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A Student's Guide to Moving Into Middle School, High School and College

By Morris Cohen | September 2, 2014 7:32am
 The city's students head back to school on Thursday.
The city's students head back to school on Thursday.
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NEW YORK CITY — To all the sixth-graders, ninth-graders and college freshmen: welcome to the next chapter in your life!

You'll be saying goodbye to the old schools, classrooms and teachers, and saying hello to new friends, teachers or professors and experiences. While some of these new experiences may feel intimidating or scary, it’s all perfectly natural.

In this article, I’ll highlight some of what’s to come, and offer a few suggestions for how you can handle the changes.

Middle School
Congratulations, elementary school graduate! You have completed a major step in your life. You are no longer a “little” kid. Rather, you are entering the first phase in becoming an adult: adolescence.

When you report for sixth grade, you may notice a few different things about middle school. First off, most of you spent your elementary school years in the same room, for most of the day. Now, you will may move from classroom to classroom, almost every period as you go to your different teachers’ rooms.

Sometimes this might be difficult, for example if the rules are different in one class than in another. It may not seem fair to you. But remember, you are not alone in this feeling. As you get older, you are going to learn to deal with a lot of different people in this world. If you can find a way to figure it out now, you will be way ahead of the game.

The other big adjustment will be the physical changes happening to your body as you begin to mature into an adult. Many of you have already begun to see these changes. Many of you will have to wait a couple of years to see a big difference.

When things seem difficult or stressful, just remember that you are not the first person to go through these changes. Every single adult in the world has been through this. So if you feel confused, go find an adult you trust and ask them about it. They’ll reassure you that it’s all natural, normal and OK.

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High School
Let the hype begin! These next four years will be some of the most powerful years in your life. As you begin to feel what being an adult is like — such as having more responsibilities at home, and at school — you also have many adults around you for support. Still, society still sees you as a child.

Your job during this time is to experiment with being independent, idealistic, friendly and excited, while having the “safety net” of home and family.

So what does this mean?

The expectation now is that you will not need to be reminded to do homework or complete chores, that this is part of being mature. You also get to work on creating a structure of your life that works for you as an individual.

It is also expected that you will question the meaning of things and take an interest in the world outside of your school, home and social life. This is a time for seeing the world in the way that it can be, not just the way that it is. Don’t accept the status quo, work to change it.

Your friends and acquaintances will be very important to you. Your parents may not fully understand this, and that’s OK. Try to remember they have their worries about you, that you may fall under pressure to conform and do dangerous things.

Try to find people you connect with, who make you feel most like yourself.

Finally, high school is an opportunity for you to find out what really excites you in life, and to take chances, whether it’s an interest or passion. No one is asking you to commit to anything for the rest of your life, but if in high school you find something that you enjoy spending hour upon hour doing and it continues to excite you, then maybe you can build your adult life around it.

And, if you have any questions or concerns, there are many adults that can help you during this period, whether it be a teacher, counselor, parent, coach, aunt, cousin or mentor. Remember, they went through high school and survived, so they might have some insight to help get you through.

Off to College
This is a time when you will be setting your own agenda and fending for yourself. In the eyes of society, you are now considered to be an adult responsible for your own actions. There is no doubt that this is a heavy responsibility, but it's also an exciting opportunity to create the life you want, not what others want for you.

If you will be attending college away from home, be prepared to take care of most of your needs, including meals, supplies and laundry. Also get ready to set your own schedule. This means setting an alarm to wake yourself up in the morning (or afternoon), leaving yourself enough time to be prepared for whatever you want to accomplish for the day. This also means making choices about decisions that have consequences, such as not staying out all night tonight if you have responsibilities tomorrow.

These decisions can be tough to regulate on your own, and many older adults struggle with this as well. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to discuss this with your parents or other adults you trust in your life, to see what they think. They’ll be impressed that you're taking this under consideration in the first place, and hopefully you can have a constructive discussion about what’s appropriate, and what’s helpful in taking care of yourself.

If you are staying home after high school, either attending college or going to work, it will also be a good idea to have a conversation with your parents about the “new” rules of adulthood. This is a perfect time to state your case on issues including your curfew, your responsibilities around the house, what your parents expect you to contribute in terms of finances and anything else that will come up as an adult living under your parents’ roof. Be open-minded in this conversation, and if you feel that there are certain points you have to accept, ask your parents to revisit these points in six months.

Whether at home or away for school, embrace this time. It's your first real taste of independence and true personal responsibility. While it can be a little overwhelming, it's a real opportunity to set a good foundation for the kind of life you want to live.