PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
High School: It's Academic

Here's one mega-change everyone agrees on: In high school, academics get serious.

Courses, of course
You can probably expect mostly required courses during your first year, but depending on your school, your schedule might have one or two open slots where you can choose electives. These are classes you choose to take. If you love to draw, paint, or sculpt, you might elect to take an art class. If you're a musician, you could take a music class. This is your chance to pursue something you really love-or try something new! The cool thing about electives is that they might only last half a year, otherwise known as a semester.

If you do have a few choices in classes or electives you can take freshman year:

  • Sit down with a parent and talk about what you expect to get out of your high school education. Discuss the subjects that excite and interest you, and about what skills and knowledge you might need for the years ahead.

  • Find out which classes are requirements for other, higher-level ones you're interested in for the future. Make a list of what you'll need to have under your belt not just for graduation, but also for college. For example, you may need to take a foreign language for college, even though it's not required by your high school. Even if you're not planning on college at this time, or even thinking about it, make sure you're keeping all your options open. A lot can change in four years!

  • Take advantage of your middle school counselor. He or she can help you look at where you've been and where you're going, then put them together to create a list of recommended courses and electives.

Buckling down
In high school, you'll need all the work habits and study skills you've been developing in middle school-and then some. That's because high school has more academic challenges, and earning good grades is more important than ever. High school is a bit like a ladder that leads to college and a career. The way you climb the rungs of this latter is by doing your very best in your classes.

Some of the academic challenges you might face in high school include:

  • More homework, more often.
  • More tests and quizzes (especially the "pop" kind).
  • Term papers that are longer and count for a big chunk of your grade.
  • Midterms and final exams that cover everything you've learned in a certain class.
  • "Standardized" tests that come from the state or government. Your teachers might shape their courses around these tests.
  • Less group work, which means you're going to sink or swim -- or shine! -- on your own.

You're older and you're more mature, so your teachers might be expecting more of you, not just in your work but also in the way you behave in class. Even so, don't think that a teacher doesn't want you to come for help if you're struggling. Being able to recognize when you need assistance, and asking for it, is one of the surest signs of maturity!

Things to remember
All the choices, work, and commitment connected to academics in high school can be a bit overwhelming, so keep reminding yourself that:

  • Everything's part of the big picture. One of the goals of high school is to get a "well-rounded" education. This means that we master all the important subjects and lessons -- sometimes in classes we don't like that much -- so that we'll be prepared for whatever life gives us.

  • High school is about discovery. These are the years where we find the specific subjects that interest us or that we do well in. We focus our education towards the person we're becoming. Not sure whether you'll like something? Take a chance!

  • Without challenges, life is dull. Did you ever play a video game that was so easy, you got bored with it right away? Isn't it more fun to play a game that constantly makes you work to earn points or beat your opponent? School is like this. When you challenge your brain with assignments and tests, it stimulates you to learn.

  • Things are better when you earn them. Anyone can walk into a trophy store and buy a big, gleaming trophy to put on top of the dresser. But would the trophy really mean anything to you, if you didn't do anything to earn it? Good grades are the same way. They also tell you that you're on the right track, learning the things you're supposed to learn, and that you can be proud of your accomplishments.

  • You deserve to have a life, too. The workload in high school will be bigger than in middle school, but it should not be overwhelming, and you shouldn't have to spend every waking hour on schoolwork. If you feel you're being unfairly overloaded with work, talk to your teacher or counselor.

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