10 Tips for Starting High School on the Right Foot

Starting High School SMUS

by Carole McMillan, Head of Counselling

I remember starting high school.

I couldn’t sleep the night before. My best friend and I strategized about how to hide our Carole McMillan in Grade 9nerves and how to look cool. Perm. Check! Oversized Sweatshirt. Check! (Well, it was 1989!)

Once I got to school, I felt so overwhelmed. I thought I was going to get lost in the halls and I wouldn’t make new friends and that I’d be nervous every single day for the next four years. But none of that came true and soon I loved being in Grade 9.

I know a lot has changed since the ’80s (so long, neon clothing), but one thing that hasn’t changed is that every fall new high school students start the school year with the same looming questions I had: “Will I make new friends? How will I handle the workload? Where do I catch the bus? Where’s Room 207 in the science building?”

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to help ease those back-to-school worries and make starting high school a fun and memorable time.

So here are my 10 tips for starting high school on the right foot:

1. Wake up!

Seriously – get out of bed! The best thing you can do for your body and mind while it’s still summer is to start waking up early. Your body needs time to adjust to the routine of waking up for school. Prepare for the inevitable and it will make the first days of school easier.

2. Get the facts

Ignorance isn’t bliss. You probably have 100 questions swirling around your brain right now: Where are my classes? What time does school start? What’s a Link Leader?. A lot of those first-day-of-high-school nerves stem from fearing the unknown. So scour the school website, wander around the school when it’s quiet, or pick someone’s brain to get the answers you need.

3. Pack a piece of homeSMUS-Senior-School-Back-to-School-Boarding

If you’re coming to boarding school, you’re probably also feeling some very normal feelings about leaving home. The best way to counter those feelings is to pack things that remind you of home. Bring pictures, your favourite stuffed animal or a gift from someone, and it will keep you feeling connected.

4. Know the players

Wade through the sea of new faces by finding the people who’ll be important for you to succeed at school. Maybe it’s the basketball coach, your homeroom teacher or the director of the school musical – everyone at the school is here to ensure you’re happy, healthy and thriving.

SMUS-SS-ClubsFair-085. Bond over a shared interest

Meet new people and make great friends by getting involved in a club or council. From the Photography Club to the Service Council to the volleyball team, schools provide lots of fun activities to try something new and build your social circle.

6. Balance your brain chemistry

Scientists say: take care of yourself and you can better handle stress. Be aware of what you need for your physical health (eating well, going for a walk) and mental health (getting a good night’s sleep, balancing alone time with friend time). Those actions have a direct impact on your brain chemistry!

7. See high school as an adventure

Adrenaline pumping through your body is a normal part of experiencing something new – and high school is new and exciting. That adrenaline might peter out by late September though, and nervous feelings might surface. Keep reminding yourself that high school is an adventure. Sure, there will be some stressful moments, but those will be outnumbered by great experiences.

8. Remember, you’re not alone

Fact: your friends and classmates are feeling what you feel. Plus, everybody that has gone through high school before you had the same experiences and feelings – even your parents and teachers!

9. Recruit ‘Team You’

There are a lot of people who are on your team. Your family and friends are all great sources of inspiration, coaching and advice – and they’re great people you can vent to. Telling an ally that you’re feeling nervous about school helps you develop an even greater support system. Be brave and be responsible to reach out when you need help.

10. Talk to your school counsellor

School counsellors are some of the best people to talk with when you’re feeling nervous or excited, happy or sad, stress-free or overwhelmed (honestly, we’re just awesome, friendly people!) We’re not judgmental and we’re not going to tell you what you’re doing wrong in life – in fact the opposite is true. Your school counsellor is going to tell you what’s right with you, and how to use your strengths to help you feel 100%!


The counselling team at St. Michaels University School is ready to meet you. We’ve all been trained to help people – students, especially – cope with the challenges of life. School counsellors can help with anything from anxiety to family stress to mental illness to friendship issues.

We all know that starting high school is a mix of feeling excited and scared and nervous – that’s OK. We expect every student to feel some or all of those feelings. We just want to make sure that the process of transitioning into high school goes as smooth as possible so it sets you up for success in life.

If you want to come say “hi’ or schedule a time to meet with one of the SMUS counsellors, feel free to email me or call me at 250-213-6524.

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