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High school: opening message
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.
You here will refer to a high school student, typically an early high school student.
- 1 How high school matters
- 2 Start early with our advice
- 3 Some starting things to remember
How high school matters
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:
- 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.
- You're sufficiently mature so that you can start engaging in intellectual activity and work in the way that adults do.
- You're at a stage where how others evaluate you has a strong impact on your future prospects.
Your high school academic record
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
Getting into trouble
High school is a time when many students getting into trouble during high school in ways
The positive: combine deep exploration and impressive accomplishment
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.
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.
Start early with our advice
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.
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).
Some starting things to remember
You can't just rely on "the system"
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.
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.
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.
Some subjects are more important than others
Further information: Learn ahead in high school
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 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.
Consider alternatives to high school
Further information: Alternatives to high school
Pick your extracurriculars well
Further information: High school extracurricular activities