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This page provides a brief introduction to why high school is a critical phase of your life, and a few big ideas to keep in mind. Read it, and then proceed to explore our range of advice offerings.
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High school is a critical phase in life. If you make good choices, you can blossom and set yourself up for success later in life. If you make bad choices, you can permanently cripple your future prospects. We're here to help you make better choices. On this page, we give some big picture considerations to keep in mind. Once you've read them, you can proceed to our pages with more details
  
''You'' here will refer to a high school student, typically an early high school student.
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==Don't rely on the system to guarantee you life satisfaction==
  
==How high school matters==
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If you go to school, take the classes that people tell you to, do your homework, and engage in the extracurricular activities that your peers do, you'll be setting yourself up for an "okay" life. But you can do better than that.
  
High school is a critical phase for reasons to do both with biology and the structure of academic systems, because of the juxtaposition of two facts:
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The school system wasn't designed to help you achieve your goals. It wasn't designed to optimize student welfare in general: it was cobbled together by many different actors with many different goals, from politicians to teachers to parents to colleges. It often suffers from inadequate resources. Even if the school system ''were'' optimized on average, the ''one-size-fits-all'' approach it takes means that it wouldn't be optimized for people who differ in any relevant respect from average. Compared with what you can achieve by carefully thinking about what your goals are and how you can achieve them, following "the system" fares poorly.
  
* You are still officially a minor (a child) so that you do not have any of the responsibilites associated with adulthood to weigh you down, and your mental capacity is still growing and malleable.
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{{quotation|'''KEEP IN MIND''': Doing well within the system should be treated as a ''constraint'' within which you need to operate, rather than a defining feature of your life.}}
* You have entered a period of life where you are sufficiently mature to do important activities, and others expect you to act responsibly. Your actions have consequences for yourself and others.
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===The negative: getting into trouble===
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{{further|[[Treat the system like a constraint]]}}
  
In high school, you can get into trouble in ways that could radically alter your future life trajectory in ways that are (for the most part) bad. Examples:
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===Some subjects are more important than others===
  
* Drugs, alcohol, or smoking, both the activities themselves, and getting caught doing them.
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High school can give an illusion of democracy between the different subjects you study: they all seem to get equal weight in class time and in grades, so you may believe that all subjects are equally important to study. This is not true even in general: some subjects are more important to study overall, and within each subject, some topics may be more important than what school seems to suggest.
* Getting pregnant, as well as other problems related to sexual activity, such as getting in trouble with your school for sexual activity, getting a sexually transmitted disease, etc.
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* Getting a police record due to violent or property crime or gang activity.
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As a general rule, we recommend avoiding these while in high school. A couple additional points:
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Because the method of exposition and choice of topics in school is likely suboptimal, it generally makes sense to learn the important topics well ahead of time, and deal with the others as needed to do well on the courses.
  
* Some of these activities are not unsafe or undesirable in principle but they can be started later. Delaying parenthood (and sexual activity) to after high school is better both biologically and socio-economically. Moderate alcohol consumption is claimed to have health benefits, but that too can be begun later.
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{{further|[[Learn ahead in high school]]}}
* In some cases, it is not the activity itself but the implicit social context and the maturity level of the other people around you that makes it dangerous. The examples of drugs, sex, and alcohol are particularly noteworthy.
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* While it may be the case that some people are unwilling to be friends with you if you don't engage in these activities, you should weigh this downside based on the probability (generally low) that you'll need to rely on their friendship or being part of their social circle over the long term. There may be ways of navigating these issues while minimizing social friction.
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The good news is that avoiding trouble of the above sorts is generally easy if you put your mind to it -- the hard part is just deciding to avoid them.
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===It's important to choose your extracurriculars well===
  
Some people gravitate toward trouble because the day-to-day academics and school activities feel boring, and they do not have an outlet for their creativity and sense of adventure. if that describes you, then look below at the section ''The positive''.
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Many common extra-curricular activities (in particular, many school clubs) are not the most productive uses of time. If you go with the flow and sign up for the activities that the people around you are signing up for, you may sacrifice the opportunity to develop yourself and accomplish far more.
  
There are also somewhat more mild forms of getting into trouble, that do not leave a permanent black mark, but can still be a big liability in the short term. These generally center around relationships with your teachers and fellow students and your academic performance in specific subjects. We go into these in some detail.
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{{further|[[High school extracurricular activities]]}}
  
===The neutral: your high school academic record===
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===Consider alternatives and supplementsto high school===
  
A strong academic record in high school is critical for college admissions, scholarships, and summer internship opportunities. In addition, college applications typically require letters of recommendation, at least one of which comes from a high school teacher. Therefore, in addition to doing well in the courses, you also need to have good relationships with teachers. Maintaining a good high school academic record and maintaining good relations with teachers (and, to a lesser extent, peers) can be quite important for your future.
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Consider:
  
===The positive: combine deep exploration and impressive accomplishment===
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* [[Homeschooling]]
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* [[Online school]]
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* [[Massive online open courses]]
  
If you use your high school years wisely, you might be able to rack up impressive accomplishments and build a huge amount of knowledge and skills, valuable both directly (so-called ''[[human capital]]'') and in terms of convincing colleges and others of your potential (so-called ''[[signaling]]''). And in the process, also experience the [[consumption]] benefit of accomplishing something impressive.
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==Your high school academic record is important==
  
A number of people who find school boring gravitate towards dangerous activities. Others overdo studying their existing school subjects to the point of diminishing returns. Yet others tune out completely. By focusing on something different to do that is both important and interesting, you can avoid all these depressing fates.
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A strong academic record in high school is most important factor for college admissions that you have control over. The college that you go to is not the the main determinant of your future prospects, but it's among the most important ones that you can influence while in high school. We give considerations in favor of going to a prestigious college at [[college selection: factors to consider]]. If you want to get into a selective college, you'll need to earn high grades in challenging courses.
  
==Start early with our advice==
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{{further|[[High school coursework]]}}
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==Improve your personal efficacy==
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You can get more out of your high school experience by developing good study habits, managing your time better, and and otherwise improving your productivity.
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One factor that can substantially impair both productivity and near-term life satisfaction is  depression. If you struggle with depression, you should take steps to address it.
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{{further|[[Good study habits]]}}
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{{further|[[Managing your time]]}}
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{{further|[[Improving your productivity]]}}
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{{further|[[Overcoming depression]]}}
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==Getting into trouble can change your life ==
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High school is a time when many students engage in risky activities that can get them into trouble in ways that have a major negative effect on their life trajectories. One reason for this might be because they haven't had yet had the experience of suffering the consequences of poor choices. Another reason might be because they're not fully biologically mature and haven't yet developed adult-level impulse control. Whatever the reasons, you should be aware of the risks.
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{{further|[[Getting into trouble during high school]]}}

Latest revision as of 16:41, 24 April 2014

High school is a critical phase in life. If you make good choices, you can blossom and set yourself up for success later in life. If you make bad choices, you can permanently cripple your future prospects. We're here to help you make better choices. On this page, we give some big picture considerations to keep in mind. Once you've read them, you can proceed to our pages with more details

Don't rely on the system to guarantee you life satisfaction

If you go to school, take the classes that people tell you to, do your homework, and engage in the extracurricular activities that your peers do, you'll be setting yourself up for an "okay" life. But you can do better than that.

The school system wasn't designed to help you achieve your goals. It wasn't designed to optimize student welfare in general: it was cobbled together by many different actors with many different goals, from politicians to teachers to parents to colleges. It often suffers from inadequate resources. Even if the school system were optimized on average, the one-size-fits-all approach it takes means that it wouldn't be optimized for people who differ in any relevant respect from average. Compared with what you can achieve by carefully thinking about what your goals are and how you can achieve them, following "the system" fares poorly.

KEEP IN MIND: Doing well within the system should be treated as a constraint within which you need to operate, rather than a defining feature of your life.

Further information: Treat the system like a constraint

Some subjects are more important than others

High school can give an illusion of democracy between the different subjects you study: they all seem to get equal weight in class time and in grades, so you may believe that all subjects are equally important to study. This is not true even in general: some subjects are more important to study overall, and within each subject, some topics may be more important than what school seems to suggest.

Because the method of exposition and choice of topics in school is likely suboptimal, it generally makes sense to learn the important topics well ahead of time, and deal with the others as needed to do well on the courses.

Further information: Learn ahead in high school

It's important to choose your extracurriculars well

Many common extra-curricular activities (in particular, many school clubs) are not the most productive uses of time. If you go with the flow and sign up for the activities that the people around you are signing up for, you may sacrifice the opportunity to develop yourself and accomplish far more.

Further information: High school extracurricular activities

Consider alternatives and supplementsto high school

Consider:

Your high school academic record is important

A strong academic record in high school is most important factor for college admissions that you have control over. The college that you go to is not the the main determinant of your future prospects, but it's among the most important ones that you can influence while in high school. We give considerations in favor of going to a prestigious college at college selection: factors to consider. If you want to get into a selective college, you'll need to earn high grades in challenging courses.

Further information: High school coursework

Improve your personal efficacy

You can get more out of your high school experience by developing good study habits, managing your time better, and and otherwise improving your productivity.

One factor that can substantially impair both productivity and near-term life satisfaction is depression. If you struggle with depression, you should take steps to address it.

Further information: Good study habits

Further information: Managing your time

Further information: Improving your productivity

Further information: Overcoming depression

Getting into trouble can change your life

High school is a time when many students engage in risky activities that can get them into trouble in ways that have a major negative effect on their life trajectories. One reason for this might be because they haven't had yet had the experience of suffering the consequences of poor choices. Another reason might be because they're not fully biologically mature and haven't yet developed adult-level impulse control. Whatever the reasons, you should be aware of the risks.

Further information: Getting into trouble during high school