Major Milestone Alert

Got A Kid Starting High School? This Guide Is For Both Of You

Let’s be real: This is tough for you, too.

Originally Published: 
Two girls walk down the hall together in high school.
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If someone in your household is headed toward the huge milestone that is high school, it makes sense to freak out a little. Seriously, don't feel bad about it — you're definitely not the only parent wrestling with your emotions, and your teen isn't the only kid 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. Of course, that means doing some "homework" about what to expect. The mere thought of getting bogged down in research before even stepping foot in high school halls can feel overwhelming, though. So, we've compiled the SparkNotes version of what to expect on the first day of high school and how to prepare.

Getting Ready

Scope Out the New School

If your kids go to a smaller school, you may already be pretty familiar with the halls of the high school since it's likely on the same grounds as the middle school. But it's also possible that the middle school is in an entirely different location than the high school.

Either way (but especially with the latter scenario), it's important to get a sense of what the high school your student will be attending 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.

To the teens: Don't think you're too cool to go — you'll wish you did that chaotic first day if you skip out. Orientation allows you 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 first-day nerves, too.

Review the 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 schedule goes. So, don't wait until the first day to figure out where your student is supposed to be and when. Glancing at their schedule beforehand also gives you a chance to mentally note any courses they may want to switch — you'll want to find out how to do that within the drop/add period if the high school operates on a semester system.

Write the schedule down, too. Seriously. Write it everywhere. Write down your teen's class schedule, complete with classroom numbers, inside each binder and notebook. Why do you need the classroom number for math on the inside of your science binder? Because at some point, your teen will forget a notebook or grab the wrong one from their locker.

Don't Be Embarrassed to Ask Questions

This one applies to both parents and newly minted high school students: 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 classes, teachers, schedules, whatever — ask someone.

Teens, 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 first year off to a good start.

Come Prepared

If your teen's teachers sent out lists of required school supplies before the first day, they did so for a reason. They expect everyone 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 (or the parent of the kid) who gets called out for not bringing their graphing calculator to class.

What to Expect

First-Day Jitters

No matter how confident everyone feels in the weeks leading up to freshman year, you'll probably have some nerves going into that 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 middle school friends. With luck, those same middle school friends will translate into high school friends.

Teens 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 people and love them hard.


Carve out a few minutes on your first day to scope out high school extracurriculars. If your new high schooler dreams of being a writer, encourage them to join the yearbook staff (former yearbook editor here!). If they like to be part of a team, suggest they 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 a teen's best memories.

A New Chapter

OK, teens, here's a crucial word of wisdom: 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.

For parents of new high schoolers, remember that this ride may be rough. Or your teen could take to high school like a fish in water. Either way, make sure they know you're always there if they need to talk. And if you suspect their anxiety about high school goes beyond basic nerves, don't be afraid to dive a little deeper during your end-of-day discussions. Mental health care is self-care, and there's nothing wrong if your child needs expert guidance to get through this tricky transition.

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