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High school: opening message

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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

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


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