High school students are entering a critical time of year — college acceptance/rejection letter season — when seniors find out where they got in and decide where they will attend in the fall. For most students, it marks the beginning of the biggest transition they’ve ever experienced in their life. But while you may be at the top of your class, the bottom or somewhere in-between, everyone is challenged by some bad habit or another when it comes to school. If you’re a high school junior or senior you may already be painfully aware of the bad habits that get you into trouble and make your life more difficult than it needs to be. The real danger with high school bad habits, though, is that they often cause big problems when you bring them with you to college. The good news: habits can be broken, and new habits — good ones — aren’t that hard to form.
When The Freshman Survival Guide first debuted eight years ago it was an online-only feature on Busted Halo. Since then it has become a comprehensive book selling more than 40,000 copies and featured everywhere from the Washington Post to The Late Show with David Letterman. Having spent years researching and writing The Freshman Survival Guide, we’re well aware of the bad habits of high schools students. We’ve compiled a list of six high school bad habits below along with some advice for how to form better habits instead.
High School: In high school you may be one of those lucky few that can slide through your classes on charm and BS. You float along rarely doing the homework, relying on your stellar performance in class participation, your great retention abilities and that knack you have for getting the right answer on the test.
College: In college, class participation really does count, so your charisma and gregarious personality are definitely going to work in your favor. Being able to test well is also a real skill, as is retaining what the professor teaches in class. Those aspects of this bad habit are actually beneficial. The problem though is that college-level learning relies on reading and homework. You’ve got to do it. In college, there is a lot more information to absorb in a much shorter period of time. Blowing off homework can quickly result in falling too far behind to catch up.
Making the Change: Even if you have a bad case of senioritis, try to establish a homework habit now so that freshman year will be less of an adjustment. Schedule study time and get those assignments in when they’re due.
Who needs sleep?
High School: Do you pride yourself on your capacity to operate on little to no sleep? Congratulations. You’re a superior human being. Put that trophy on the shelf before you head off to college though. It may be true that some people can function on less sleep than others, but this one’s definitely a bad habit to break now.
College: Staying up too late in high school isn’t usually a big deal. You might get a little run down or fall asleep in the back of your bio lab. But at college, getting run down and sick, missing a week of classes, or drooling on the desk in the lecture hall can be disastrous.
Making the Change: Practice giving yourself a bedtime and sticking to it. Break the habit of late night screen time, whether computer, phone or TV. Being short on sleep makes you moody, shortens your attention span, and messes with your ability to get stuff done. Speaking of which …
I’ll do it … later
High School: Procrastinating in high school means the occasional late night to catch up on your work and sometimes a bad grade or two. You work best under pressure anyway, right?
College: Actually, no. In college, pushing off work until later can mean a week (or more) without sleep when your deadlines come crashing down on you, blowing a crucial project or required course, or even bombing a semester.
Making the Change: Studies have shown that your ability to make yourself do things you don’t want to do (called self-regulation by the procrastination scientists) goes up dramatically when you’re getting enough sleep. Another way to break the “I’ll do it later” habit is by forcing yourself to spend five minutes now on a task or assignment you dislike or can’t seem to get started on. You can trick your brain into doing just a little and then next time your resistance to the task will actually be lowered.
High School: You’re well rounded and busy with a capital B — three sports, theater, band, student government, clubs, service commitments, etc.
College: That same long list of activities that got you into college can be your undoing if you’re not careful, especially first semester freshman year. The bad habit of overcommitment in high school turns into being overwhelmed in college.
Making the Change: Take some time now to think about all the activities you’ve been involved in during high school. Which ones did you love? Which ones seemed to energize you? Which ones did you stay in out of a sense of obligation or because you were trying to build your resume? If you could pare down your list of activities right now what would you give up? Take some time to consider those questions and remember that you may want to try something new at college too. If your default setting is “Yes!” to anyone who demands your time, you’ll need to start being picky about what you’re willing to commit to. Activities need to justify their place in your schedule. Try saying “no” to the next thing someone wants you to do that isn’t something you love. The benefit of a little more time is your reward.
The Human Garbage Can
High School: If your bad habit is bad food, beware. It’s even easier to eat junk at college.
College: College weight gain culprits are the vending machine at the end of the hall, skipping meals and eating snacks instead, and the high-carb and high-calorie options offered in the dining hall. Just because you can have FroYo at every meal doesn’t mean you should.
Making the Change: The good news is that it’s actually the freshman 5, not 15 like everyone says. Most freshmen don’t gain that much weight. Take time now to develop some healthy eating habits and find snacks that are cheap, easy and healthy. Ask your folks to teach you a few basic cooking skills. Master more than ramen and your waistline will thank you.
What, me worry?
High School: If you respond to stress with unhealthy habits — binge drinking, eating your feelings, self-harm or impulsive behavior — it’s time to develop some new coping mechanisms.
College: College is stressful. It just is. There’s a lot of change to deal with along with increased academic and social pressure. At the same time, you’re dealing with the absence of your most vital relationships.
Making The Change: You’ve got to find things that help you blow off steam without causing you more problems. Exercise, counseling, mindfulness practices like prayer and meditation, hobbies that calm you down or help you focus can all help. If you’re coming from a difficult situation at home, know that that won’t just disappear on its own. One campus minister we know has this adage: “If you’re running away from trouble at home you’re going to run into trouble at college.” Take the time to deal with your issues now. If you’re already in counseling your current therapist or doctor can guide you to help on or near your campus.
Why can’t I quit you?
Habits — good or bad — are habits because they’re familiar. We often start a habit without realizing it and then keep a habit — good or bad — because it’s what we’re used to. Our brain, to get a little technical, likes its old familiar neural pathways and wants to return to them; but creating a new habit creates a new channel for your thoughts to travel. It takes intention to end a bad habit but it’s easier to break a bad habit by replacing it with a good one. So if you want to break your habit of late night mindless TV, it will be easier if you replace it with a good habit like reading or mild exercise. Your bad high school habits don’t have to become your bad college habits. Start working on changes now and the transition from life in high school to life on campus will be significantly smoother.