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High School to College: My Daughter Did High School Her Way

Up until a few days ago, my older daughter’s bedroom looked like Bed Bath & Beyond had exploded in it. Lamps and bedding and a collapsible laundry basket and decorative starfish for her “ocean-themed” dorm room covered pretty much every inch of available floor space. (I told her I had a theme for my college dorm room, too—it was called “dorm room.”)

From High School to college

Now she’s back at school, kicking off her sophomore year. We’ve played round one of this college game already, so I have a better idea what to expect than I did last year at this time. But the 20/20 vision of hindsight also gives me a clear view of another road we’ve already traveled: high school.

By some accounts, my firstborn did high school all “wrong”—which is to say, she did it in a way that went against most of the advice of her school counselors and her friends/family/people-at-church “advisors”, and the thousands of articles on “how to make the most of high school.”

She did high school her own way, but it turned out to be the right way for her. It got her where she is now: at a college that’s one hundred percent perfect for her, where she has the kind of friends she’s been looking for her entire life, and where she’s going after a degree that reflects her gifts and passions.

What she’s doing now doesn’t appear to have been hindered by what she didn’t do in high school. And what she did do helps her in college now.

Go Your Own Way: What To do in high school

If you’ve got a high schooler who’s going their own way, take heart: it will probably turn out to be the right way for them, too.

1. Few friends. It wasn’t for lack of wanting and trying, and it wasn’t as though she had no friends. She had her band friends and her dance friends and her “we survived geometry together” friends. But that one, lifelong BFF whose baby shower she’ll throw one day never materialized. Neither did the big mixed-company group that hung out in someone’s basement every weekend and went to Steak ‘n Shake at 2 a.m. Fortunately, it makes the friendships she intentionally forged her first year in college that much sweeter.

2. She didn’t play school sports. My firstborn’s middle school counselor stridently advised us that she’d need an official school sport—anything from cross country to lacrosse—on her resume for college applications and scholarships. But four years of marching band (a “sport” in every sense of the word if ever there was one) and eight years of dance must have counted for something. She gained acceptance into her top-pick school, and thankfully, her father and I don’t have to foot the entire bill.

Other Kinds of High school Leadership

3. No traditional student leadership. My favorite introvert wanted nothing to do with the Student Council or Homecoming committee; but she led in other ways. In band, she was a section leader. At dance, she was a student teacher. At our church, she was a summer camp workshop instructor. Leadership doesn’t have to have “class president” stamped on it.

4. Not much socializing. Friday nights on the marching band field, two Homecoming dances, and one junior-year prom were more than enough for our girl. She spent time with friends one-on-one. And she wasn’t afraid to tell us that family pizza night at home was her favorite part of the week. And after a “relational adjustment” left her without a prom date senior year, she happily spent that day and night shopping and eating ice cream with her sister and me—a memory we all still cherish.

Lessons from High School

5. She didn’t go after the toughest academic load or the “elite” career path. My daughter was one of her class’ valedictorians. She worked hard and studied well. But instead of applying to our area’s math and science center in preparation for a career in these fields, she spent half her junior and senior year at our local tech center in the early childhood education (ECE) program. She did this against the advice of pretty much everyone: school counselors who told her she was wasting her potential; teachers who told her the education system is a nightmare; and various relatives who told her she’d never make any money in ECE (thanks for the news flash.)

But she did it with the unconditional blessing of her father and me and a few other trusted advisors. We’d seen our daughter in action with preschoolers, and we knew that’s what made her heart beat. And when one of her college professors told her she had the most passion of any of their ECE students, my daughter had the confirmation she needed that she wasn’t “wasting her potential,” but, rather, honoring it and using it.

ready for college

My daughter’s room in our house is now clear, the Bed Bath & Beyond explosion transferred to her dorm room—ocean-themed accessories and all. She’s starting the second leg of her college journey with friends beside her. She has a future she’s excited about in front of her. And she’ll do it with all the mileage and lessons from high school—done the way she wanted to do it—behind her.

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters. When she’s not avoiding housework by spending time on her blog, Guilty Chocoholic Mama, or on Facebook, she plays the piano badly, bakes chocolate-chip cookies, and tries to keep up her lone talent of being able to stand on her head.