Tips for Starting High School: A Comprehensive Guide to the 9th Grade

Padya Paramita

Tips for Starting High School: A Comprehensive Guide to the 9th Grade

If you’re a rising freshman, you are probably a combination of nervous, scared, and excited to open the doors to this new chapter of your life. Don’t freak out! Embrace the change and make the most of this experience by starting the year off on the right foot. If you’re nervous about this next step, have no fear. Here are some tips for high starting school to help you through the first year of high school. We’ve included general advice, tips for choosing classes, and finally a guide to 9th grade activities.

General Advice to Help You Succeed in the 9th Grade


High school is all about discovering your interests. If you aren’t sure if you’ll like something—give it a whirl and see what you think. Take photography as an elective course. Enroll in a computer science course online. Listen to a podcast about starting a business. Start designing clothing or jewelry. The possibilities really are endless!

Take advantage of your freshman year to try new things. Explore and work to find your niche. The more you investigate, the more likely it is you’ll discover your true passion. Use this first year of high school to learn more about yourself.

Get involved

While it’s valuable to explore on your own, you will also greatly benefit from connecting to groups and organizations. High school is usually the first time that students are exposed to countless extracurriculars—take advantage of this opportunity! Get involved in some formalized activities at school or in your community. Join a kickboxing club. Run for a student council position. Act in a theatrical production. Volunteer with an environmental protection group. You get the idea here!

Expose yourself to new interests, hobbies, and activities by connecting with resources around you. Find a cause you’re passionate about and work to support it. Additionally, the people you meet and the ever-expanding network you build will serve as excellent resources for you down the road. Fellow clubmates can also be fast friends!


Despite how much homework you may soon have, develop a reading habit and find books you genuinely enjoy. Whether it’s the history of video games or a romantic love story, developing a reading habit will not only help you dive into your interests and expand your knowledge, but it will also improve your comprehension and reading speed, naturally build your vocabulary, and further develop your critical thinking skills (all of which will help you on those pesky standardized tests).

Reading will naturally improve your writing, which you will have to do throughout high school and college (and beyond!), and it improves focus, concentration, and memory, which definitely won’t hurt your studies. Bonus points—it also helps you relax and reduce stress!

Get to Know Your Teachers

When it comes to tips for starting high school, remember that your teachers are a valuable resource for you. Not only will they be grading your work, but one day these are the people who will write letters of recommendation for your college applications. Be nice to them! Work to get to know them. Talk to them after class if you’re struggling with a subject. If you are enjoying a particular topic, ask for additional resources to continue learning on your own. Be proactive.

Even a simple “How’s your day?” can build rapport with your teacher and earn you some goodwill. Developing a relationship with your teachers can also open doors to possible opportunities outside of school—like internships or research—and it may even score you some extra credit if you need to redeem a bad grade (though you shouldn’t count on that!).

...And Your Guidance Counselor!

Similarly, spend some time getting to know your guidance counselor early on. Don’t just see them for mandatory meetings or when you’re in a crisis. Set up semi-regular check-ins with them to discuss your academic goals and plans for the future. Ask for their help in selecting courses that will be interesting and challenging for you. Your guidance counselor can provide recommendations about academic or extracurricular resources at school—take advantage of this!

Show initiative here. You will eventually talk to them about your dream colleges and professional goals, so it will benefit you to start the relationship early. Counselors also write an important letter of recommendation for college applications, so it will be beneficial if they actually know you as a person, not just as a student.

Get Organized

It's important to stay organized when thinking about tips for starting high school. Spend some time getting organized and find a system that works for you. Whether it’s different colored folders for different subjects, using a calendar, or setting reminders on your phone, high school is the time to develop a sense of responsibility and ownership over your studies.

Don’t rely on your parents to remind you about your work! Keep your backpack and locker tidy so you don’t lose anything. Always bring a pen to class. Write every assignment down. Keep track of deadlines. Set smaller, “halfway done” deadlines for yourself so you aren’t doing every assignment at the last second. Develop good habits and don’t procrastinate. Your future self will thank you!

Don’t Slack Off

Believe it or not, freshman year grades do matter. Do your homework and participate in class (remember, you’ll need teacher recommendations). Be engaged in the learning process and you will be surprised at how much you uncover about your personal interests. Plus, if you start off studying hard, you won’t have to spend the next three years digging yourself out of a hole to raise that cumulative GPA! Of my tips for starting high school, this is a crucial one to keep in mind.

Take Care of Yourself

High school can be overwhelming and stressful, and you may be busier than you’ve ever been. Make sure you take care of yourself and stay healthy. Get enough sleep each night. Eat well. Exercise. Take a shower! Be physically and mentally prepared for school each and every day, or you won’t be able to accomplish any of your other goals.

Be Yourself and Have Fun

Of all my tips for starting high school, please remember this one! Develop confidence in yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think. Work to find happiness within and surround yourself with people who will support you and help you grow. While academics matter, make sure you also enjoy some free time and have fun exploring the world around you. Spend some time learning what makes you happy, energized, and motivated. You will be glad you did!

Tips for Choosing 9th Grade Classes

Admissions officers will be looking at your entire high school career including what academic classes you choose year after year, how your rigor increased, and how you succeeded academically. They will note consistency across the disciplines including in the core subjects of math, science, history, and English. And while it may seem like it doesn’t matter yet, it’s best to be thoughtful when you are making your choices about which 9th grade classes to take and how you approach your academic path. It’s also a great time to reflect on who you have been as a student and how you can improve as you head into the years ahead.

As part of our tips for starting high school, I’ve outlined the important factors which go into choosing your 9th grade classes and how to ensure you experience a smooth transition into the challenging, yet exciting, four years of high school.

Make Choices Based on Your Academic Interests

Use your classes to start mapping out the next four years and beyond.

When it comes to curriculum choices, sometimes schools offer a set curriculum for 9th grade classes. A typical freshman year schedule might include courses in English, Algebra 1 or Geometry, World History, Biology, a foreign language, PE, along with electives such as courses in the arts, etc. Sometimes your freshman year track is predetermined given your previous grades, placement tests, or simply because that is how your school works. No matter what, I would still offer you some advice: Do well in your classes freshman year. Any success that you have academically will likely change your trajectory for the next three years.

If you do have the opportunity to select your 9th grade classes, take some time to reflect on a couple of questions that may inform your selection:

  • Have you always gravitated towards the sciences?
  • Is there one area of science that you particularly enjoy?
  • Do you love to write?
  • Are you particularly fond of foreign languages?
  • Are you interested in pursuing some sort of business degree in college?
  • Are there electives offered that excite you?

Once you have given some thought to these questions, up next on our tips for starting high school we want you to consider how they can inform your decision-making process. If you are interested in science, look at the STEM curriculum offered at your high school. Plan to take a science class every year. Also, consider what upper-level or AP classes will be available to you by the time you are a junior or a senior, as admissions officers note the difficulty of your course load. Make sure that whatever you choose for freshman and sophomore year will give you the flexibility in your schedule to pursue the highest level of science available to you. If you need help or advice, don’t be afraid to reach out to your teachers or guidance counselor. Sketch out the plan for all four years now. You will make changes as needed and as your interests evolve, but planning ahead is essential!

If you want to study engineering in college, for instance, you’ll need to take the highest level of physics offered by your school. But many times, students haven’t thought about prerequisites or timing prior to their junior year and may not be able to fit the ultimate level of physics or biochemistry into their schedule. When choosing your classes, think about your desired end game and how you can get there. The same goes for your math classes. More often than not, a university will expect you to have taken the highest level of math available, particularly if you plan to pursue a major in business, science, or engineering. If you haven’t taken at least one course in calculus, your application won’t look too strong and schools won’t have an idea of how good you are at advanced level math. So again, be sure to take a look at all of the math courses offered and figure out how you will fit in the highest level of math by your senior year.

On the flip side, if you’re interested in studying the humanities in college, choose your 9th grade classes accordingly. As a humanities major, you will have to spend a lot of time writing essays, and annotating many, many pages of readings. So, the best way to prepare is to choose challenging reading and writing courses. As you look at the syllabi for your planned humanities courses, create a reading list to help familiarize yourself with important fiction and non-fiction out there. Enrich your vocabulary and improve your writing skills to do well in these classes. These skills will also come in handy when you take your SAT and write essays for your college applications.

Don’t Save the Worst for Last!

When it comes to tips for starting high school and 9th grade classes, I would also make sure you review any mandatory classes that your school will make you take during your four years. Don’t leave all of those requirements until your senior year. Try to spread them out and balance your core classes throughout high school. I know, taking your least favorite subject in your first year of high school is a gateway to boredom. But you definitely shouldn’t enroll in your weakest, or least favorite course, during senior year. Imagine taking it during 12th grade while also trying to maintain leadership positions, taking standardized tests, and filling out college apps. You don’t want that! To make room for more classes you enjoy, look into whether you can take required courses online or over the summer. That way, you can check them off the list and fit in more classes that pertain to your interests throughout high school.

Colleges want to see the rigor of your course load increase each year. One of the toughest things can be when you realize that you haven’t fulfilled your requirements by senior year and your final schedule looks more fluffy than it should. That’s why it is important to take a look at all of this now, and Future You will be eternally grateful.

Embrace Newfound Responsibilities

Once you have a general sense of what classes you can take to achieve a rigorous curriculum across the four years, make sure that you also give thought to that independence I mentioned. You’re going to be in high school now. Your teacher, and likely your parents, are going to have higher expectations for what you can achieve on your own. This is an awesome time to reflect on your current time management skills and other good habits for high school students.

Plan to spend time each week mapping out a schedule so that you can get everything done without stressing about it at the last minute. Start keeping a digital calendar, and making to-do lists to help manage your priorities and assignments for each day. Think about your previous study habits and how to improve them. How do you retain information, and how has that helped or hindered you in the past? Do you need to write things out or highlight as you read? Make sure that you are ready to take active steps forward when it comes to the new level of work and information that you will need to retain. If you start these habits now, you will be so much better off!

Your Teachers are Valuable Resources

My final recommendation for navigating the transition to high school is to approach your teachers. Use them as resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help. No matter what kind of student you are, there will be times when the coursework feels challenging. And because so much of the content in high school builds, it’s important that you not let yourself fall behind. Having a good relationship with teachers who instruct your 9th grade classes can help with college applications down the line since teacher recommendations are a crucial component. The better they know your strengths and goals, the better the quality of their letter. So take full advantage of your access to them—if you develop relationships with these teachers over 3 years, their letters will be particularly meaningful!

If you don’t understand something, ask. Seek out the answers and take the time to make sure you comprehend the information before you move forward. Go after class to ask any questions you might have. This will be a great habit to start now and will be something that you can continue to do for the rest of your life. Asking for help is an acknowledgment of your interest in learning. So don’t be afraid!

9th Grade Activities

Up next on our tips for starting high school, we have extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities are very important, both for college applications and your personal growth. Participating in 9th grade activities can help you explore your interests, create a supportive community, and develop special talents and skills. However, you don’t have to have everything figured out from the very beginning of high school! In fact, 9th grade is an important year for trying different things out and discovering what you find meaningful. Here's a guide for getting started.

Join A Club (or Two…or Three)

While extracurriculars are not limited to clubs at school, joining groups is a great place to start when you want tips for starting high school.

Clubs can complement your learning and extend it in new directions. Start by thinking about your academic interests and career goals. See if there are any organizations at your high school that align with them. Are you fascinated by the environment and want to join an ecology club? Do you love science and feel eager to learn more about Scientific Olympiad? Do you enjoy writing and want to join the school newspaper?

You can also join clubs that express your values or seem like they would be fun. If you want to get involved in social issues, you might be drawn to an advocacy group such as Amnesty International or Breast Cancer Awareness. If you like playing guitar, you might want to join a concert band. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to knit, Knitting Club might just be for you.

Freshman year is the perfect time to designate as “exploration time.” Give yourself permission to try new and unfamiliar extracurriculars without feeling the pressure that you need to be following your passion from the outset. Take the time to look beyond school for possible 9th grade activities, such as taking an online class or doing a reading project on a subject of interest.

If you don’t find a club that you are looking for, you can always start one. Starting a club, gathering funds, and expanding the membership takes some time, so 9th grade is a great time to begin working on your own club. There are many clubs that you can start or many meaningful self-directed activities you can pursue on your own after school!

It is a good idea to join multiple 9th grade activities. While you don’t want to over-extend yourself, you also don’t want to put all of your extracurricular eggs in one basket. By joining a few different clubs, you can figure out which activities you do (and don’t) want to spend your time doing. If you don’t enjoy one of the clubs you joined or feel like it’s not the right fit, it’s okay to drop it. Along the way, you will hopefully discover activities that you want to keep being involved in throughout high school and even continue in college.


Start by paying attention to local issues and opportunities to engage with your community. Try volunteering at a few different nonprofit organizations and see what you find meaningful. 


It is important that an activity truly matters to you, and you are gaining a meaningful experience out of it. Each time you try something new, ask yourself the following questions about your interests to help figure out the impact the activity has on you and your aspirations:

  • How do I feel about this experience?
  • Do I want to continue?
  • Do I want to tweak this activity or take it in a new direction?
  • Is this activity unique? Is it something everybody participates in?
  • Will this activity shape my personality?
  • Will I face any challenges in pursuing this activity? Would the challenge be related to my racial or religious background?
  • What specifically about the activity could spark my interest?
  • Will this be a memorable experience?
  • Is there something I could do with this activity that others have not been able to?

Asking these questions may help you realize what matters most to you or spark a new idea. Pursuing your interests often has a snowball effect that leads to more valuable opportunities, connections, and experiences, which in turn makes you a strong candidate when you apply to college.

It’s all about the journey…

As you consider tips for starting high school, remember that colleges like to see students who have sustained and committed interests outside of school. However, demonstrating commitment is more than just being involved in an activity for an extended period of time. The Common Application has a separate Activities section for you to elaborate more on your extracurricular experiences to colleges. Admissions officers like to see strong leaders with tangible achievements that stand out when they are reading this section. They’ll look at the amount of time you have spent pursuing the activity, and whether your activities follow a certain theme instead of being all over the place. So, 9th grade is the perfect place to start!

Commitment means being engaged and finding ways to make an impact. Exploring your interests through 9th grade activities will set the stage for you to demonstrate your commitment later in high school. For example, taking art lessons or joining Art Club during freshman year might evolve into founding an art therapy initiative by senior year.

Hopefully, we’ve covered enough ground to help you ease the nerves a bit. High school may seem intimidating, but follow these tips for high school. Join a club or two—and start your own, and choose classes that highlight your strengths and interests and you’ll be setting yourself up for success. Good luck!

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