Navigating high school: a guide

Sometimes it feels like we need a map to get through life. Here is a senior’s guide to high school.


Maddy Smith

Senior Maddy Smith offers her tips and tricks for high school.

High school- a place of growth, trepidation, and self-exploration. I, like many of you, have watched countless hours of cheesy high school movies and found myself comparing the on-screen experience to my personal experience. And so my list began. I began to compile tips and tricks to having the best high school experience. Finally, after four years, my list of do’s and don’ts is complete. 


The Don’ts:

  1. Don’t do something you don’t want to do!
    1. In high school, at West specifically, there is a lot of pressure to join extra clubs and sports, and take classes you have zero interest in. Trust me, you do not want to be trying on your graduation cap and think of all of the things you would have rather done than run cross country. Your college application will be plenty padded. They would rather hear about your passions over cookie-cutter volunteering and AP classes. I pushed myself to take AP classes every year, take honors math despite loathing the subject, and stuck with a sport I lost passion for. I did this because I felt like I had to or I wouldn’t get into a good school. In the end, my college essay was about a new passion that I found in the summer before my senior year. It had nothing to do with school or my stupidly hard classes. 
  2. Don’t force your bucket list
    1. Many people go into high school wanting to check off boxes; go out with someone, consume something you shouldn’t, sneak out of the house, etc. Trust me, your high school experience will not be ruined without these things. Have fun and live in the moment, but don’t be reckless and dampen your future. Go out after a football game, hang out with a new group of people, and stay out way too late knowing you have work in the morning. Everyone has a different idea of fun, don’t try and conform to someone else’s. 
  3. Don’t spend the whole time studying!
    1. You won’t look back in twenty years and remember all the time you spent studying, you’ll remember laughing with friends and staying out too late after football games. Don’t get me wrong, you should hit the books before a test, but take a break every once in a while. Burnout is real. I applied to too many schools and took on too many hours at work, so the time I did have off, I spent sleeping and worrying. I turned down invitations to go out with friends, lost interest in my classes, and really struggled to stay on top of the application process. So, do yourself a favor and take that nap, drink that coffee, and go for a drive. Just breathe, it’s only high school. 
  4. Don’t get caught up in the drama. 
    1. Life is not an episode of “Euphoria,” and it definitely should not feel like it. My biggest tip for a happy high school experience is to choose friends wisely. If you are constantly fighting or in the middle of an argument between your friends, you don’t get to enjoy things as much. Leave the drama on the television screen and hang out with people that make you happy. My list of close friends isn’t the longest, I moved here freshman year and found it kind of difficult to get into some of the “groups”. It turned out to be for the best. I surrounded myself with people who prefer to keep the drama in the sitcoms and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. 


The Dos:

  1. Do something new!
    1.   High school is the perfect time to dip your toe in the water. Join debate or try ceramics. Take culinary arts just to eat the food. Now, this is not to counterclaim one of the above “don’t” statements, you shouldn’t be doing something that makes you miserable. Classes and sports aren’t permanent. Try it, love it, continue, hate it, quit it. 
  2. Do something challenging!
    1. This sounds like it is negating the “don’t do something you don’t want to,” but it is important to be challenged. One of my favorite classes was AP US History. It was hard, but I love the subject. I also began taking Kirkwood classes the summer before my senior year. Don’t be afraid of AP or Dual Enrollment courses. They will prepare you for life after graduation. 
  3. Do something fun!
    1. Similar to the “don’t spend your whole time studying.” you should do at least one thing that makes you genuinely happy every week. Go for a drive, get ice cream with a friend, have a movie night, sleep in on a Saturday and make memories. You will never have less responsibility than what you have now. Enjoy this time. You don’t get another one. 


One final don’t:

  • Don’t look back. High school is just one stop on this journey. Some people like to make it out like this is the end of the road, the best time of your life. It is not. Next year will be better, then the next, and the next, and the next. Keep growing and changing. Reflect on your time at West, but don’t dwell on regrets. As far as I know, there is no way to turn back time, so statements like “I should have”, and “I wish I would have”, are a waste of good moments. Don’t stay stuck in a cap and gown, wishing for time to slow down.