So you’re new to the Upper Division…

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Yana Gitelman and Ben Feldman

Dear new students,

So, you’re starting HM this week. We know you probably have plenty of questions. Good thing we’re here to help!

“Ben, what major changes can I expect in the Upper Division (UD)?”

One of the most prominent differences that you may notice are smaller class sizes. Given that the median class size is 13 students, you’ll have many opportunities to participate and work in small groups. I’m no social butterfly, but the teachers and students in the UD encourage collaboration and communication. Remember it’s just as important to build relationships with teachers outside the classroom as it is in class. Whether setting up a one-on-one meeting or sending an email at 2 a.m. (don’t do that), you’ll have many opportunities to ask your teachers questions, go over tests, or rant about what’s on your mind. 

The workload increases, and it’s better to accept that the work is going to come than to deny that it will. Remember that there is no formula for tackling a heavy workload: you just need to find a method that works best for you. Lastly, whether you’re coming from the Middle Division (MD) or another school, chances are you won’t be used to having as much free time throughout the day as you do here. Find a way to be productive, but also use the time to relax. If you see Yana or me in the library or halls, don’t hesitate to show some love!

“Yana, how do you cope with the workload?” 

First, know that we have full faith that you will be able to handle it. My first piece of advice is to be organized. You can try out Google Calendars or pick up a planner in the front office or bookstore. Use the first couple of weeks to figure out where and when you work best. Use your free periods to your advantage, especially if you’re busy after school with work or extracurriculars. A wonderful physics teacher once said, “if you can explain something, you really understand it.” (Thanks, Mr. Z!) To study for a test or quiz, try explaining key concepts to a classmate, a sibling, or the scoreboard on Alumni Field. 

I won’t tell you not to procrastinate. Instead, I’ll tell you to do so productively. While putting off that English essay, get your biology project done. Work in spurts if that floats your boat. If you feel like you’re falling behind, you’re not alone! You have tons of resources available to you. Introduce yourself to your teachers sooner rather than later, and tell them what you’re struggling with. No matter what it is, your teacher will be happy to help you. I cannot stress this enough: failing a test or essay is not the end of the world. Don’t be too hard on yourself — you will bounce back.

“Hey Ben, how do I decide on what extracurriculars to do?” 

In the UD, you may find yourself overwhelmed with an enormous list of extracurriculars to choose from. It’s up to you to find and pursue activities that are of interest to you. I know this may sound crazy, but a quick way to accomplish this is to sign up for everything that remotely interests you at the clubs’ fair. By doing this, you can sample a wide range of activities and filter out those that are most meaningful. By managing club announcements, you can get involved in a variety of activities that don’t overlap. If you want to write for a publication, play a sport, and volunteer at a local school, go for it! 

As you try to balance school and extracurricular life, you may think it’s best to be involved in everything. That’s what colleges want, right? Well, no. Remember you shouldn’t do any extracurricular activities “for college”; you should do them for yourself and for the people with whom you will interact. You should do what you love to do, and hopefully you do that really well. The most important thing you can do is leave free time for yourself. I certainly can be a “try-hard,” but I promise that high school is just high school. Never push yourself past your physical and mental limits. Go outside, take a nap, or ask Yana to serenade you. School can be draining at times, but a nice break will make a world of a difference. 

“What are the best ways for incoming students to make friends?”

Even though it may not seem like it, every new student is in the same awkward boat. Whether you’ve been at the school since kindergarten or are just starting this year, high school is a fresh start. Nonetheless, there is an outgoing student body that will be eager to meet and learn all about you. Use extracurriculars to meet peers with similar interests. Class is also a great time to collaborate, whether through a simple ice-breaker or a longer group project. With such a diverse student body, you will be constantly surprised by your classmates’ backgrounds and talents. 

Remember: there is NO formula for making friends. Be yourself, and people will come to you. Finally, if you have a relationship with an upperclassmen in any capacity, ask them for advice. We’re writing this article to help you, but this shouldn’t be the only time that you seek our help. Upperclassmen are approachable, so please talk to us — we’re bored and tired, and our knowledge is so vast that we’ll surely have the answers to all your questions.

“Yana, you haven’t spent enough time talking about yourself. Please tell us, what do you wish you knew going into high school?”

First, I wish I hadn’t compared myself to others so much. Do not be afraid to speak out and share your ideas! Don’t hesitate to go to older members of a club with ideas or to raise your hand in class. Second, focus on the present. Don’t stress yourself out unnecessarily early and miss out on valuable time to hang out with your friends and discover what you’re interested in. Lastly, use your resources! Meet with your teachers! Chances are they’ll have a pep talk or some study tips for you, and you’ll start to foster a helpful relationship. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to go to Guidance and Counseling or another faculty member you feel comfortable with. Overall, if you need something, just ask. 

Peace,

Yana and Ben