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Ace's Ultimate Survival Guide to Freshman Year

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Dear high school freshmen: Congratulations! The day you've been waiting for is finally here - the day you step through the doors of your high school and officially become a high schooler.

As you probably already know, high school is a different beast from middle school, just like how middle school was a different beast from elementary school. In high school, you're going to be hit with a lot of firsts; your first really hard class, your first car, your first opportunity to get a job, your first stab at trying to figure out who your are. There will be a lot going on, and it doesn't help when you're also supposed to magically know which colleges you want to apply to. It's hard out there.

To all the freshmen out there who may be freaking out, we've got you. Here's our ultimate survival guide to freshman year. Relax. You've got this.

Time Management and Studying

Study materials

Remember when we said high school was a different beast from all the other schooling you've had in your life? It really rears its ugly head when it comes to time management and studying. Because here's the truth: you're going to have to be on top of your game when it comes to studying and managing all of your responsibilities. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t cram all your studying into one night: Studies show that it’s much harder for your brain to retain information after 25-30 minutes. When studying, space it out or break the material into smaller schedules. Plan your study schedule out so that you’re able to study the material over weeks, not days before the exam.
  • Reward yourself: Train your brain to associate studying, information retention and recollection with positive emotions. Give yourself rewards and treats (like candy!) for completing studying milestones.
  • Stay away from all-nighters: Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Sleep is the time when your brain and body repairs itself. When you take this important healing mechanism away, your brain function will suffer: you won’t be able to focus, you’ll have a shorter attention span, and will have difficulty recalling memories.
  • Use the web: Don’t just rely on the textbook or class notes. Use the Internet to your advantage and do some extra reading on the subject, even if it’s just the Wikipedia page. Sometimes, having additional context can help you understand the problem or subject better (and might be useful for some extra credit answers during the exam!).
  • Learn how to prioritize: There’s going to be a lot going on. You have to learn when to say no (this is a valuable skill that is essential in the real world, too). Write down a list of your top 5 priorities. Rank them. Whenever something comes up, ask yourself: does this apply to any of my priorities? If so, which one? High-priority items should always take precedence. Lower-priority items can be put off or done last.

Getting Involved in Extracurriculars

You'll likely hear this a thousand times while you're in high school: being involved in extracurriculars will make you look more attractive to colleges. But if you don't know which ones to join or don't have enough time, it can be difficult to get started.

  • Finding an extracurricular: An extracurricular does not mean a sport of playing an instrument. An extracurricular can be anything from after-school clubs, volunteering, interning, or joining your local student leadership organizations. Colleges especially love to see students who are involved with leadership and community service, so if you're not particularly interested in athletics, those are great places to start!
  • Ask for help: Once you have an idea of what extracurricular you want to pursue, ask around to see what's out there and where you can join! Your teachers and counselors should have a good idea of what's out there. If you want to get involved in an organization that's not related to your school, research online and don't be afraid to send out inquiry emails.
  • Finding the time: Here's the sad truth - if you don't think you have time for extracurriculars, you probably won't ever have time. If you deem extracurriculars as a priority in your college applications, then you have to MAKE time. What would you have to give up to make that happen? Sometimes, plotting out your entire schedule (yes, even the 45 minutes you spend scrolling through Instagram) can really help you find out where you have some extra time.

Peer Pressure / Bullying

Kid alone

Unfortunately, you may face peer pressure and bullying in high school. It's a time when everyone's trying to show everyone else up, and prove how "cool" and "untouchable" they are. Here are some strategies for dealing with it, if it ever happens to you or someone you know:

  • Dealing with peer pressure: There will be times when someone wants you to do something that you do not want to do. Here's the first thing you should know about life: It's okay to say no! If you don't want to do something, say no. If you feel bad about doing something, say no. Pay attention to your own feelings and your gut. It can be really helpful to have a friend or peer who also says "no," so that you feel like you have support. If you find yourself peer pressured when you're alone, make a note to stay away from those who do pressure you. Don't ever be afraid to walk away. Finally, if you find yourself constantly faced with peer pressure, always remember that you can talk to a parent, guardian, or someone you trust.
  • Dealing with bullying: First of all, understand what bullying is. If you can help identify it, then you can help stop it. If you think you are being bullied, talk to a trusted adult about it - someone who can give you sound advice and make you feel comfortable about being honest.
  • Helping others: If you see someone being bullied, intervene immediately - it's okay to get an adult for help. Stay calm, and try to model respectful behavior when you intervene. StopBullying.gov has some wonderful tips on what to do when you see bullying here.

Productivity Tools and Tips

Procrastination is real, but it will not do you any favors. In fact, procrastinating on something will bite you in the butt 100% of the time.

  • Do the hardest things when you have the most energy. Are you somewhat of a night owl? Save the hard stuff for later. Are you super energetic and ready to go when you get home from school? Start your homework immediately! Take advantage of your bursts of energy, and use them to be more productive.
  • Make your notes do the work: Adapt the material and your note-taking to your specific learning style. Some people are more visual, while others learn better through listening. Whatever your specific learning style is, adapt the class material to fit that need, whether it’s looking at things in chart form or listening to audio recordings of class notes.
  • Remove all distractions. It can be really hard to get anything done when your phone is going off every 5 seconds. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb, block social media using an extension like StayFocused, or just go to a room where you won't have any access to your vices. Even better, add in 15 minute blocks between tasks where you let yourself check social media and other things. This will help you feel like you're making progress while still getting rest time.

How to Ace a Part-time Job Interview

Prepping for a job interview

Just because you're in high school doesn't mean you can't get a part-time job. Plus, any form of a job will make your resume look really good when you're applying to college.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This does two things: it helps you decide if you really want to work there, and it shows the hiring manager that you’re interested, serious, and a critical thinker.
  • Research the company. The last thing hiring managers want is someone who is just looking for a job. Show that you’re a perfect candidate by understanding the company’s values, brand, and personality. This will put you above the other applicants, we promise!
  • Dress appropriately. If you've researched the company beforehand, you should have a good idea of what kind of work environment it is. Is it more casual or totally professional? Reflect their values with your outfit when you show up for the job interview; it'll be easier for them to picture you as a part of the company as well.
  • Arrive before the interview starts. Get to the interview five to ten minutes early. This will not only ensure that you're there when the actual interview starts, but will give you some time to recalibrate and really get focused for the interview.
  • Be forthcoming about your time constraints. Companies get it - you're in high school, you're looking for experience, you can't dedicate your life to working. Bring your schedule with you, including your extracurriculars, and just be honest about what hours make sense for you to work.

Drivers License Studying Tips

Of course, our top tip would be to study and make sure you pay attention in class. There are also a ton of online resources that can help, like Aceable's free learner permit test prep course. These free courses - available on both mobile and web - will let you prepare and study for the learner license test (aka the written knowledge test or driver theory test) prior to taking it at the DMV for real.

The official DMV test to get a driver license usually consists of two parts. The first part is a skill test that requires you to complete basic driving maneuvers, while the second is an assessment of your ability to drive with other cars on the road. Here are some things you’ll need to practice in order to prepare for the exam:

  • Checking mirrors
  • Using signals
  • Backing out and into a parking space
  • Acceleration and braking
  • Parallel parking (not required in some states)
  • 3-point turns
  • Safe following distance
  • Right of way
  • Traffic signals
  • Changing lanes
  • Shifting gears

The behind-the-wheel exam is a practical test, so the best thing you can do is practice, practice practice! Ask your parent or driving instructor to simulate a practice test so that you can get a feel of what to expect on the actual testing day. We’re certain that with practice and preparation you’ll pass the test with flying colors! You’ve got this.

Buying Your First Car

Woman leaning on car

It's so close, that taste of vehicular freedom! If you're thinking about buying a car, here are some of our tips for saving money and also choosing a sensible option for your first time.

  • Do your research on what to expect in terms of pricing, vehicle condition and extra fees. There are tons of websites out there that can help you with this search (like TrueCar, Insurify, even this comprehensive list of car scams). Aceable and Truecar partnered up to help you find fair and competitive pricing for the car you want. Shoppers have saved an average of $3,106 off MSRP.
  • Use online apps to save. Tip Yourself, Qapital and Digit are all apps that allow you to automatically save money without putting in too much thought or effort.
  • Research your insurance options. If you're a teen, you actually have a lot of chances for finding insurance discounts (like taking drivers ed!). Check out this post on 10 ways to lower your car insurance if you're a teen driver.

Images sourced in order of appearance: Alexis Brown, Matt Ragland, Nik Shuliahin, JESHOOTS, Amos Bar-Zeev.

Krista Doyle