Starting High School Is a Big Deal, So Here Are Some Tips

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

Starting high school is starting a new chapter in your life. You meet new people, find new interests and grow as a person with newfound independence. As freshmen, you’re probably feeling a wide range of emotions. Maybe you’re worried about how you’re going to do in math this year, or whether you’re going to find a group of friends, or if you’re going to make a varsity team. Upperclassmen have been through all that, and we’re here to help.

The summer going into my freshman year, I moved to D.C. from halfway across the country. In all honesty, it was a tough year. I was adjusting to a new environment, new people and a high school course load. It wasn’t exactly High School Musical for me (nor is it for most people). But I soon found my place at GDS. 

Maybe you’re new to GDS this year, maybe you’ve been here since middle school or maybe you’ve been here your entire life. Regardless, high school is a transformational time for everyone. So here are some tips to get you started on your high school journey. 

1. Branch Out Socially

For those of you who came to GDS before high school, you will see a lot of new faces in your grade this year. It’s especially important to make new students feel welcome, and it makes grade-wide events more fun when everyone is bonding. My first years at GDS were dominated by virtual school, which made it harder to meet people. So you should take advantage of in-person school to meet as many new people as possible.

Those of you who are new this year will see even more new faces. Entering a new environment will seem daunting at first, but just know that everyone is in the same boat. 

2. Explore Your Interests and Look for New Ones

It’s always easy to join a club your friends are interested in. But don’t restrict yourself. GDS offers students a variety of opportunities to explore their interests and find new ones, and freshman year is the time to try as many as possible. The club fair is a great way to find groups you may be interested in joining without making serious commitments. As a freshman I signed up for at least ten clubs, then ended up sticking with four that I grew really passionate about. Joining clubs will allow you to make connections, integrate yourself into the community and learn from others. Affinity groups offer the additional benefit of connecting with your identity and with others who share a similar background. That familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar space can ease the transition into high school. 

3. Speak Up and Make Change

After three years at GDS, I can tell you that students value each other’s voices and opinions, and they are unafraid to speak out about problems in and outside our community. Many adults at GDS do as well: The office of community engagement and experiential learning is a great place to go to start school-wide initiatives to enact change. Another place to go to advocate for people in our school is the office of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The DEI office works to make sure that GDS is fostering a safe and inclusive environment. Remember that these offices are always there to support you. 

When I was at GDS recently for a college essay workshop, I saw new 9th grade students at the Summer Bridge Program. Seeing them made me think back to the nervousness that I felt as a freshman, and seeing friends that I met at Bridge leading this year’s program made me think about how close our grade has become and how much we’ve grown as individuals, together. 

High schoolers often feel most secure staying with the same group of friends. As important as it is to have people you can rely on, it’s also important to lean into uncertainty so you can learn to be an individual. These next four years of your life will be what you make of them. Take every opportunity that comes your way and make the most of your time as a hopper. (And yes, you will learn to love our mascot.) 

Side note: Don’t worry about college––there’s plenty of time for that. 

If you ever need advice or want someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me: