High school: It's all about college, but don't stress out

No humans in the halls of any high school, even freshmen, can escape its foreboding crush: the stress of getting ready for college. � But you can protect against it. Here are some grade by grade suggestions for keeping strong from the beginning so you can really survive the stress as the years move on.

Freshmen

Be yourself. Although you're surrounded by a myriad of personalities and cultures, stay in your comfort zone. Don't change who you are or what you like just to fit in. Remain genuine and enjoy others who enjoy you. It will help keep you grounded when you're really stressing about college.

Get involved. Joining a club is a wonderful way to meet new people and help with great causes. It also looks great on college applications.

Eat! This may seem like a stupid piece of advice, but many students get caught up in school or socializing and skip out on lunch and/or, more important, breakfast. Food is fuel for the body; you can't run on empty.

Keep up. Things can be hectic and difficult to adjust to, but stay on top of homework, be prepared for tests and ask for help if you need it. By creating a good work ethic now you set the tone for future years. Get on the right course early, and it will be easier to keep calm and study on.

Sophomores

Give back. You're no longer the new kid on the block, which also means that all the freshmen are just as nervous and overwhelmed as you once were. Take time to help a freshman out or offer any tips you may have up your sleeve. A little bit of time spent guiding someone can go a long way. It's good practice for making the college transition in three more years.

Start testing. College may seem so far away, but it's not. Begin ACT/SAT practice. Just 30 minutes a day can help you get through tricky test questions when you face the real deal. Also make sure to sign up for the pre-SAT and pre-ACT tests. The pretests give you a good idea of what the actual test is like, and the more prepared you are, the better.

Let the confidence come through. Stepping out of the awkward freshman shadows can take a lot of effort. Being confident enough to speak up in class or wear that neon pink cardigan can say a lot about you. Try it now and it won't be so tough in college.

Take the wheel. Even if you aren't ready to drive on your own, it's still a good idea to have some driving experience. Depending on your birthday, sophomore year is ideal for obtaining a learner's permit and then license. With this small plastic rectangle comes responsibility, freedom and, of course an ungainly picture of yourself. Good rehearsal for the college ID.

Juniors

Breathe. This is probably the most chaotic year of high school. Every day there seems to be an endless to-do list. Don't let yourself get tangled in a web of stress. Take short breaks during homework or studying, grab Starbucks (or whatever you find necessary for inner tranquility) and get back to work. A positive outlook helps you get over the mountain.

Vouch to volunteer. If you haven't already, pick a goal and location and start volunteering. You can make a difference whether it's tutoring at a local school, playing with pups at a pet shelter or helping out in nursing homes. Volunteering is required on so many fronts — Bright Futures and other scholarships, IB and other programs — and can change the hearts of college admission people. It is vital to begin this process ASAP, because it is not a fun senior year when every weekend is spent volunteering.

Do the research. It's time to research what college is the best fit. While browsing for colleges keep in mind requirements, tuition and what you want in a school. If journalism is your strong suit and lifelong love, for instance, you may want to consider Indiana or Ball State instead of MIT.

Get serious. Make those report cards refrigerator worthy. Colleges heavily observe GPA and ACT/SAT scores. Making the grade (and the score) means studying, a lot of studying. Don't lurk on Instagram until midnight; get the academic duties out of the way early and get a good night's sleep.

Seniors

Push through it. You are at the end of your high school days, woo hoo! But you are not out of the woods. The beginning of senior year can feel just as intense as junior year, but more so, with applications to fill out, scores to send, deadlines to meet. To spare yourself turmoil, plan ahead. Know what schools you want to apply to and when all test scores, essays and scholarship information are due. There is no grace period or extended deadlines for the tardy or sloppy who realize they made a mistake because they were hurrying at the last minute. Also be prepared for a slew of fees for applying and sending test scores. Your brain may be throbbing just reading this, but hang on, things will gradually become easier.

Get sick. Some are afflicted every day, others may only get it once, but it is true: Senioritis is real. It's not an excuse to ditch school Monday through Friday, but it is a worthy reason to indulge a little. Make sure you don't miss tests and don't slack on your assignments, but a mental health day can do wonders.

Finish strong. It is important to keep your grades up. But it's also beneficial to patch up any torn relationship, friends, teachers or family, and enjoy the year with no ill will toward others.

Soak it all in. Not just Florida's sun on spring break: Soak in every moment and memory. Don't let any opportunity to spend time with friends and family pass. The year goes by in the blink of an eye, and with your college applications wrapped up, you know you're about to embark on a different life, whether thousands of miles or a few minutes away from loved ones. Your recollections of high school remain forever, so you want them to be good.

Erica Alexis is a 2013 graduate of St. Petersburg High.

High school: It's all about college, but don't stress out 09/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 5:01pm]

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