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Difference between revisions of "High school: opening message"

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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 the following 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're still growing rapidly, and what you learn and how you spend your time will play a major role in shaping the sort of person who you are as an adult.
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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're sufficiently mature so that you can start engaging in intellectual activity and work in the way that adults do.
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* You're at a stage where how others evaluate you has a strong impact on your future prospects.
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===Your high school academic record===
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{{further|[[Treat the system like a constraint]]}}
  
A strong academic record in high school is critical for college admissions. If you want to get into a selective college, you'll need to earn high grades in challenging courses. See [[college statements on the importance of grades and coursework]]
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===Some subjects are more important than others===
  
===Getting into trouble===
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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.
  
High school is a time when many students [[get into trouble|getting into trouble during high school]] in ways
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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.
  
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{{further|[[Learn ahead in high school]]}}
  
===The positive: combine deep exploration and impressive accomplishment===
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===It's important to choose your extracurriculars well===
  
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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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.
  
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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{{further|[[High school extracurricular activities]]}}
  
==Start early with our advice==
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===Consider alternatives and supplementsto high school===
  
We urge you to start thinking about our advice and incorporating it as early as possible. Why? Chances are, even if you don't read what we have to say, you'll turn out fine. But "fine" isn't good enough to settle for, particularly if that means high levels of stress, persistent dissatisfaction with life, being a ''grind'', getting into trouble, and not accomplishing your life goals. We don't offer a recipe for sure success, but we offer a way to start incorporating long-term optimization into your day-to-day activities, and reduce stress.
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Consider:
  
Further, particularly if you want to get on the ''Positive'' side by having impressive accomplishments, then you need time to identify your area to work on, and then a lot of time, and energy, to prepare for it. That will mean making sure that your other activities are not much of a time sink. And that relies on getting through them efficiently. (Complete neglect won't work, because then you risk defying the ''Neutral'').
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* [[Homeschooling]]
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* [[Online school]]
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* [[Massive online open courses]]
  
==Some starting things to remember==
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==Your high school academic record is important==
  
===You can't just rely on "the system"===
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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.
  
If you set a low bar, "the system" works well. You learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, and these skills alone enable a wide range of social, cultural, and economic activity. You learn many other facts and ideas in school that help you make sense of the world. Compared to living alone in a tropical savannah, it looks pretty good.
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{{further|[[High school coursework]]}}
  
But compared to what you can achieve by consciously thinking of your goals, following "the system" fares poorly. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the system is far from optimized at helping people accomplish their best. Even if it ''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. It makes sense for you to think carefully about your goals and how to optimize for them. It may so happen that the path of least resistance within the system is your best path, but don't assume that ''a priori''.
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==Improve your personal efficacy==
  
{{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.}}
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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.  
  
===Some subjects are more important than others===
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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.
  
{{further|[[Learn ahead in high school]]}}
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{{further|[[Good study habits]]}}
  
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.
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{{further|[[Managing your time]]}}
  
Because the method of exposition and choice of topics in school is likey 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.
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{{further|[[Improving your productivity]]}}
  
===Consider alternatives to high school===
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{{further|[[Overcoming depression]]}}
  
{{further|[[Alternatives to high school]]}}
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==Getting into trouble can change your life ==
  
Consider:
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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.
  
* [[Homeschooling]]
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{{further|[[Getting into trouble during high school]]}}
* [[Online high school]]
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===Pick your extracurriculars well===
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{{further|[[High school extracurricular activities]]}}
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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