Advice for freshmen

Hello again!

It’s Mags, and I’m back with more school advice to bestow upon you. Today, I want to focus specifically on freshmen because at this point in the year, you guys are probably starting to get into the groove of the high school experience. Hopefully you’re learning how to balance classes with clubs, sports, and everything else. Maybe you’ve even acquired a planner and started using a “to-do” folder like we talked about last time (wink, wink). However, if you’re anything like I was, the start of school adrenaline has worn off, and you’re beginning to realize just how much time you have left before graduation. While this is a blessing— after all, you have so much time to accomplish those goals we discussed— it also means that you’re playing the long game, and you need to have a high school plan that reflects your long-term goals.


When I talk about “the long game,” I mean your four-year plan, a holistic look at all the things you want to accomplish in high school based on what your plans are after you graduate. As a freshman, you probably don’t have plans yet. Don’t worry, that’s normal. It just means that for now, we’re going to assume that you’ll either go into some form of college or into the workforce, since those are the most common options. With that in mind, we’ll create a four-year plan for you that incorporates activities which will make you desirable to colleges or companies that might want to hire you after you graduate.


The Long Game

1. Mental health

I want to discuss mental health first because it affects every other aspect of your life. If you’re overwhelmed with stress, feeling depressed or anxious, or simply groggy and sleepy all the time, your brain won’t be able to function at its full capacity. On the other hand, if you can keep your mind energized and clear, you’ll have the greatest chance of achieving your goals.

“But how do I keep my brain at full capacity?” you might ask. Well, let me tell you, there are many factors involved, and they’re all important for different reasons. Here are the essentials: sleep, physical health, and stress management. I know, I can feel you rolling your eyes at how cliché those are, but I’m not kidding.

Sleep is such an obvious factor of mental health that students often overlook it or downplay its importance. I’ve seen so many peers pull all-nighters to study for a test, but here’s the truth: you can study all you want, but if you only sleep an hour or two, you can kiss that A-plus goodbye. You won’t even have the energy to read the test, let alone do well. Please, put sleep first.

Next is physical health. Water, diet, exercise: you know the drill. Again, it’s so crucial but so easy to forget. I know I have. It’s true, though; regular exercise and a decent diet is one of the easiest ways to improve mood and memory. Eat your greens, kids, and go outside every day to get some fresh air.

Finally, stress management is a must. For me, the best way to minimize stress is to make time for activities that don’t connect to school, clubs, or household responsibilities. Try to find the things that replenish you, whether that’s reading, writing, playing video games, or hanging out with friends or family. Having outlets for anxiety is also vital. These can be making a list of the things you’re worried about, stream-of-consciousness journaling, or just talking with a counselor or parent. What matters is that you get those stressful thoughts out of your head so your mind is clear.  


2. School

Once you’ve ensured that your mental health is sound, your next focus is school. If you can’t handle school— if your grades are on shaky ground, or you have attendance problems— the extra time you have to spend fixing that will take time away from your sports or clubs. Make sure that you’re taking classes that are at the right difficulty level for you. They should be slightly challenging, but you should also be able to understand and succeed in them as long as you do the homework and pay attention.

Also, try to get classes out of the way that you know you won’t like. If you’re not an athletic person, go ahead and take gym or a sport early on. Same thing if you’re not into art; get that fine art credit out of the way as soon as possible.

Lastly, if there are specialized classes you know you’ll want to take later on, make sure they don’t have prerequisites. For example, if you want to take Yearbook your junior year, you’ll have to take photojournalism sophomore year. You can talk to your counselors about that when you make your four-year plan.


3. Clubs

This is another one of those eye-rolling pieces of advice, but it needs to be said: get involved. Of course, you don’t have to join 12 clubs right out of the gate, just try to join something. Yes, being committed to something throughout school will obviously look good on college applications. More than that, though, joining clubs is the easiest way to figure out what your passions are and what you’re good at. You can dream about being a lawyer all you want, but if you never actually join the debate team, how will you know if law is right for you? Want to be a computer programmer? Join I-TECH. Want to travel the world? Join a language club and start learning about other cultures. You’ll either gain valuable skills and make friends doing something that you enjoy, or you’ll realize that it’s not for you and have a better idea of what you want to do in the future.

That, in three steps, is the long game. They’re a guideline for what you should do throughout high school to prepare you for life after school, whether it’s college, a job, world travel, or some other grand adventure. Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to balance school and your outside life while also learning what makes you unique and where your passions lie. I know they’ve worked out well for me.

Until next time!