Students can be adjusting to a new campus, teachers and classes all while trying to figure out who they are as a person.
But even though the four years of high school can be daunting, some high school students have learned how to make the most out of their experience.
New kids on the block
Nathan Walmsley, a rising junior at Braden River High School, came from a small middle school before he started as a freshman at Braden River.
He was overwhelmed with being on a campus with more than 1,700 students, but he made new friends and joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp to help adjust to his new environment.
Students interviewed said freshmen should step out of their comfort zones and make new friends.
“It’s a big jump from middle school to high school,” said Samantha Malcolm, a 2022 graduate of the Out-of-Door Academy. “Be welcoming to other people knowing they are going through the same thing you’re going through. Be as kind and generous as you would want to be treated.”
Students said the freshman year is an opportunity to experiment with extracurriculars to finding interests.
“Get involved with sports or anything in general,” Walmsley said. “You don’t want to just be going home after school every day because that’s boring.”
High school academic rigors are higher than what students might expect.
Johnny Robinson, a rising senior at ODA, said it’s important for students to find tricks that make them more productive and focused on school work. When he gets home after school, Robinson said remaining in the clothes he wore to school and keeping his shoes on helps him remain in the school mindset while working on his assignments.
Getting over the sophomore slump
The excitement of finally being in high school and being the new kids on campus ends after the freshman year. Often sophomores find themselves in a slump with a long way remaining until graduation.
Robinson said the sophomore year can be more enjoyable if students keep a day-to-day perspective.
“Look for the best things every day,” he said. “I’ll wake up and think, ‘Oh, I have this cool thing to do today’ or ‘we get to watch a movie in class today.’ Finding moments in your day or even week to look forward to help propel you forward through those moments that are tough.”
To adjust to the academic rigors of Advanced Placement courses, Malcolm depended on her teachers more, meeting with them each morning and going over material she didn’t understand. She formed study groups with classmates.
In the sophomore year, students tend to know whether the extracurricular activities they chose as freshman fit them. So it can be a time to start a new path.
“If you tried something your freshman year and you think you aren’t that interested in it, don’t be afraid to just go and move onto something new," said Adanna Wharton, a rising junior at Braden River High School. "You don’t want to stick yourself into something you’re not going to be interested in all four years.”
Of course, you could find your original decision was best.
Stuart Macaulay, a rising senior at Braden River High, first joined JROTC his freshman year but in his sophomore year, he decided to leave JROTC to pursue wrestling. Then in his junior year, Macaulay returned to JROTC because he thought it was a good activity for him.
Junior year: Year of stress
Elayna Andrews, a 2022 Braden River High graduate, spent her junior year focused on academics, extracurriculars and her job.
She wishes she spent more time researching colleges because her senior year was fast approaching.
It would have been better, she said, if she had at least figured out what colleges you wanted to attended based on her grades.
“Then senior year, you can get applications done before the first day of school,” she said.
Students suggested visiting campuses and doing research on the colleges they were interested in attending.
“Going to the (college or university) gives you a deep understanding if you really like it or not,” Robinson said. “I thought I would love Rollins College, but I went there and I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.”
Malcolm said the junior year gives students an opportunity to take classes that help them pursue their interests.
But Christian Bell, a rising senior at Braden River High, said not to feel pressured to take advanced courses if that isn’t the right decision for that student.
In his junior year, Bell took five AP classes. He was told by several other students AP Seminar was an easy class, so he decided to take it. He later regretted his decision.
“It’s just been dreadful to get through the class,” Bell said. “Unless you’re dead set that you want that AP class for yourself, not anybody else, don’t do it.”
Andrews, Malcolm and Robinson all suggested starting to prepare for the PSAT and ACT early, whether that means joining a study group, getting a tutor, doing practice tests or all of the above. Preparing early will help alleviate the stress that can come with these exams.
“Putting a little bit (of studying) each weekend will definitely go a long way,” Malcolm said. “Create a study plan on your calendar because those testing dates will come at you before you know it.”
As important as those junior year tests are, Malcolm said students need to find a balance between their academics and enjoying their junior year.
“The key to minimizing stress and still enjoying yourself your junior year is doing your best where you still are enjoying life, having fun with friends and doing what you want,” Malcolm said.
Malcolm said just concentrating on academic performance can burn you out.
“I definitely felt burnout because of how much I was pushing myself,” she said.
Senior year: The last hurrah
Senior year comes with the excitement of finishing high school along with dreams of the future.
Malcolm spent the first half of her senior year putting together college applications.
She said students should start start putting together college applications the summer before senior year.
“It’s honing down your college list, where are you going to apply, seeing what the application requirements are and the different essays you’re going to have to write,” Malcolm said. “It’s about planning.”
They both said time management is key when trying to juggle school assignments and extracurricular activities along with college applications and essays.
“I had to actually limit how much I would research my specific college because I’d be doing an assignment and get bored so I would start doing stuff for my university," Andrews said. "I’d have to stop myself because my mindset would completely shift based on what I’m interested in that second. I was like, ‘I can’t be focusing on my future. I have to focus on finishing this exam for this class so I can have the credits I need to move onto that stuff.”
When it comes to writing college admission essays, Malcolm said students should focus on something meaningful to them because it makes it easier.
Malcolm chose to write about her experiences with Manatee County Teen Court and the impact it had.
While preparing for the future is important and exciting, seniors said not to forget it’s the last year of high school. The wanted to take advantage of all the events and opportunities that brings.
For Malcolm, the prom, senior night and other final big moments were fun and important, but they weren't as important as the smaller, precious moments she spent with her friends and teachers.
It is a time to savor all the special moments. She loved mentoring sixth graders in orchestra classes as well as getting together with her friends in the courtyard.
“Once all your applications are in, it's a time to enjoy the person you became over the last few years, the people you've met, the connections you've made and the things you've gotten involved in,” Malcolm said. “Enjoy the little moments as much as you did the big ones.”