 4.0, and it was okay. If you go into the rest of your high school education with the mindset that “it’s okay,” that you’re not worth any less for getting a B or C, you’ll save yourself stress, self hate, and sleepless nights. I needed someone to tell me I could still be smart and capable without a 4.0. Only Ivy’s would care about a 4.0. Otherwise, other schools, especially in-state schools, do not care if you have a 4.0 versus a 3.9. Guess what matters more? You.

Colleges want to see consistency and excellence. Being involved is important, however, not essential. I was only in band and achieved enough to be given a few scholarships. However, to be on the safe side, I suggest getting involved. Not only is it good for appealing to colleges, but you also build friendships, skill sets, and have more opportunities to achieve wonderful and memorable things. I should have done Speech and Debate, but that’s me; I digress. Now on to paying for what you’re working for: how can I afford college?

I keep referencing scholarships, and as anything but a senior, I would have been thinking I know scholarships give you money, but where do you apply? How do you even find them? How do you keep track of them? What should I do? I was lucky enough to attend a scholarship workshop the week after my junior year ended. This helped clear the air, but I was still left with confusion. One of the key takeaways from that workshop was when applying to colleges or scholarships, tell a story. Get creative. Throw in some similes, metaphors, repetition of words, vary your sentence length. “Do the English thing,” to put it in layman’s terms. If you’re applying to a competitive school or scholarship, it’s very likely that many other applicants will have the same great test scores, GPA, etc… You use the essay to say, “Look at me! Pick me!” When the gentleman said this, I had to force myself to not roll my eyes. I remember thinking, I’m not interesting. My family isn’t dysfunctional, they don’t volunteer, or do anything noteworthy. I didn’t do extracurriculars, I’ve never had cancer or another life-altering illness, and I haven’t been harshly bullied or overcame adversity. Nothing significant has happened to me. What’s there to write about? Lots! If you have siblings write about how you helped them do something, or vice versa, or how this moment or experience with them taught you x. “But I’m an only child,” you say. Awesome! Write about how that college will give you the camaraderie you’re looking for, etc… Brainstorm at least 20 ideas that highlight how you’ve overcome an obstacle, defied the odds, shown resilience, achieved something. Whatever it may be, the key is that you show something, even if you think it’s insignificant. 

Okay, okay, but what about finding scholarships to begin with? You can find them on the College Board, Reach Higher Montana, scholarship websites, as well as scholarships listed on the website of the universities you want to attend. Make sure to write down all of the information in a Google doc or piece of paper so you remember what documents and/or essays are required and when it is due. It can all get a little hectic if you’re mentally unprepared for the business outside of school work if you’re planning on going to university. 

Straying away from college, senioritis is real. Before my senior year, I wrote it off as something that would never happen to me. I was wrong. My senioritis kicked in in September. It was not fun. Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice for combating this. Try your best to stay motivated. Try your best to balance school, friends, family, and your preparation for your future. Also, just go to class, it saves you a lot of headache. 

I hope this helps you before you embark on your senior year of high school. Do your best, work hard, go to class, stay on top of it. I know it’s easier said than done, but the advice remains. Enjoy your summer, take a break, and hopefully you’ll come back ready to tackle another year in this fabulous school (sarcasm intended).

Tessa, the author of this piece, will be going on to the University of Montana to study Creative Writing and Journalism. She will of course be reading books in her free time.