High School and College: A Letter to My Adolescent Friends Titled “How Dare You Think Your Life is Hard”

My dear high school friends:

How is it over in that small, single building of yours? You wake up every morning, go to roughly four classes a day, see all of your friends in the hallway or in English or math, go to lunch and fill your grumbling stomachs, then either go home to hang out with friends or go to work to earn money as soon as the last bell rings. Hardly a bad life now, is it? You high schooler’s have such simple lives—you don’t realize how lucky you’ve got it. You think high school is hard? Wait till you’ve been to college.

Here in college I pull myself out of bed, get myself ready, and sometimes have time for breakfast. I then go to 5-7 classes, depending on the day, from 8:30am to 5:30 or 7:30pm, and that’s just class time, not even time for me to do homework. In the evenings I spend all my time in the library, doing homework and reading assignments, trying to balance what assignments I should get done first, because in college, timing is everything. I don’t have a lunch break, unless I’m lucky enough to find time to run home and make myself a sandwich, if I haven’t run out of bread yet. There is literally no time for “hanging out” during the week—to do so would be ludicrous and, frankly, a waste of time. Sure, being in school for six hours a day isn’t that great, but at least you have time to yourself for the rest of the day. In college, that doesn’t exist. Not if you’re like me.

Now, there are college students that make their schooling a joke. With three to five classes total, they come to think they have all the time in the world; that most definitely leads to poor time management, and soon enough they’re not doing too hot. On the other hand, there are college students (like my sister, for example) who always attend their classes, then spend the rest of their day studying in the library either by themselves or in study groups. These are students you can tell are dedicated to their work and want to be here in college. They have the right motivation and a love of learning. Although it means constant work, I bet they’d tell you that no matter how difficult it may be, it’s worth it.

In my limited experience, college has taught me more about life than high school ever did. Perhaps that is because I’m away from home, and when that happens, life lessons come faster than your head cheerleader can get a new boyfriend. In college, everything comes at a fast pace—due dates, tests, the entire curriculum in general, friendships, relationships, food—and leaves at an even faster pace in many cases. College is definitely a wake up call to evaluate what your priorities are and what they should be. It’s a realization that good things have to be earned and are not simply given out on a silver platter. College is a time of self-discovery, a glorious time where it doesn’t matter what people think, because honestly, everyone is so focused on their own lives to judge you anyway.

High school is hard. I’ve been there, I know. If your appearance isn’t up to par then the “cool” kids will look down on you. If you aren’t funny enough, no one will want your company, unless you’re an extremely attractive human being. If you don’t have anything to give, people and so-called friends will usually push you aside for someone better and more convenient. If you go a day without make-up, everyone thinks you’re having boy problems (which embarrassingly enough, is probably true, that or you just didn’t wake up in time to get ready—also embarrassing). If you follow the rules, you’re considered a goody-two-shoes. If you don’t have a social life, you don’t have a life at all. If you don’t have clever captions on your Instagram posts, why are you even posting anything? If you’re a student body officer, that jacket is your trophy and the whole basis of your self-worth and life purpose revolves around just that; everyone without a jacket is beneath you and should feel privileged that you give them any time of day. If you don’t play sports or have friends that play sports, you aren’t popular. If you are in drama, no one knows the reality of your hard work and devotion because no one seems to care about drama besides whoever is in drama. Now, I know I’m totally stereotyping, but bruh, high school is the supreme factory for creating stereotypes. You do this every day, my high school students. You worry about falling into stereotypes and categories that fellow classmates might put you in.

So what do you do?

You pretend. You try to fit in. Soon enough, you don’t know who you are. Wonder why people say college is for self-discovery? You gotta find yourself under that high school mask. In an essay by Michael Davidson, he wrote about the idea of a “social mask” and living in stereotypes:

“Some people will only accept you if you act in a particular way. But everyone has different expectations and desires of how other people should behave, so by pleasing any one person you are neglecting others… It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be someone you’re not. Yes, the social mask comes ‘automatically’. But it’s tiring to keep up your persona. You can’t relax when you need to constantly second-guess your thoughts and actions. Over time, this really takes its toll on you… The purpose of your social mask is to please other people. The problem is that it helps you please the wrong people.” (Davidson)

Basing yourself on the stereotypes won’t help you. You poor high school kids think that fitting in is the most important thing in this life—fitting in and being accepted.

Your priorities are a far cry from what mine are, due to experiences with being out of high school. Living in college forces you to grow up and look at life a little differently. After you graduate, you won’t have that comfortable pillow that is your friend group to lean back on. You and your friends will go your separate ways, and you’ll be surprised with how distant you will become with some of the people you were so sure would be your friends throughout your entire life. You might even look back and wonder why you even considered them to be friends.

This next excerpt from an article online describes almost perfectly what I think of when I reflect on myself and my acquaintances in high school:

“One of the priorities of teenagers nowadays is the psychological priority. This priority includes fame, love, and ego. Teenagers always wanted to become popular because they think that there is a need to be. Youths are attention-seekers and they always wanted to be admired by others. They show off their talents and skills in order for them to be appreciated. Due to the advancement of the technology, teens use social networking sites to mingle with their friends and colleagues. They display their talents on the Internet sites for them to be noticed by others, to express themselves and to become famous. In their young age, they get easily attached because of love. Majority of the teenagers today early get into relationships. They fall in love easily when someone shows them extra care and love. Ego sometimes causes us to follow the wrong path.” (Phenrosales)

Have you forgotten there are people that truly care for you? Don’t you realize that you are someone’s priority? Not in a romantic sense—it’s not a temporal thing—but you’re a priority in the sense that they would do anything for you. Whoever you call family, ever notice how they’re there the instant you let them be? A lot of high school students take their families for granted. Once you’re in the real world, you learn really quickly who’s really there for you and will be a permanent part of your life. In high school it’s all about your image—about your face, your hair, your clothes, the people you associate yourself with—and then suddenly you’re in college and none of that matters.

Priorities can be set selfishly. In high school during my senior year, I started to come out of my All-About-Me Coma, something that happens to teenagers when their self-image is what matters above all other things. I was trying to comprehend how high school relationships work—they seemed so dispensable and so quickly discarded if need be. In an earlier blog post I wrote during high school, I compared the two variables of a relationship: giving and taking. How much do we give and how much do we take? Specifically in high school, what must the balance be in high school relationships if they so easily fall apart?

“[I] decided the percentage is higher in the ‘take’ category. All [high school relationships are] is taking. That boy doesn’t hold that girl’s hand just cause he wants to make her feel loved and special… the main reason is cause it feels good and he likes it. It makes him feel good. High school kids don’t give hugs, they take hugs. It’s a lot about… instant gratification… Do these high school couples really care about each other or do they just care about the feelings they get from hugging, holding hands, kissing, etc.? If it’s all taking for pleasure, for satisfaction, if that boy would be perfectly fine holding hands or hugging or kissing anyone else, then it must be all about taking.” (Morrison)

This world isn’t just yours to rule. There is a responsibility you must take with the people here in it. Life isn’t just about having fun, or about instant gratification; it’s about learning and being the best human being you can be. Is that taught at all in high school? Maybe a little in the learning department, but even there it’s scarce nowadays.

It’s really easy to graduate high school. In fact, it’s more difficult to not graduate. The real struggle is once you get to college and you actually have to work hard to get a good grade. In college, professors expect so much more of you—you actually have to do the reading in order to get by, you should take notes during class, and the library literally becomes your home away from home—just to receive an acceptable grade. You pay for everything yourself—from tuition to books to apartments to food to other living essentials—to even be there to have the opportunity to go to school.

My mom always says, “There isn’t enough time in a day!” to which I always would roll my eyes. Little did I know that this phrase would become far more applicable in my own life. For example, here I am, writing this essay on why high school isn’t as hard as college. The clock reads 11:16pm, which surprises me because I got to the library at 7:30pm. All I’ve been working on is this paper and I still have physics homework, a paper to write for my beginning conducting class, theory homework, song practice for my voice lessons, music to memorize for my choir concert next week, a test in the morning I haven’t yet had time to study for because my professor didn’t tell us about it till three hours ago, and those are all obligations, not even things I want to do. It’s impossible to accomplish everything in one day—don’t believe me, come try it out yourself. It’s hard to strike a balance between wants and needs. Stress is ever constant because homework is never done, sleep is never long enough, and I feel guilty for any social excursion I find myself taking part in because I know I still have loads to do.

Everything moves so quickly, in fact, that you don’t have time to be something you’re not. Friends come fast, and people decide right away if you’re worth their time or not. If you aren’t yourself, I doubt your friendship will last long. If you want anything to last beyond college, you’ll need to work hard and be genuine. That statement doesn’t apply to friendship, but the whole scheme of what you do while at school—work, classes, grades, relationships, and so on. You’ve got to pace yourself and learn what you want to make time for.

There isn’t enough time in a day. Like I said, everything in college moves at a fast pace. In college, there are lengthy assignments due every other day for multiple classes. Semesters are shorter and class times are shorter than those in high school, and yet more material is covered in college classes. If you don’t study, you will not do well, I guarantee. There is no free time in class to do assignments, because college really does believe in homework.

My dear high school friends, you’re going to look back a year or two from now, laugh at your pathetic problems, and wonder why anything so small once stressed you out. In high school your struggles include cramming for due dates, having multiple assignments at once, staying up late to finish last minute projects, getting your heart broken, not being cool enough, not fitting in, not having enough money to go out, getting anything less than an A. It all seems hard now, but just wait.

In college, there will be days where you think you’ve got everything under control until you suddenly have six new assignments due all within the next week. You’re gonna regret taking a break from homework and not getting your science lab finished a day early when something more urgent comes up the next day. Wait for the day when you figure out that it’s actually impossible to finish everything you have to do in one day; you’ve been up since seven and it’s near midnight and you’re still in the library. You might miss your sweetheart for a while, but such a flimsy relationship wasn’t meant to last anyway. Just wait until that one shining moment when you’ll learn how much a heart can really feel, but then you must try to walk away when they change their mind. Being cool and fitting in won’t matter, because in college, you are literally “too busy to care what people think” (Hoyt). Wait until you don’t have enough money to buy even just the essentials, and have to pick and choose what you actually need. Getting anything close to an A is a good call and proves you worked hard, but an actual A? Now that’s dedication and something to be extremely proud of. Wait until your future is resting in your hands and you are fully responsible for the outcome. It all seems hard now, but you just wait.

The popular and talented singer, Taylor Swift, wrote one of her songs about her high school experience. This song is one that I relate to well. One thing I didn’t realize until just recently listening to it was her last chorus. Swift used it to sing from an adult’s point of view, talking to the girl who is beginning her own journey into high school. She says in her song “Fifteen”:

“’Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/you’re gonna believe them/And when you’re fifteen, don’t forget to look before you fall/I’ve found time can heal most anything/And you might just find who you’re supposed to be/I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen” (Swift)

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Me, on the left, at my high school graduation, May 2015

Not to rain on your parade, but life gets a lot harder after high school. You think you’re on top right now and that you’ve got a lot figured out. Really you’re still at ground zero. Remember this when you’re in college. You’ll look back at all of your friends and acquaintances still in high school and cringe when they tell you their struggles, because really it’s not as bad in comparison to your workload and stress level. College is much harder than high school. Don’t wanna take my word for it? Try it yourself.