Starting high school is a huge milestone, so it makes sense if you’re freaking out a little. Seriously, don’t feel bad about it — you’re definitely not the only one battling nerves about the first day (and, like, every day after that).
But you know what helps when you’re stressed about the unknown? Making it less unknown. And since we don’t want you to feel like you’re bogged down with homework before school even starts, we’ve compiled the SparkNotes version of what to expect your first day of high school and how to prepare.
Scope Out Your New School
If you go to a smaller school, you may already be pretty familiar with the halls of your high school since it’s likely on the same grounds as your middle school. It’s also possible, though, that your middle school is in an entirely different location than your high school.
Either way (but especially with the latter scenario), it’s important to get a sense of what your high school looks like from the outside and in before stepping foot in it that first day. Fortunately, most high schools offer an orientation before the start of the year. Don’t think you’re too cool to go — you’ll wish you did that chaotic first day if you skip out. Orientation gives you the opportunity to map out where your classes are, learn how to get to your locker, and meet your teachers. Plus, you might see a few friends or meet new classmates. That’ll help ease your first-day nerves, too.
Review Your Schedule
To state the obvious, high school is not middle school. It can be a big transition as far as the complexity of course material and your schedule goes. So, don’t wait until the day you start to figure out where you’re supposed to be and when. Glancing at your schedule beforehand also gives you a chance to mentally note any courses you may want to switch — you’ll want to find out how to do that within the drop/add period if your high school operates on a semester system.
Write your schedule down, too. Seriously. Write it everywhere. Write down your schedule, complete with classroom numbers, inside each of your binders and notebooks. Why do you need the classroom number for math on the inside of your science binder? Because sometimes you forget a notebook or grab the wrong one from your locker.
Don’t Be Embarrassed to Ask Questions
There will be plenty of stumbling blocks as you adapt to high school. Don’t create more on your own! If you have questions — about your classes, your teachers, your schedule, whatever — ask someone you respect. It can be your parents. It can be another student. It can be a sibling. Just don’t let your pride keep you from getting all the information you need to get your freshman year off to a good start.
If your teachers sent out lists of required school supplies prior to the first day, they did so for a reason. They expect you to show up for class at least marginally prepared. Sure, first days are generally a bit lighter to let everyone get a feel for their new environment. But that’s not a rule, so it’s best to come as prepared as possible if you don’t want to be the kid who gets called out for not bringing their graphing calculator to class.
Don’t forget your mask. Know how you wrote your schedule down on literally everything you own? Hide a few masks in a similar fashion. If your school has a strict mask policy, you’ll need one to enter the building. But, when you’re running late and nervous in that first day or week, it’s easy to forget something like a mask. After all, you just spend nine years in school without one. Fold a couple up and stick them in random notebook pockets. Hide one in your make-up bag and in your backpack or purse. Maybe even stash one in the car that will get you to school each day. Finally, once you have a locker, make sure you have one there, too. (And some hand sanitizer, if possible.)
What to Expect
No matter how confident you feel in the weeks leading up to freshman year, you’re probably going to have some nerves going into your first day. Repeat after me: Nerves are normal! In fact, you should get at least a small measure of comfort from knowing that everyone else likely feels the same way you do (no matter how cool they try to play it).
Social (Literally) Studies
One of the most daunting parts of high school can be leaving behind the safety net of your friend group from middle school. If you’re lucky, that group or part of it will be in your high school classes. But you should also be prepared for a whirlwind of new social activity and adapting to a different social hierarchy. Be yourself and be open to befriending people from all different groups and “cliques.” High school is weird — find your tribe and love them hard.
Carve out a few minutes on your first day to scope out your high school’s extracurriculars. If you dream of being a writer, join the yearbook staff (former yearbook editor here!). If you like to be part of a team, try out for a team sport. Extracurriculars can be one of the defining touchstones of the high school experience and the source of some of your best memories.
A New Chapter
Once that final bell rings, remember that this is just the first day of your high school experience. Whether it went amazing or you’re left feeling overwhelmed, tomorrow is a clean slate. And if it wasn’t the best first day ever, it’s definitely not the end of the world. You have three more first days of high school: first day of sophomore year, first day of junior year, and first day of senior year. Best news? By the time you get to senior year, you’ll basically be a pro at high school first days.
But what if you’re starting high school during quarantine?
This is a unique moment in history, not just for the U.S. but the world over. Students across the world are entering a new phase in their educational career but feeling more uncertain than before. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and administration can’t offer seasoned advice on this new milestone like they would in the past, but that doesn’t mean they are not there to hear out young students entering high school who are figuring out the realities of remote learning. It’s important to take it day by day and prioritize mental health.