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Here comes high school; A guide to your freshman year

Congratulations on making it through junior high school. You can just feel high school on the tips of your fingers. You can’t wait for that first football game, your first high school dance and your first high school romance. But, no matter how excited you are, you’re still anxious. And since the ACT is a couple of years away, what’s got you twisted?

Being a freshman. Even though there are a lot of good memories to be had during your first year in high school, it is also chock-full of stress. But there are a few things you can do to make sure that your freshman year goes as smoothly as possible.

You need to know that you’re not alone. Every other freshman is in the same shoes as you.

“It is daunting,” says Wendy Grolnick, author of "Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids” (Prometheus Books, $18.98) and professor at Clark University. Grolnick says high school is bigger, more impersonal and harder to negotiate. It doesn’t matter how much one of your classmates might think they know about high school; the truth is they’ve been in high school just as long as you.

“Most people don’t know where to start,” says Valerie Pierce, high school teacher and author of “Countdown to College: 21 ‘To-Do’ Lists for High School” (Front Porch Press, $10.95). And even though it might be hard to figure out how to take the first step, it’s crucial to take it as soon as possible.

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Maybe that first step is making sure you’re comfortable in your new surroundings. Grolnick suggests heading to the school before summer is over. Most of the time, you can get into the building and walk around. Go in and out of different doors. If you can, bring someone who went to or goes to the school along so they can show you around. This way, you get rid of any extra stress that you may have on your first day in the new building. You also want to get organized for your classes in advance. Gather all of your materials before school even starts.

“Get a whole lot of information about requirements and curriculum,” says Grolnick.

Next, you want to get a sense of where your high school career is taking you. Pierce suggests “trying on” different things to find out what interests you. You might think you want to do something and after you try it, you end up hating it. Or you might think you’re not interested in something but once you give it a shot, you fall in love with it. Try out for different sports teams. Join all kinds of clubs.

“It’s the process of elimination,” says Pierce.

Another easy way to hone in on what your interests are is volunteering. Pierce tries to get her students to volunteer at least once a semester. That way, when they’ve graduated, they had the chance to experience eight different professions. Websites, like WaysToHelp.org, can help you find volunteer opportunities that you’re interested in and fit your lifestyle. When you have time outside of the classroom, talk to teachers who are educated in fields that relate to what you are attracted to. You’ll not only get good information from them but also network with teachers you’ll be spending the next few years with.

Finally, you want to make sure to take your freshman year seriously.

“It’s really going to be a year that sets the stage and sets the tone,” says Kristen Campbell, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions. In just two years, you’ll be deciding where you want to head after high school. The last thing you want to do is slack off.

“Set your high school experience off on the right foot,” says Campbell.

She also says that coursework is going to be a little more challenging. Understand that the academic rigor of high school is going to be harder than what you’ve experienced in the past but you can handle it if you dedicate time to your studies. It takes four years to create a grade point average but it only takes one bad semester to tarnish it. If things do take a turn for the worse, you can’t go running to mommy and daddy anymore. You have to make your own choices and are responsible for your own grades. That being said, there’s no reason you can’t look to your parents for help with your work you’re struggling with. In a survey conducted by Kaplan, 81 percent of teens involved their parents in their academic work.

Freshman year is no walk in the park, no doubt about it.

“Take it slow,” says Grolnick.

“Realize that it’s normal to be worried and scared.” If you’re well prepared, it will most certainly make your first year a lot easier, letting you focus on things you really care about, like who you want to go to Homecoming with.

© 2010, Tribune Media Services