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January 20, 2021

8 things every high school freshman needs to hear NOW

One of the best things about high school? School spirit. IMAGE: The Prowl
Learning about school spirit is easy. Learning about the stuff that really matters is a bit harder. IMAGE: The Prowl

Today’s freshmen aren’t told the whole truth about high school and life after graduation. Here are the 8 things they really need to know.


My daughter starts high school next week, and she’s already stressed out.

Why? Freshman orientation did her in.

In their efforts to inspire impressionable teens toward greatness, the principal and teachers scared the snot out of them. The kids were excited with all the talk about pep rallies, clubs, sports and other activities at school; however, the enthusiasm died when the topic turned to academics.

These 14-year-old Texas kids, who can’t decide what they want to wear in the morning, were told to decide what college they wanted to attend. The next four years are to be used to prepare for that particular college, and their ultimate fate would be determined by their class rank, overall grade point average and number of Advanced Placement classes they took.

I looked at my daughter and rolled my eyes. As a college instructor, I knew the school officials’ intentions were good, but the information was bad. Actually, it was a lot of unnecessary hype.

Here’s the important stuff they missed:

 1. College is not the only option.

According to the Department of Labor, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling. These positions don’t require people to shell out $100,000 in tuition money or postpone a real paycheck for four years to get them. These jobs are in skilled trades, and apprenticeships and vocational training can provide students with the training they need for careers that are always in demand.

College is expensive, and sadly, a degree does not come with a promise of employment upon graduation. The demand for workers with art, history or literature degrees has always been small, and it’s nearly microscopic today.  Even people with popular “job ready” degrees like finance, management, education and marketing are having a hard time finding work and an even harder time paying off student loans and other college debts.

2. Don’t stress about your GPA.

The only people who will ever see your high school grades are college admission officers, and they know grades are not an accurate indication of your real talent or intelligence. Contrary to what you may have been told, college acceptance is not based on your high school grades. They’re just part of the equation in higher education, but factors such as SAT or ACT test scores, extra-curricular activities, part-time employment, life experience and volunteer work carry a whole lot more weight.

3. Learning about people is just as important as learning in the classroom.

THE most valuable skill you can pick up in high school has nothing to do with what’s taught in the classroom. You’re going to meet adults and peers who don’t share your background, beliefs, life experiences and interests. Rather than writing them off, it’s important to take the time to build relationships. Get outside your comfort zone. Don’t judge; simply ask questions and listen. Be compassionate.

The ability to communicate and interact with others will serve you well for the rest of your life. Judgmental attitudes and poor social skills, not so much.

4. Failure is good for you.

You are going to fail at some things, and those failures may sting a little bit. Notice I said “sting” and not “destroy.” Learn to gracefully accept your mistakes, learn from them and move on. The lessons we learn from failure are the very things that lead us to success.

You’re not alone in failure. Author J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job, and 12 publishers rejected her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Her seven books about the boy wizard ended up becoming the best-selling book series in history. Basketball player Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team and has confessed to missing more than 9,000 shots and losing almost 300 games during his career with the NBA. Nonetheless, the NBA still regards him as “the greatest basketball player of all time.”

Not bad for a couple of screw-ups, eh?

5. Take time to notice people.

Some kids go through the entire day without anyone acknowledging their existence. No one says hi, smiles at them in the hall or talks to them during class. To make matters worse, the only ones who do notice them use those interactions to bully or belittle them.

Take the time to notice others. Talk to the people who sit near you in class, especially the quiet folks. Smile when you pass someone you recognize. Your little kindness may be the only good thing a person experiences that day, and sometimes, your kindness may be the only thing keeping them going.

6. Get a part-time job.

Somebody’s got to say this. Your parents cannot and should not provide you with everything you want. If they do, you will never learn how to take care of yourself or manage money. Unfortunately, many people never learn that lesson when they’re young, and they grow up with a distorted sense of entitlement or encounter debt from foolish choices.

A part-time job during high school can provide you with the money you need to take purchase the things you want and save for future needs like a car, college or trade school. A job also helps you learn how to budget your time, develop leadership skills and handle responsibility – all of which are critical for whatever you choose to do after graduation.

7. Take classes that interest you.

Every school has a core group of classes that everyone must take in order to graduate. Get those out of the way, but when it comes to your electives, study whatever interests you.

Don’t buy into the lie that your schedule needs to be crammed with AP or accelerated courses so you’ll be ready for college. Do that, and you won’t be ready for life. This is the time to try things in different areas so you can determine what you like and dislike as well as where your real talents lie.

Culinary arts or a second year of chemistry? No contest, you’re going to have to feed yourself in a few years and you can’t make palatable foods with a Bunsen burner.

Child development or another foreign language class? You may never travel to Paris and speak French with the locals; however, you will have to understand toddler-speak when you become a parent.

Mechanics or marketing? You’ll never be broke or stranded if you understand how things work and how you can fix them. Marketing folks are often broke and stranded along highways.

8. Be a teenager.

You’re not an adult yet, so don’t feel like you have to live like one. Frankly, adulthood is over-rated. None of us really likes working full-time, paying bills and being legally responsible for everything we do.

Don’t rush to try drugs or alcohol. Your developing brain isn’t physically able to handle their effects, and intoxication via booze or drugs really isn’t as cool as you think it is. It’s also dangerous, and just for the record, illegal.

And sex? Please wait. Even though you may be physically ready, you may not be emotionally ready. There are physical risks like STDs and unplanned pregnancies. However, the most devastating consequences of early sexual involvement don’t involve your body, they involve your heart and mind.

There is a powerful emotional component involved in sexual intimacy, especially for women. It hurts when your sexual partner breaks up with you, spreads rumors, talks about your relationship with others, or worse yet, pretends you no longer exist. Doesn’t high school give you enough drama to deal with?

Even though it seems like EVERYONE is doing it, a recent survey of American high school students revealed that only 47 percent of students have reported having sex. That means that 53 percent have not and a good 20 percent of the non-virgins were lying just to look cool.

To my daughter and the rest of the class of 2018 – You have my permission to live for today and not freak out about what may or may not happen down the road.

Go to football games AND the girls’ basketball games. Be in the audience on the school play’s opening night. Don’t run away from the yearbook photographers. Get to know your teachers.  Do your best.

Oh yeah, and hug your parents every once in a while. That will help us get through the next four years, too.

3 Comments on 8 things every high school freshman needs to hear NOW

  1. This post is terrific! My husband is an HVAC Service Tech~with 2 years of technical college, he makes a very decent living, has good benefits, 3 weeks vacation and lots of opportunity for overtime. College was paid for by the time he graduated and he LOVES what he does! Taking time to explore what you LOVE vs. going into huge debt to “get a degree” with a large probability of no job at end is a no brainer!

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