The Ultimate Back to School Survival Guide + Checklist


As summer comes to a close, I’ve been, like many other high school students, scrambling to finish up my summer reading and math packets before the first day of school. I have to admit, though, this back-to-school is bittersweet. Spencer and I are seniors this year, which means that we’ll be doing everything for the last time this year. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to high school yet. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind when the college search and homework catches up to me but for now, I’d like to stay right where I’m at.

Since I’ve been through this whole back-to-school thing a couple of times, I thought I would give everyone some tips to make this school year the best yet. Let me know in the comments when you go back to school and what your summer reading was! But for now, let’s get right into my tips.

The Week Before School Starts

  • Skim your summer reading. This is extremely helpful if you read your summer reading at the beginning of the summer. In a notebook or on your computer, write a quick summary of it, and then make a list of a couple of discussion points from the book. Think about themes, characters and literary devices that you find the most important. This list will definitely help you with any discussions you have in class or essays you’ll have to write.
  • Check back over your math packet. It’s a good idea to look over it for any mistakes that you didn’t check the first time. Desmos is a great resource, especially if you don’t have a graphing calculator.
  • Buy your school supplies. If your school is like my school, then you might not get a supply list. At my school, everyone uses their computer for their school work, but I still like to get notebooks for each subject. Another necessity for me is an expandable folder, so I can keep all my papers in one place. Last year, I got a folder for each subject, but they didn’t help me stay any more organized. I would find math quizzes in my French folder and scripts in my physics folder, but with an expandable folder, I’m forced to stay organized because all of my folders are in the same place. You also need a pencil pouch for school. I lose pens all the time, so I bring about ten pens and ten pencils to start the year off (and usually end up buying more by October). Highlighters, red pens, erasers, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick are also helpful but aren’t necessities.
  • Pick out your first day of school outfit.  I’m not saying you have to buy a new outfit, but pick out something that you feel comfortable and confident in. Trust me, it’ll do wonders for starting school off on a positive note. My advisor loves to talk about power colors and I think they work. Find a color that makes you feel awesome when you wear it and stock up on clothes in that shade. If you need help, google what colors compliment your skin tone and go from there.
  • Start going to bed earlier. I know this can be difficult, especially if you’re nocturnal during the summer. Gradually begin going to bed earlier. For example, go to bed at eleven one night, ten o’clock the next, and then nine o’clock. This will help adjust your body and will make waking up earlier so much easier!
  • Take care of your skin. Going back to school can be extremely stressful at times, which means more breakouts. If you’ve been slacking on your skin care over the summer, it’s time to get back on the bandwagon. It can be as simple as just cleansing your face and then moisturizing. I also like to use moisturizing face masks, which do not only hydrate my skin but make it soft and supple too!

The Night Before the First Day of School

  • Put all of your school supplies and books in your backpack. You don’t want to spend time the next morning double checking that you have all of your supplies and hunting down your bio book.
  • Use a face mask. This is a great way to not only treat your skin but get rid of any pre-school jitters. Put on your favorite TV show or a chill playlist and just relax.
  • Check your schedule. If your school schedules classes in advance, check to see what classes you have the next day and what the room numbers are. You don’t want to be late to class because you got lost!
  • Go to bed early. Get some sleep! I know it may be difficult to relax but you don’t want to be tired on your first day. Nothing looks worse than falling asleep in class!

The First Day of School

  • Wake up early. This one usually isn’t a problem for me because I’m so excited for my first day that I wake up at the crack of dawn. It’s better to get up early so you have time to make any last minute changes to your outfit, make sure your hair isn’t sticking up in all directions, and eat breakfast.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. It’s super important that you eat a good breakfast so you can stay focused until lunch time. Try oatmeal and a banana or drink a smoothie infused with protein powder.
  • Get to school on time.  Don’t be late! Leave early if you’re unsure of how long it takes to get to school.
  • Eat lunch. I know that school lunches aren’t always the tastiest but you should never skip lunch. You won’t be focused through the afternoon and any after school activities.
  • Get involved. Getting involved is a really important part of your high school career. Not only does it look good on college applications, it also helps you meet new people and make new friends. If I hadn’t joined my school’s drama club, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. Also, it can be tempting to join every activity in hopes of boosting your college resume, but a couple of activities to which you’re super dedicated look better than a thousand activities that you can’t say much about. Plus, as you get older these clubs offer leadership opportunities! College aside, joining clubs is really fun and you’ll meet some of your best friends through the activities you do.

The Rest of the School Year

  • Participate in class. Participating in class is one of the best things you can do to boost your grades. I know that in many of my classes, participation can be the difference between an A and a B. Plus, you’ll pay attention more if you’re focused on participating. If you have anxiety about talking in class, try and push yourself to speak more. Set goals for yourself like “I’ll answer three questions in class this week” or “I’ll talk once in each class today.”
  • Foster relationships with your teachers. Talk to your teachers outside of class! Believe it or not, many of your teachers are actually really cool people. I know that I’m always excited to see my acting teacher and my Shakespeare teacher when school starts up again. The teachers you talk the most to are also the teachers you can ask for college recommendation letters and they’ll be able to write personal letters instead of general, vague descriptions of you that anyone could write.
  • Do your homework. Don’t let your homework pile up! Always do it the day that you get it, even if it’s not due the next day. That way, you have time to ask questions or get help if you need it. I like to start with my hardest homework first so that I stay focused. By the time I get to my easy homework, I’m still motivated.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I’m one of those people who hates asking for help. I know, it’s something I’m working on. Your teachers are there to help you and you should take advantage of them because it will only help your grades in the long run. Plus, teachers talking about you getting help in any recommendation letters looks great to colleges. If your school has a math or writing center, don’t be afraid to visit. No one’s judging you and often they’ll be happy to help!
  • Stay positive. Getting a bad grade on a test doesn’t mean that your life is over. Getting a bad grade in a class doesn’t mean that your life is over. You’ll still graduate. You’ll still go to college. Don’t freak out. In the long run, grades don’t mean anything. SAT and ACT scores don’t mean anything. Maybe you won’t get into your reach school, but you’ll still find a school that’s a good fit for you. You can still be successful. High school doesn’t define you, so take a deep breath, put on your brave face and promise yourself that you’ll study even harder for the next test.
  • Write down everything. Writing stuff down helps you remember it and stay organized. Write down your assignments, whether it be in a planner or on your Google calendar.  Take notes in all your classes and then study them when you get home. You’ll be more likely to remember the information.
  • Make an upperclassmen friend. I know this sounds scary but it really shouldn’t be. Most upperclassmen aren’t going to shove you in a locker and steal your lunch money. And if they do, you’re just hanging out with the wrong upperclassmen. Talk to someone you met in one of your clubs so you have something in common. They’re full of advice and wisdom about what classes to take, the college process, and where to sit in the lunchroom.
  • Volunteer. One of my regrets about high school is that I did not volunteer as much as I should have. It’s important to give back to the community and help those who aren’t as fortunate as you are. Most schools offer volunteering opportunities and they look great on college applications.
  • Become a part of the community. Although I sometimes roll my eyes at the idea of school spirit, getting involved in your school community is extremely fun. Go to a football game and cheer on your team or go see the school musical. Supporting your classmates always pays off; you might make new friends or they’ll come support you.
  • Let drama slide. I have such a hard time letting things go. I hate not getting the last word and not winning. You can ask Spencer a number of times I’ve texted her something along the lines of “should I let this go or fight back?” The answer is usually to let things go. There’ll be less drama in your life and you’ll be happier because of it. And besides, having the reputation of being a nice person can do wonders in high school when rumors are spread like wildfire. The only time I recommend not letting drama slide is if somebody is actually bullying you. If you don’t feel safe or happy, please stick up for yourself. A swift punch to the jaw may be tempting but instead, tell them to stop, and if it continues please tell a trusted adult.
  • Don’t waste your time on bad friends. Do you ever just have a bad feeling about people? While sometimes our instincts are wrong, most of the time we have that feeling for a reason. If you don’t feel happy or like you can be yourself around your friends, then it’s time to find some new ones. Gradually start branching out to find people you’re comfortable with. Approach someone in your math class about the homework to spark a conversation. Compliment somebody’s shoes. Hang out with people you know from after school activities that you don’t normally talk to during the day.

The most important thing to do is just stop stressing out. It can be hard to relax but just take a deep breath and remember, you’ll do great! I believe in you! If you’re still worried, check out our free checklist to help you ace back-to-school this year: The Ultimate Back to School Checklist. If you found this helpful, let us know. Do you guys want a college search survival guide next?


Good luck with your first day! (Tell us how it went in the comments!)