9th Grade Nerves: Starting Strong in High School

Originally published January 21, 2020

For years now, you have been looking at the older students in your elementary and middle schools and thinking about what it will feel like to be an 8th grader — a leader of the school, the highest-known echelon of middle school achievement. And now that you’ve made it, high school is now just around the bend. 

If you are like most students, the idea of starting high school fills you with both anticipation and hesitation — “Nerv-cited” is what one student I know calls it. You’re ready and excited, but you’re also nervous. What will it feel like to be in a brand-new environment? Are freshmen really at the bottom rung of the social and academic high school ladders? What if the high school you attend is not the one you had envisioned for yourself? 

Here are some tips to help you master Ninth Grade Nerves and set yourself up for a successful high school career. 

Ask Questions

Freshman year is a time to explore and learn. It is also a time to ask questions. Every school has traditions, systems, and language that may sound confusing at first. Often, teachers and older students may not think to explain themselves, forgetting that new students might be confused. 

So ask away! Learning to ask for clarification or more information is an important lifelong skill, and one that many of us never got to learn in middle school. So whether it is about your confusion over your physics homework, your misunderstanding of how to turn in your English paper, or why everyone else seems to know the words to the Do It cheer, ask someone. You’ll be glad you did.

Use Your Adults

I know, I know, adults are not as cool as teens, and we do NOT understand all the things that matter to a 14-year old. But we do know some things. You will have a bunch of opportunities, victories, and obstacles ahead of you in high school. The best way to set yourself up to seize the opportunities, achieve the victories, and navigate the obstacles is to use your adults wisely and often. 

First, form real relationships with your teachers. Every year, I ask juniors and seniors to think about the most successful students in their grade. And every year, in every grade, in every school, the thing that those successful students have in common? They talk to their teachers. A lot. Don’t wait until you are struggling to check in with a teacher; do it right away! That way, if you are struggling later, you’ve already built a communication pathway, so it is not intimidating to ask for help. Plus, your teachers know stuff. They know when the auditions are for the school play, or that you might get to go to Florida if you try out for lacrosse, or how cool the photography field trip will be if you take that class next year. 

Real relationships go beyond just being successful in high school. Letters of recommendation from teachers also form a critical part of your college application process. If you practice the skill of building relationships with teachers from Day One, you will have one less thing to stress about junior year. 

Try Something New

High School gives you a lot more choices in how you can choose to spend your time. You will have more clubs, more teams, more musical events, and just more options all around. So take a risk — try something outside of your comfort zone to see if you might find a new passion.

Even if you don’t discover that you are a secret Michael Phelps when you try out for the swim team, you’ll make new friends and learn new things about yourself. Pre-season for 9th grade fall sports is an especially good time to get used to campus and make some friends. So check out the try-out times for soccer, field hockey, or cross-country and take a chance. 

But Don’t Forget: Learning First

Sometimes the flood of options for high school activities can be a little too tempting. Focus first on academics. You should expect that to be tougher than in the past. If you are someone who has always had great grades, you might start to see some low scores for the first time ever. I have seen more students panic during the fall of freshman year than at almost any other time in high school. So make sure you start out with a strong plan to get your homework done (and turned in!), and to study for every test or quiz. 

Classes in high school can sometimes seem like just a chore to get through in order to see your friends or participate in an activity you love. But I promise: the more effort you put in, the more you will find you like your classes. The effort pays off not just in better grades, but in a growing understanding of yourself and how you learn. Strong effort in 9th grade will also set you up for excellence for all four years — which is precisely what colleges love to see. Your teachers will recognize your commitment and may suggest you push yourself even further with an opportunity to seek more rigorous Honors or AP courses in the future. All of these opportunities help you to be in charge of your learning, which is exactly where you want to be.