The transition to high school is an important and exciting milestone in your child’s life - it’s their last major transition before fully growing up, and it often marks a period of intense maturation and development. While the high school transition can be a wonderful time for many students, it’s worth mentioning that new beginnings are often rough: it may take your student a few months to adjust to their new environment, find their people, and figure out the high school hustle. The early teenage years can be awkward and stressful, but kids always find their rhythm eventually!
Above all, transitioning to high school often means major change. One of the most difficult dynamics for many high schoolers is how crammed their schedules become: days might not feel long enough to cram everything in. Time spent doing homework might double from middle school, and extracurricular activities, social commitments, and everyday life (sleeping, eating, family time) are also fighting for space in the day. Staying sane while adjusting to this busier reality is often a key challenge for high schoolers.
With all of this in mind, here are a few key themes to consider when preparing your child for high school:
Excellent life management skills are often the key predictor of success for high school students, so we recommend emphasizing these skills early and often with your teenager. Finding a planner and to-do system is a great first step: if your child can get in a routine of tracking daily commitments, fitting their tasks into their schedule, and looking ahead toward longer-term plans and goals, they’ll have an easier time juggling all of the balls they have in the air.
Similarly, high school is a great time for your student to cement a high-quality organizational system. More intense course loads mean more worksheets, notebooks, textbooks, and other materials. Habits as simple as keeping an organized backpack and filing papers in a clear system in an at-home desk can give your student a big leg up. Do your best to instill an appreciation for organization in your student: for example, help them set up a color coding system for each class (orange notebooks and folders for history, etc.) and celebrate the beauty of that simple system regularly.
As students transition to high school, college is increasingly on the mind - and strategic course selection in high school is often a key factor in the college admissions process. Depending on your child’s school, class selection might not be that flexible in their early high school years: at first, they might be completing basic requirements with minimal choice. But as high school continues, most students have tricky decisions to make in weighing different courses against each other. It’s a good idea to sit down as high school begins to make a long-term plan. If your student is interested in STEM and is likely to pursue that in college, it’s a good idea to prioritize advanced math and science classes in high school - take a look at the school’s prerequisites and course availability to ensure your child has space for those classes throughout their time in high school. Of course, it’s a good idea to loop your child’s guidance counselor into these conversations so they can make class selection recommendations throughout the next four years.
Similar to course selection, extracurricular activities are an important part of your child’s high school experience and their ultimate college application process. Many students wait too long into high school to get involved in extracurriculars - try to prioritize this early! Many schools offer an activities fair soon after school starts: encourage your student to explore their options.
Before the fair, it’s a good idea to sit down with your student to assess their long-term interests (this can be part of the same conversation as class selection). Does your child want to continue with activities they’ve been pursuing in middle school? Are they interested in new areas? How can extracurriculars support their goals for college admission? Try to brainstorm a few activities that can both provide a fun outlet for your child, and offer opportunities for self-growth and leadership. But be careful not to go too overboard in signing up for extracurriculars: students also need plenty of time to do homework, and enjoy themselves as teenagers.
One of the best ways to support your child in their transition to high school is to plan ahead on finding a solid support system. The teenage years are a tumultuous time: academically, socially, emotionally, and in many other ways. Most schools offer a plethora of resources to help students navigate this period, but many students don’t take full advantage of the help they have access to.
As high school starts, encourage your student to familiarize themselves with their school’s system of deans, advisors, teachers, peer support, and more. Make sure they meet individually with their teachers early in the year, with the goal of developing strong relationships that can be useful in challenging times (and for letters of recommendation later on). Self-advocacy is an important life skill, and high school is a great time for students to master it. Be proactive about encouraging your student to ask a teacher for extra instruction, ask a friend for study advice, ask a dean for social support, and be resourceful in seeking a solution to any other challenges they face.
Planning ahead in each of these areas are great ways to set your child up for success in high school (and beyond). But remember: high school is also a time for your student to build independence, discover themselves, and have fun. There’s a time and place for planning, and a time and place for stepping back to allow your child to stumble through the world on their own. Practicing that balance is one of the most difficult parts of preparing your child for high school!
Looking for expert guidance as your student makes the transition to high school? We’re expert educators and educational consultants with years of experience supporting students through their educational journey. Reach out here to start a conversation.