High School Expectations (and Realities)

Beza Kifle

“We all had different expectations for what high school would be like, and a lot of it wasn’t how we expected.”

High school can seem like a scary place, especially before you get there. But at the same time, a lot of us expect it to be an idealized High School Musical-type experience. Movies and TV Shows often portray a place that is way more dramatic and frightening than it actually is, once we get there.  

We all had different expectations for what high school would be like, and a lot of it hasn’t been what we expected. After sending out a survey to the Upper School student body, I discovered that almost half of the responders attributed their expectations to media, such as movies, TV shows, and music. The rest said family members, friends, and teachers, and one person said all of the above! It’s clear that our environment tends to shape us in many different ways.

Most of us have probably watched some sort of movie or TV show that is set in a high school, and you have more than likely hoped that some aspects of those stories would happen in real life. Maybe it’s because we want to feel like we’re in a movie. Students cited football games and homecoming as big movie moments. Others mentioned drama and cliques. “When there is a lot of gossip, I feel like I am in a reality show,” one student wrote. 

A number of students said they’ve had experiences that sound like they came straight out of a movie. One student wrote about a friend getting a driver’s license and being able to go to a football game and “afterward going out to Waffle House or Mcdonalds and blasting music while driving down the highway.” Another student wrote about attending a party where there was a live band of high school students and “everyone jumped into the pool in their clothes.” Others mentioned first kisses, homework and grades, walking with the kindergarteners during opening chapel, dramatic breakups and being able to drive.

Setting aside the source of their visions of high school, I wondered what was the biggest expectation they had before starting high school. Many mentioned the additional freedom they would get. “I have seen that I've had way more freedom with classes and such, rather than in middle school,” one student wrote. Others were worried that seniors would shove freshmen into lockers, that it would be way more dramatic, and that “you would get hazed as a freshman!” Everything tended to be bigger in students' imaginations. They wrote about “fights in the hallways, lunch under the bleachers, and epic homecoming/promposals.”

Many people compared high school to middle school. “Middle school had more structure,” junior Cameron Foster-Martinez said, “and you go where you’re told.” Now he has more control over how he goes about his day, such as being able to go to his teachers whenever he needs to, and being able to use the restroom when needed without raising his hand. Another student wrote: “I thought it would be way harder than middle school, but as the years went on I noticed it really wasn't that bad.” And high school could be easier than middle school in some ways. “Once you find your niche, you feel accepted, which was kind of different from middle school,” one student wrote. My favorite comparison? “The kids aren’t more mature, they’re just middle schoolers in half adult half kid bodies!”

Student visions of high school have also been shaped by stories that family and friends told them about their own time in high school. Here are my top 5 favorites, in no particular order: 
  1. “They put a dead fish in the air system on the last day of school, and the whole school smelled like dead fish.”
  2. “My mom told me that when she was a freshman at Grady High School (now Midtown High School) the seniors would roll the freshmen down a giant hill if they sat in their spots during lunch.”
  3. In Freshman year, Cameron said that he slid down the railing of the stairs in the main staircase, and he was wrapped around the staircase where everyone could see him.” I sat there for a good minute after that,” he said.
  4. “They put rats on the roof as their senior prank, and they multiplied.”
  5. “A couple students hid a pumpkin in a bench freshman year and forgot about it”

With those stories in their heads, it’s no wonder that high school is way more boring and less fun than they imagined it would be. One person mentioned that they weren’t prepared for the difficulty and workload, and another said that “peer pressure isn’t really about drugs or alcohol, but there is pressure about what you wear and what your interests are.” 

High school brings a lot of attention to who everyone wants to be, and friends and classmates around us bring a lot of influence to that. Many people are struggling with school life, and others are struggling with the social life of high school, which becomes more difficult as we get older. One person said, “Not everyone has their friends. So many people are fake and you really need to learn who to trust.” Another mentioned that “there are definitely defined friend groups, but it’s less cliquey than portrayed in the media.” People also felt that there was different treatment based on your grades, and this makes things much harder.

In the end, the majority of us have had decent high school experiences that have met our expectations in some ways, fallen short in others, and exceeded them in others.

Of course, not everyone had big expectations for high school. When I spoke with Cameron Foster-Martinez he said he “maybe just expected more people, a bigger school.” He figured it would just be said that his main expectation was that it would be just “middle school, part 2.” 

That doesn’t mean he’s immune to imagining what the future will be like. Indeed, the future is on the minds of a lot of upper school students. Cameron told me that a big plan for him was preparing for college. “Sometimes I just sit in class and daydream about what I’m going to do with my life, like what college I’m going to and if I have to pay.”  He also said that he wants to figure out who he is before he gets there. 

The work is really hard and is “nightmare fuel,” and socially, it’s not easy either. High school has surprised all of us in many different ways, and hopefully our realities will meet our expectations too.

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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