How to make the most of your final year at High School

As if it wasn’t already clear, I love school. As I move on to higher education, I can now say that school (high school especially) is what you make of it. Your attitude and performance in school determines what kind of experiences you have and the journey you embark on. I know that high school isn’t all good times and butterflies (I’ve definitely had my share of not-so-great times) and its not perfect, but in the grand scheme of things it is pretty freaking awesome. Whether you decide to realise that now or later is up to you, just remember it is never too late to change your mindset on school even if you’re in your final year.

Year 13/12th Grade/Year 12 (AUS)/Seventh Form will hopefully be the best year of your secondary school life. You should feel very excited about going back to school as a senior. There are endless amounts of memories just waiting to be made. It will be a long, long year with all sorts of things going on all at once, but trust me – after you’ve sat in your final class, your final assembly, your final prizegiving, amongst faces you’ve seen everyday for the past one thousand eight hundred and twenty five days – you will wonder where all the time has gone.

So here are some ways that I believe will help you make the most of Year 13:

Make it or Break it

One teacher of mine is very fond of reminding his classes, regardless if they are Year 13 or not, that Year 13 is the year where students either make it or break it. Year 13 paves the way to countless opportunities after high school. It is easily achievable and yet there are still huge amounts of students who (for various reasons) don’t realise their potential. By the end of the year, you should have passed NCEA Level 3 or equivalent, obtained the necessary credits in the necessary subjects for certain courses, achieved your desired rank score, and met other essential entry requirements for universities, degrees and courses, programmes, apprenticeships, summer schools/university preparation courses, overseas studies, work experiences, or whatever else you may want to pursue after high school. Whilst there are ways to make up for shortages, you will save yourself a lot of stress and disappointment by being organised and diligent from the beginning.

Sort out your subjects

Most schools require you to finalise your subjects within the first two or three weeks of your start date. Obviously this is something that varies from school-to-school so it is worth inquiring if you aren’t too sure about it. An advantage of being able to make changes to your timetable after school actually starts is that you can see for yourself whether the subject/class/teacher is really for you. I would recommend that you don’t give a class up too easily, though. In Year 12 and Year 13 I thought about changing subjects because I was nervous about picking something that had no purpose or something that I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy but I didn’t end up going through with the changes and I currently have no regrets about it. When choosing subjects remember that most importantly you have to pick the ones that will give you the credits to get you into your post-high school endeavors and then find a balance between what you are better at and what you enjoy.

There is a reason why the career counselors are so busy at the start of the year – don’t be afraid to go and see them! They will provide you with heaps of information to help you make a decision and feel more settled in what you have chosen. I know it can be daunting choosing subjects for the last time, but they are the best people to talk to to make sure you don’t get it wrong. It may be worth refreshing yourself on approved subjects and Table A/Table B subjects. Try to stick to the timeframe your school gives you to minimise disruptions to your timetable (you may have to give up being in certain classes/teachers) but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Know what you need to do to get you where you want to go

This seems pretty self-explanatory, yet I know a lot of people who didn’t fully learn what they had to gain to get them into their desire tertiary education courses and are now facing the consequences. As well as your academic performance, fully understanding all entry requirements is going to prevent you from ‘breaking it’. Not to place too much pressure on you, but all your twelve years of education have amounted to this one year. Make sure you know how to get in, what to do to get in, and what to do if you miss out on guaranteed entry. Again, you can achieve this by regularly visiting the careers counselors. They should have pamphlets, booklets, and prospectuses galore so that you can have a physical copy of this information. Attend course planning days at your school, talks from university representatives, and go to Open Days held by the places you are interested in.

Study

Groan, I know. As much I love school, I can think of a million other things I’d rather do instead of studying or homework! My studying mantra is: “short term pain, long term gain”. Whilst that may actually be intended as motivation to exercise, it is worth adopting when facing your studies. Put in the effort and you will see results at the end of the year. Again, this is pretty self-explanatory. Always do your homework. There is a reason it gets given to you. Even if you’re frantically doing your homework in the free period before your next class, it still counts. Trust me, doing your homework as it is set makes things a whole lot easier when exams roll around. Year 13 is crazy busy and with all these new privileges and events comes the temptation to put your academic obligations on the side. Don’t.

Show up to school

Wagging is dumb. Don’t do it. Don’t encourage others to do it. Try to be absent as little as possible. It will still be Taco Tuesday at 3:15pm. McDonalds isn’t going anywhere. Neither is Starbucks. Attend all your classes, assemblies, and other whole school events. You will inevitably regret wagging when you look back. Don’t miss out on being in class – what happens during that hour or so will never be repeated. Go to assembly – get informed about what’s going on in your school and celebrate the various sporting/cultural/academic achievements of your fellow students. My school also made sure to regularly include guest speakers and performances. As a Prefect, I had to attend assembly twice a week which meant I saw my fair share of them. Finally, there is a magic to whole school events such as prizegiving. It was the most despised whole-school event year after year, but there is something special about celebrating your school and your achievements combined with singing and speeches. Your time as a student there is limited. You may never be in the same room as these people again.

Befriend your teachers

Year 13 was the year that I really got to know my teachers. I think that by Year 13 teachers begin to see you as less of a lost wandering soul and more of an peer, or a friend even. I noticed that teachers were interested in our interests, our goals, our hopes, our fears, our concerns, our thoughts on ________, and were willing to share their own thoughts and feelings and interests with us. I learnt where my teacher’s daughter had her birthday party, my teacher’s favorite party song back in the day, my teacher’s honest feelings about a massive life change, celebrity encounters, previous careers, university experiences, their families, travels, books to read, their hopes for their futures, the list goes on and on. Teachers are cool people. Most do care about their students. If you support and respect them, they will support and respect you. 

Make new friends

Most New Zealand schools have a separate uniform for senior students. At my school, the Year 13s have a totally different uniform that makes it really easy to identify who is a senior. Despite being at a large school, I was surprised to see how many people I had never seen before. Get to know these people! Talk to the people you’ve always wanted to talk to. Get to know someone you’ve had a class with for three years but never exchanged anything more than a name. Befriend the new girl who sits quietly behind you and the girl who has spent five years here and could do with another friend. I made so many new friends this year which made Year 13 so much more fun. Your time with these people is short so take advantage! Your year group will band together like never before during your final year and you will have a lot more fun if you really get to know everyone.

Join the things you’ve always wanted to

High school offers a huge range of sports, clubs, groups, and activities. Make it a New Years resolution to join the ones that you are interested in – perhaps the ones you’ve always wanted to but never got around to doing – before it is too late. This is your last chance to get involved. Participating in extra-curricular activities is a great way to make new friends and cultivate your interests that exist beyond the classroom.

Participate in events

Support your school, your partner school, schools in your area, heck, even schools not in your area! Your school spirit should be at its peak this year. A fond memory of mine this year is when my friends and I went to a rugby game to support the schools that were competing. It was so cool to be a part of that crowd. Cheer on your school at a sports game, sit in on a debate, buy tickets to the school play… be proud to be a student at your school.

Leadership and Service

One of the most rewarding things you can do is to take up leadership roles or some sort of service to your school. I held multiple leadership roles and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Through these I was given many, many different opportunities, and it felt really special to be able to give back to my school through service. If you’re not into leadership or want to focus on other things, you can still provide a service to your school by becoming a Peer Tutor or Peer Supporter for example. I really encourage you to give leadership a go, even if it would be your first year of doing so!

Take advantage of the facilities and privileges given to you as a Year 13/Senior

I don’t think I’ve ever loved a toasted sandwich maker so much. Hang out in your senior common room, it’s the hub of your year group after all. Use your free periods to study but also use them to go on food runs. If your school allows you any privileges as part of being the oldest students, use them.

Last but certainly not least:

Go to your ball

Whatever you call it – ball, formal, dance, prom – make sure you go to it! The Ball is as cheap or as expensive as you make it and it is absolutely not a night to be missed. I promise that you will have the time of your life.

To conclude

I recognise of the reason why I love school so much was because of the school I went (sob) to. Do I have attachment issues or what?! Haha. Everyone’s high school experiences are different so I hope by sharing these suggestions with you they will better or enhance yours. High School isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be that hard either, so focus on doing your best and making yourself happy.   

Whether you’re a Year 13 this year or still have a way to go, I wish you every success. Look forward to all the exciting times to come! 

新年快乐!

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9 thoughts on “How to make the most of your final year at High School

  1. Fantastic post!! Having just finished year 12 I’m glad I didn’t waste it. Although I did skip a few classes haha. And I hardly ever did my homework. But I loved ALL of my teachers – it really is nice how much they respect you in your final year of high school 🙂

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  2. I loved this post! This September, I’ll be starting sixth form so Year 12. I completely agree that school is what you’ve made of it! I taken every opportunity I could and I’ve worked hard and thats why I love school despite the fact it can be stressful! I’m going to be sad to leave Year 11 but Sixth form is an exciting aspect and this post has got me looking forward to it! -Tash x

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    1. Hi Tash, I’m so glad to hear that! I think that high school students are often negatively stereotyped against school and education, when we can actually be quite positive about it. It’s fantastic to know you’re working hard and taking up all the opportunities you can. All the best with the rest of Year 11 and your Year 12/Sixth form journey. You have LOTS of great things coming your way, I’m sure! X

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