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Starting High School

Medically reviewed by: Kathryn Hoffses, PhD

So what's high school really like? Is there more work? More stress? Will it be hard to go from being one of the oldest middle school students to one of the youngest high schoolers?

If you're having thoughts like these, you're not alone: Lots of other freshmen are feeling the same way — you're all starting in a new place. With that in mind, here are a few topics that incoming freshmen want to know about.

Getting Used to a New School

You may not know a lot of people when you start high school. Maybe your friends from middle school are going to a different high school. Even if you know other freshmen, you might feel nervous that you don't know any upperclassmen. How are you going to make friends among this sea of unknown faces?

Most high schools hold a freshman orientation before school actually starts. These are helpful not only because you learn your way around the building and get to meet some of your teachers, but you also get to meet fellow freshmen. That way, when you show up on your first day of school, you may already recognize a few familiar faces. If you think it might help, tour your school another time before or after orientation to make sure you have a good sense for where your classes, locker, etc., are.

When you talk to people at orientation, you'll probably find that a lot of them feel just like you do. They're all new to the school and don't know what to expect. Talking about a common concern with your classmates can spark new friendships.

Getting Organized

How about the workload in high school — is it a lot harder? Again, this is something your classmates are probably worried about too.

The work in high school builds on what you learned in middle school, giving you a more advanced knowledge of many academic subjects. So you may find you have more work to do or that it's a bit harder. But these challenges can make you feel less bored with the usual routine — it feels great when you've mastered something really tough. Maybe you'll find a new appreciation for biology or discover a passion for literature.

If you haven’t already, take steps to keep track of homework assignments, when tests are coming, and when projects are due. Using a planner or notepad on your phone can help keep you organized and on top of your work.

If you feel that your work is too overwhelming, teachers and tutors can offer extra help. You have more independence in high school than you might have had in middle school. But many resources are there for you if you feel the work is too much or if there's something you don't understand.

Extracurricular Activities

High school also has more extracurriculars than middle school did, such as clubs, music and theater groups, student government, and sports teams. This is a great time to explore your interests and try new things. Who said school has to be all work and no play?

These activities may take place before or after school, or during free periods or study halls. Because of this, it helps to sharpen your time management skills in your first year. And remember to leave free time for yourself. Everybody needs some downtime.

What if I Need Help?

Middle school taught you the basics of academics, time management, and social skills while providing you with a little extra support and guidance — kind of like a bicycle with training wheels. High school gives you the chance to take off those training wheels and learn how to be more independent.

But as in middle school, you or your friends may have some tough times. Even as you gain more independence, you are not alone. If personal issues get overwhelming, find someone to talk to. Many people are available to help you. Friends and parents can be great resources, but sometimes that's not enough. Reach out to school counselors or therapists if you want to talk to someone other than your friends and family. Often, you can meet with them during the school day.

It's perfectly OK if you're nervous in your first days and weeks in high school. Even if you don't get off to the best start, that's normal too. Just be patient and keep trying. Once you've adjusted to your new independence, you may find you can go farther than you ever imagined.

Medically reviewed by: Kathryn Hoffses, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2022