7 Strategies for Actually Surviving – & Succeeding – High School!
On May 28, 2016, in Front Royal, VA, after a rousing speech given by Dr. Mary Kay Clark, my new friends and I walked forward to receive our Seton diplomas from her.
Later, I rejoined my family and showed them my diploma. I had graduated from Seton Home Study School!
Maybe you can’t imagine being finished. After all, high school requires four years of mental effort studying many different subjects.
Nevertheless, you can successfully finish, as I and many other Seton students have.
For many, August marks the beginning of a new school year. As I prepare for the upcoming school year in college, I thought I’d share my strategies for success with Seton high school students, my siblings included.
1. Remember your ultimate goal.
True success is measured in fidelity to the Will of God, and not necessarily in how many book analyses you wrote or how early you finished the school day.
When holiness is your top priority, your struggles and failures become opportunities to prove your love for God by persevering in the student’s life to which you are called.
I can guarantee that you will find obstacles and discouragement, whether in algebra, book analyses, or time management.
But I can also promise that if you “seek first the Kingdom of God,” He will bless you abundantly.
2. The only way to get something done is to do it.
I know it would be great if someone could discover a way to infuse knowledge. Until then, the only option is the good, old-fashioned “just do it.” It works.
As I look back on the last few months of senior year and wonder how I ever managed to finish on time (with a week to spare for family vacation!), I conclude that I finished because I sat down at my desk and read, wrote, revised, worked problems, went over review sheets, in a word studied, for many hours in the previous weeks and months.
Use all the time you have, even when waiting, in the car, or doing mentally undemanding tasks like washing dishes or mowing the lawn.
If you do not have your books or cannot use them, pick a topic and review everything you can remember. Multi-tasking in these ways helps you finish sooner.
Break up large assignments into small, doable steps, especially if the assignments are intimidating.
Though a voracious reader, I once allowed a 719-page book analysis book scare me into delaying to read it.
Eventually, I reached the end and realized that I could have just picked up the book, read for a half hour every day, and skipped stressing over the number of pages. Even fifteen minutes of concentration and effort will bring you nearer to the finish line.
3. Take breaks.
Sometimes, after struggling for hours on a paper or test, I would finally realize that I wasn’t getting anywhere. Wanting desperately to finish the assignment, I kept struggling even though I was only exhausting myself further.
To avoid such futile burnout, I limited my time on a subject to an hour, the amount generally recommended by Seton. When the hour was over, I would set aside the assignment until tomorrow and pick up the next assignment or course. In senior year, I found an hour too restrictive, but I still needed a limit.
Even when you are working on your favorite subject, you should get up at least every hour and refresh yourself.
Have an apple or a cup of tea. Empty the dishwasher. Walk around the block. Do a few stretches. Fold a load of laundry.
Moving around will help your brain get more oxygen so you can focus better.
A word of caution: If your entire school day consists of breaks, you will never finish.
Don’t forget to return to your books!
4. Overcome distractions.
Maybe your goofy little brother constantly seeks your attention. Maybe, setting out to do research for a paper, you get caught in the Web, going from link to link. Maybe you are a voracious bookworm with a bookshelf next to your desk.
Maybe you can’t resist the sumptuous pile of clean laundry begging to be folded (especially if you dread your current school assignment).
Distractions may seem small, but wasted time can accumulate fast. Trust me, distractions are a problem that must be addressed if you want to finish high school well and in a timely manner.
First, figure out everything that distracts you. Look for ways to eliminate or minimize the distraction. Move your study area where you won’t be disturbed: a nearby library, a spare bedroom, or the home of a nearby relative. Organize your desk and keep non-schoolwork away from it.
If elimination is impossible, you will have to fall back on self-discipline. Ask your patron saint for help, and do not get discouraged by your failures. Instead, be inspired to stand strong next time.
5. Find a mentor.
We teens are growing up, and are given more independence and more responsibility.
However, responsibility involves asking for help when necessary, especially in order to prevent problems from escalating. Even better, seek a mentor who can help you address potential difficulties and identify problems that you yourself cannot recognize.
Seek your parents’ guidance first. God gave them to you to be your teachers and mentors, but they cannot help you unless you let them know and act.
Regularly consult with them: make plans to tackle problems, prioritize your to-do list of assignments, review your progress to detect potential difficulties, identify resources like their personal libraries or a willing older sibling, and don’t forget to celebrate achievements.
Maybe you will even want to schedule a fifteen to thirty minute meeting every week or two.
I was blessed to have not only my parents’ help, but also guidance from willing Seton veterans among my extended family.
My aunts tutored me in a few courses, which were enriched by their talents and experience.
Also, my grandma gave me needed encouragement as I worked hard to finish senior year by the end of May.
I realize that the support of these mentors contributed to my success, and I am very grateful.
Ask for help. You, too, will be grateful.
6. Personalize your study methods.
Studying is key to high school success, and cultivating good study habits is important.
In the lesson plans and the online study skills course, Seton offers many helpful tips about studying.
However, besides developing good habits, you need to (at least you should) figure out the most effective and efficient way for you to study.
While I don’t know what methods you’ll find best, I can tell you what I found helpful. Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book taught me to read for understanding and mastery of a book’s content and was good practice, too! Through my math teacher’s recommendation, I discovered the usefulness of index cards, which I now use for everything I want to memorize.
I also incorporated study time with chore time, partly to occupy simultaneously my active mind and restless hands. As I milked our cow, I would outline my book analysis essays; when I washed dishes, I reviewed facts and formulas from the day’s lessons.
Whatever methods and tools you choose, don’t blindly follow the lesson plans.
Approaching history this way, I perfunctorily scanned the chapter, read it, outlined it, and answered the questions. However, I did not retain much of the material until I performed these steps mindfully, making an effort to identify key points and to remember important facts.
Aim to learn the material, and don’t get sidetracked with putting checks in boxes.
7. Enjoy the ride!
We humans have free will, and we can choose to worry about our fears and focus on our dislikes or to rejoice at all the good things in our lives and trust in God’s loving Providence.
Personally, I prefer option two, and I urge you to join me. High school is four years long, too long a time to be anxious and worried.
There will be times when you feel stressed and miserable, but don’t wallow in these feelings. Try to enjoy high school, so that you can remember these years as some of the happiest years of your life.
Yes, these years will be a memory some day. Why not make them good memories?
What are your tips for a successful school year? Do you have any ideas on how to implement these strategies?
Share them in the comments below for the benefit of other students, and have a good school year!
About Katharine Caughron
Kate Caughron, the oldest of ten lively and adventurous siblings, lives with her family on a small Missouri farm. Besides playing piano, she also revels in reading and writing. Her long-time interest in poetry and especially sonnets has been well nourished by Seton literature courses. A member of the Seton class of 2016 and a National Merit Finalist, she plans to attend Benedictine college in the fall and pursue a fascination with (oddly enough) mathematics.