A tale of two seniors: What we wish we had known

April 9, 2022 — by Apurva Chakravarthy and Preston Fu
Reflections on high school successes, mistakes and misconceptions

In a little under three months, we will graduate high school and move on to the next chapter in our lives. The uncertainty of life beyond our small town is jarring. While we don’t know much about what the rest of our lives, or even the next four years, have in store, we want to impart our knowledge of high school to underclassmen.

Disclaimer: We don’t have a complete picture of everyone’s high school lives, so our advice is based primarily on our own experiences.

 

Friendship & Romance (Apurva):

If you’re like me, you probably entered high school thinking that you would have some great movie-like love. Instead of spending your time picturing a perfect relationship, focus on your own personal mental health and friendships — it will make you much happier. 

Also, certain events don’t have to be romantic. Spend Valentine’s Day with the friends that you love. Go to Winter Formal with people that you’ll genuinely have fun with, whether it’s with your best friends or a significant other. 

Love doesn’t have to be purely romantic. The best kind of love I experienced in high school was the one I shared with my friends. 

Supportive, strong friendships are the key to succeeding in high school both mentally and academically. My biggest piece of advice in terms of friendship is that you’re unlikely to end high school in the same friend group you enter with. Over four years, people change and grow, and sometimes that means growing apart. I’ve drifted away from people, and then restarted the friendship a few years later. Some of my best friends now, I only met during my junior year. Although it’s comfortable to lock yourself into one set friend group, being open to change can pay off in expanded horizons in the long run. 

 

Classes (Apurva):

My best advice for course selection would be to not listen to what people call easy or hard classes. 

Instead, when signing up for your classes, ask upperclassmen who have taken the course about the curriculum: How many tests are there per semester? Are there a lot of group projects? Are classes interactive? How much homework do you get per night? 

From there, you can decide if you would learn and benefit from that class.

If you were to take one AP/Honors class in high school, however, take English 11 Honors. I firmly believe that no other class can make its students think as deeply as this course did. I still vividly remember everything we learned last year, from single story narratives, watching “12 Years a Slave,” reading “Beloved,” learning about America’s wealth gap with “The Great Gatsby” and finishing the year with an open-ended final project that I was extremely scared for (but ended up loving). 

If you’re interested in the Media Arts Program, you will enjoy group projects and be part of a strong community. I didn’t, but all of my friends in the program love how interactive it is and how close they get with the people in their class. You also go on a lot more field trips than non-MAP students (Salinas in 9th grade, LA in 11th grade, etc.).

While selecting classes, my best advice is to take classes that actually interest you and will further your knowledge. It might seem enticing to take huge amounts of AP and Honors classes like your peers, but at the end of the day taking a hard class that you’re not interested in will only hurt you. Choose wisely!

 

Extracurriculars (Preston)

The overarching suggestion: Find one or two things that you’re truly passionate about, and invest most of your time in those things. You won’t know what you’re interested in until you put some hours into it, nor will you want to spend extra time on activities you don’t like.

The first step is easier said than done. A large fraction of freshmen fall into one of two categories: still discovering new activities and hobbies, or (less common) already envisioning a future based on a single strong interest.

If you’re in the first category, take advantage of the school’s existing opportunities. I especially recommend clubs for this purpose. Our school’s 65 clubs, spanning academics, culture and service, are highly underrated, with less than one-quarter of students participating. Not only are they a great way to discover new interests, but their casual lunchtime environment also allows for the opportunity to make new friends. The potential for a shift in long-term career interests far outweighs the marginal cost of losing your 30-minute lunch break.

If you’re in the second category, it’s great that you’ve found a passion. But remember to keep an open mind: You won’t be the same person at age 30 as you were at age 12. Focusing solely on computer science, for instance, likely means that you’re missing out on public speaking and non-expository writing. Therefore, you should continue to explore new interests and hobbies outside of your comfort zone.

That being said, activities are meant to be fun. Gunning for leadership positions in four clubs isn’t worth your time. Don’t start a non-profit if you don’t actually care about the problem your organization is aiming to solve. You’ll end up spreading yourself too thin, not valuing any individual activity enough and sending yourself back to square one of not knowing what you want to dedicate your future to.

Once you determine a few things you’re interested in, consider how you plan to use and develop those interests in the next few years. Redefine these goals at the start of each semester, and determine what will be needed on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to reach those goals. Use former Falcon editor-in-chief Rohan Kumar’s Google Sheets method of keeping on top of your coursework while methodically working toward these longer-term objectives.

If you’re particularly interested in an academic subject, but aren’t sure how exactly you’ll want to apply your knowledge in the future, I recommend following the framework of academic competitions (Olympiads), which can be used to directly set short-term goals and provide fantastic opportunities to meet peers and professionals who share your interests.

Disclaimer: Some students, often at the behest of their parents, choose to pursue activities for the sole purpose of pumping up their resume for college applications. You should avoid this mentality at all costs — college applications are ultimately a miniscule component of your long-term development. 

Finally, establish a healthy balance of work and fun. Personally, I wish I had restricted purely unproductive time — video games, YouTube, social media, etc. — to a fixed number of minutes per day and allocated my remaining free time to more productive activities like socializing, working out or pursuing my academic goals. Getting reasonably good at surviv.io was not worth my time.

Don’t be discouraged if you still haven’t zoned in on specific interests by the end of high school — many of us haven’t, and our interests are likely to change in college and beyond. But if you’re able to set meaningful personal goals and use the resources at your disposal to those ends, you’re already ahead of the curve.

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