Back-to-School Goals

Check out these first semester goals for 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

By Andrew W.

I always loathed back-to-school shopping. The week before Labor Day each year, my siblings and I would trudge towards a nearby Staples as my mother prodded us onward like a cowboy herding cattle across the Great Plains. It was a painful reminder that summer, with its infinite freedom and thrilling adventures, was ending. School loomed in the distance, flashing a toothy sneer that promised a return to the academic stress we had so happily rejected three months earlier.

For better or worse, Time’s unstoppable march has brought us to that point once again. And while school can certainly be demanding, good planning can make all the difference between a workload that feels unmanageable and one that, while intense, is conquerable. Therefore, this post seeks to give you some first-semester goals to guide you as you begin your academic year.

There are thousands of films, novels, and television shows that portray senior year as a time of unparalleled freedom and virtually no responsibilities. Unfortunately, that myth is far from true. Senior year will likely be your most challenging year — because of the tumultuous mixture of college applications and challenging courses — but it’s also the most exciting. Here are a few tips for the soon-to-be campus leaders:

College will probably be the foremost item on your agenda. You’ll need to make some important decisions before first semester ends:

  • Whittle down a list of colleges. Plan to visit a few colleges that you’re interested in but never got around to. Knowing where you intend to apply will let you effectively plan out your applications.
  • Consider retaking the SAT or ACT. If you’re not satisfied with your scores, you might want to sit for the September or October exams, especially if you’re thinking about applying early.
  • Speaking of applying early, decide whether or not you’d like to apply early.
  • Finish your college applications. Most applications will be due on January 1st, so they’ll take up a substantial portion of your attention during the first semester. For a more comprehensive overview of what you’ll have to do, consider reading this blog.

But don’t let college consume the entirety of your senior year.

  • Think about your senior year courses. Contrary to rumor, first semester courses matter! Senioritis is real. Succeeding in challenging classes in areas that truly interest you can highlight your intellectual potential and demonstrate the caliber of student you’ll be in college.
  • Lead some clubs. If you’ve been passionate about an activity during your high school tenure, consider taking on a leadership role. As a senior, you’re considered to have mastered the art of secondary education; as cheesy as it sounds, you’re a role model and guide for younger students. Having a leadership position will let you help some underclassmen and underclasswomen, while giving you some enjoyment in an otherwise stressful schedule.
  • Have fun! Senior year is full of “lasts:” your last chemistry lab, your last cafeteria hot dog, and your last dive into the poignant abscesses of gym locker rooms. That club you’ve always been meaning to join, or class you’ve always been meaning to take? Do it.
  • Be sure to cherish your friends, mentors, and family during this special time. Expect some tearful goodbyes.

Just as with seniors, there are thousands of stories that compare junior year to a unique kind of struggle reserved only for the heroes and heroines of ancient mythology. While junior year is certainly stressful, there’s plenty you can do to effectively balance your responsibilities:

  • Craft a study plan for your standardized exams. Studying for the SAT or ACT is similar to forming diamonds: it requires sustained effort over a long period of time. And if you’re considering sitting for spring or winter exams, that preparation should begin now. You should begin by taking a practice test in both exams, researching their differences, and then planning out your semester so you can spend an appropriate — but not cumbersome — amount of time studying.
  • Carve out some time for yourself. Junior year is undeniably stressful, so be sure to set aside some time in your schedule to relax. Whether that relaxation comes from clubs, friends, or reading, it’s all important — you’ll have a more enjoyable year if you’re balanced.
  • Keep your head high. Persevere in the face of challenge and uncertainty. If you find yourself struggling, seek out support systems: whether they’re your friends, your teachers, or your parents. Be proactive with your academic and social commitments, and be sure to have some fun along the way.

“Sophomore” is Greek for “clever fool.” With one year under your belt, it might be easy to forget the three more years of maturation that lie ahead. While you’re not experts just yet, sophomore year is a wonderful time devoted to exploration. Live it un-Apollo-getically.

  • Try something new! Join a new club. Try out for the musical, even if you think you’re tone-deaf. Sophomore year is the sweet spot of academia: you’ve completed your transition to high school, and you don’t have the responsibilities of upperclassmen quite yet. Therefore, you should spend sophomore year figuring out what you really enjoy. So try something new. You might discover a life-long passion.
  • Continue your academic success. Hopefully, you ingrained some successful study habits during your freshman year, which you should continue during your sophomore year. If you’re still struggling, don’t worry! Take advantage of this year to finalize your academic routine.

Welcome to campus! Unfortunately, it’s nothing like High School Musical. No one breaks out into choreographed musical numbers in the cafeteria. Weird, right?

  • Get acclimated! Many freshmen unfortunately view high school as a mere stepping-stone to college. It’s not. High school is a period of unprecedented growth, and you should cherish that maturation. Take this time to get adjusted to more challenging academics, a new social scene, and increased responsibilities.
  • Join two clubs. One major difference between high school and middle (or junior high) school is the importance of extracurriculars. In high school, extracurriculars are more serious, and they’re a major part of the social scene. Therefore, you should seek out clubs that align to your interests — because you’ll likely find like-minded people there. Don’t over-commit, but certainly don’t under-commit, either. And if you’re concerned about extracurricular activities eclipsing your academic success, don’t be! Students who are heavily involved tend to be very successful, because they’re forced to learn effective time-management skills to balance their schedules.

So, how should you spend your first semester?

It all depends on where you are in your high school journey. Mapping out a productive first semester is essential to balancing your academic, social, and extracurricular commitments. With these goals, you’ll hopefully have a more balanced school year. But above all, don’t forget to have some fun.