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6 Ways to Make the Most of High School

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Director of The Tutoring School

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship.”  Even though this piece was intended for an audience of college students working as short-term summer interns, as a teacher of high school students, I was struck by how much of this advice should be taken to heart by teenagers.  And so I offer my own “6 Ways to Make the Most of High School:”

Be on time.  My school is located in midtown Manhattan, with commuters coming as far away as Connecticut, Long Island, New Jersey, and even (gasp!) Staten Island.  Getting anywhere in an efficient and timely manner is a daily challenge, and so we encourage everyone to build in at least 15-20 minutes to their commuting schedule to ensure that they will arrive in time for the first class of the day.  Everyone has a day in which nothing seems to go right, but if you are consistently missing your first class because “my train was late” or “traffic was bad,” people stop feeling sorry for you.

Always do your homework.  I hear students from a variety of backgrounds say, “I don’t always do my homework because it’s boring.”  I’ve even had parents who are successful in their chosen careers who have tried to excuse their children from the need to do homework, citing that they will “ace the test” without doing the prep of homework.  Work isn’t just about the “tests;” homework is the precursor for the day-to-day assignments one has at a job (or in life).  If you can’t find a way to do those ten questions on the French Revolution, how can you expect to complete that not-so-fun stack of paperwork your boss expects you to finish by the end of the week for that VIP client?

Don’t just settle for the minimum–be willing to go above and beyond.  Students who consistently strive only to do the minimum, to just barely scrape by with C’s and D’s, are going to be hard-pressed to convince a college that they will shine when they finally get a chance to jump into the higher-education arena.  The same is true when you get into the workplace: if you never do more than the minimum of what you are asked and show zero initiative, no one will give you the lead on that important project that you know you would knock out of the park.  You haven’t shown anyone that you have that capability yet.

Know how to find your own answers.  As a math teacher, I am asked by students in both basic and advanced courses, “How do I get the answer?”  On one hand, this is exactly what you should be doing–coming to ask for help when you are unsure of what steps to take to complete your task.  On the other hand, the vast majority of students who ask that question have the tools to answer that question–if only they would look at the resources in front of them.  I’m not even talking about looking something up on the internet; students will look at a problem and give up before they’ve tried looking in their notes or scanning through the index in their textbook to point them in the right direction.  Asking your supervisor or another co-worker to show you how to properly fill out an expense report when it wasn’t addressed in your training saves everyone a headache later on.  But if you keep showing up at your neighbor’s cubicle because you can’t remember which floor has the mailroom, you probably won’t advance very far.

Ask questions–good ones. There’s no better way to say this.  If your only questions are, “What is the answer?” and “What is my grade in this class?,” you are doing nothing to distinguish yourself from your peers in a positive way.  However, the students who ask questions that show that they have thought beyond what is presented in class or in the textbook are the ones who stand out in a teacher’s mind (and get the best recommendations.)

Build relationships.  High school is largely about learning how to manage peer relationships.  (Yes, even teachers know this.)  But it’s also a time to learn how to build relationships with those who aren’t your peers in a way that is respectful and yet collegial.  Teachers aren’t your friends, and they shouldn’t be.  However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be allies and supporters.  You will need to learn how to interact with those who are your superiors in a way that maintains the hierarchy but leaves an opening to ask for advice or guidance.

The number-one excuse I hear from high school students about why it’s OK to blow things off in school is that “I’ll actually do it when I have a job and I’m getting [well] paid for it.”  Is that going to be your excuse for blowing off your internship?  Is that going to be your excuse for not taking your entry-level position seriously?  Those who educate you have an investment in training you for life: you are our future doctors, contractors, lawyers, food preparers, and politicians.  If we don’t teach you how to do your job as a high school student, who will?