Image from The Hill Country

I hated high school. I know there are probably thousands of soon-to-be high school graduates who can say the same with a disappointed sigh and sideways glance. Personally, I’m the one who made my own four years there miserable. But that’s neither here nor there, and it’s perfectly okay that I hated that period of my life. I’m now approaching my senior year of college, so I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences in that small town environment and how I transitioned (or failed to transition) to the college environment. Regardless of why (or if) you didn’t enjoy high school, here are some ways you can mentally prepare for that same transition from hometown nightmare to a new world of possibilities

If you struggled socially, evaluate your relationships.

This was my forte. I didn’t have many friends and had trouble keeping the few that I did have. I had the cliche toxic relationships, complete with the Fake BFF and Boy Who Decided that I Only Existed When it was Convenient to Him. It was obvious to me that these relationships were destructive to my mental and emotional health. But sometimes less-than-constructive relationships aren’t obvious: the guy around whom you find yourself speaking very carefully, lest you mention a friend he dislikes and he rants about their flaws right in front of you; the girl who seems to turn every conversation onto herself so you can’t just tell her about family troubles without her talking about her own instead; the BFFs that exasperatedly try to convince you they’re allowed to call you certain vulgar names because you’re all such close friends.

Take the time to reflect on how particular people made you feel when you were at your worst and best, and on a daily basis. Does she invalidate or empathize with your feelings? Did he demean or praise your accomplishments? Do they make you feel important or inferior? No one is an exception to this exercise. Your childhood best friend may be the one who never went to your art exhibits because she “couldn’t make time”, and the guy you met in May of senior year may be the one who comes to help clean up the exhibit and take you to get coffee afterwards. Reflect on everyone and…

Cut off or strengthen said relationships as necessary.

You don’t need or deserve to be treated anything less than the best, so cut off ties with those who do just that. This can be a blunt severing in which you simply refuse to initiate or respond to any attempts of contacting this person, or a gradual fade in such initiations or responses. Pick whichever method will be less taxing on your mental and emotional health.

On the other hand, also strengthen ties with those who do treat you well. Spend more time with the guy that went to your exhibit. A transition in lifestyles doesn’t always mean loss, but can also bring rewarding gains.

If you struggled with authority figures (teachers, principal, advisors), face the facts.

“I can’t believe Mr. X gave me a C. I shouldn’t have to do more work than the class requires just because Mrs. Y doesn’t know how to teach. Ms. Z didn’t tell me I needed to do this.” We’ve all heard it, said it, or actually believed it. These helpful charts sum up many important differences between high school and college, including how professors and advisors will (and, in a way, will not) hold you accountable for your actions, or lack thereof.

Evaluate the potential consequences of the aforementioned mindsets, and adjust accordingly.

Mr. X will not ‘give’ you a grade; you will have earned it.. If you disagree with the grading, you have the option of actively seeking out the professor during his office hours to appeal for a reconsideration. Parents/guardians have no place in a discussion about grades in college, compared to high school. Regardless of Mrs. Y’s teaching methods, it’s your responsibility to make sure you understand class material. If you don’t understand after lecture, review the textbook. If you still don’t understand, ask classmates, the TA, and the professor. If all hope is gone, you have the internet at your disposal. Take advantage of it. There is no excuse for not attempting to understand confusing material. Ms. Z, like most other professors, probably has a syllabus that was distributed at the beginning of the semester. The entire course is laid out on a timeline and it is not the professor’s job to remind you that she has given you such timeline. Ms. Z, as an advisor, also knows that you have access to major requirements through online resources, and it’s not her job to remind you that such resources exist, either.

Professors and advisors do not dislike students. Their jobs are to educate and guide students towards graduation and, in turn, careers. I highly doubt the existence of a truly malicious human being that puts him/herself in a position to interact with students, that genuinely does not want students to succeed. At the same time, professors and advisors can only do so much for students without holding their hands. It’s the student’s responsibility to make it through classes and plan such classes as much as possible on their own, and to go to authority figures for guidance. Learn and accept this now, so you aren’t surprised later on during the semester.

If you struggled with academics, think critically about why.

Did post-dismissal shopping trips with friends subtract from study time? Was your Spanish professor only available to talk about your dismal homework scores when you had soccer practice? Do numbers and symbols get all jumbled up on the page, no matter how hard and long you focus on them? Evaluate exactly what interfered with allowing you to achieve the grades you desired.

Make the decision now to learn from your past and improve work ethic/efficiency in the future.

If you chose to have fun instead of focus on work, you need to become disciplined. Learn what motivates you to want to do well, be it approval from parents or a future dream job. Find what will serve as your driving force for trudging through readings and homeworks.

If time management was your downfall, you need to learn how to efficiently prioritize your responsibilities. I recommend Tumblr. It sounds counterintuitive, but Tumblr is filled with “studyblrs”, entire blogs and a community of people who enjoy, need, and know studying and time management skills. Some of my favorites are constantproductivity, introverted-writerield, and hstudies. Check them out now to arm yourself with skills (and hip photos of notebooks and coffee) for later on.

If you struggled with yourself, take a break.

Before anything, love yourself. Be safe and learn to find peace. If you are not mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or physically okay after high school, then spend the beginning of the summer bringing yourself to the point where you can be just okay. I personally don’t demand, or even advise, trying to force yourself to be excited about life, sunshine, and love if it’s not possible yet.

Learn how to practice self-love.

Open the blinds. Take a shower. Drink water. Eat something. Step outside for just five minutes, then come back inside. Say good morning to someone. Read books and play video games. Cook a meal. Sing or play an instrument. Go for a run or do yoga. Take small steps to being a healthy human being, then keep taking bigger steps.

Some say, “High school is the best time of your life.” I already know that wasn’t true for me. Some also say, “College is the best time of your life.” So far, I’ve found this latter statement to be 100% true. I was miserable in high school but I’ve realized that it matters 0% to my life now. I don’t mean to invalidate anyone’s current high school misery, but I want to instill some hope and motivation. You don’t know what college will throw at you, but with these mental prep tips I hope you won’t get hit too hard.

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the author

Alicia Lalicon is a junior at The College of New Jersey, pursuing a Psychology major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. When she’s not reading about mental health and feminist ideas, she proudly enjoys dancing across bamboo sticks as the secretary of Barkada (TCNJ’s Filipino club). Her life philosophy is to always strive for improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” You can find her being seemingly cold-hearted on Twitter, reblogging black clothes and food on Tumblr, and reading intently behind a book or laptop screen.

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