How I escaped the high school tunnel vision trap

When I was a freshman in high school, I was advised to pick my classes based on what I wanted to do after high school. I got the impression that all that mattered was that I pick what I wanted to do and keep that as my main focus, like I didn’t need to put much effort into subjects that didn’t have to do with what I wanted to do in college. Although telling a 14-year-old high school freshman to essentially pick what she wanted to pursue four years later may sound absurd, it was practical.

As a senior going through the college application process, I felt a sort of relief knowing what I wanted to apply to college for, and I was lucky to actually enjoy what I had essentially “picked” as a freshman. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want to do and pursuing it straight on in high school. But, by maintaining this sort of “tunnel vision,” I’ve realized that I missed out on a great opportunity to explore other things.

Going into high school, I decided that I wanted to pursue something in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). I was (and still am) a math nerd, with a name that suits that characteristic pretty perfectly (sin(v)/cos(v) Baj), so it made perfect sense for me to choose STEM, since it was what I was good at (and also because my high school didn’t offer classes on Wizardry, so there went my hope of getting noticed by Hogwarts).

So, freshman year, I focused mainly on my math and science classes, and only put in a minimum effort in subjects like Language Arts, Orchestra, History, etc. After freshman year, I decided to use my electives to take Computer Science (CS) related courses, and then skipped my history classes and replaced them with more science classes. The CS classes I took helped me realize that I genuinely wanted to learn more about CS and its application in other sciences in the future; they’d also “look good” on my high school transcript, which was important to me, since my transcript would be sent to colleges when I’d be applying.

Scheduling my classes as a senior was more complicated. After picking the classes that I knew (or at least thought) I needed to take, I had two extra spots in my schedule, as well as the option to take AP Literature and Composition; I had decided to not take AP Language the previous year because I didn’t think I needed an AP in subjects besides math and science. I ended up taking AP Lit as a way of challenging myself. As for the two extra spaces, I signed up for a class called Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and Computer Graphics, two classes that fit my definition of “useful” for the future. However, the day before the deadline to lock in schedules, I spontaneously decided to change Computer Graphics to Photography — that was the first time I actually signed up for a class out of genuine curiosity rather than for practicality or for the sake of my transcript.

I can honestly say that my two favorite classes this year are Photography and AP Lit. I find myself spending as much time as I possibly can in either my school’s dark room or the art rooms. And, as someone who decided they absolutely hated writing after getting a C in Language Arts her freshman year, here I am writing for a website (that wasn’t my own Tumblr), and actually appreciating literature that I would have never blinked an eye at before. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to be a computer scientist (which is a really cool subject that I 100% recommend everyone check out), but by being so narrow-minded and focused on just that, I limited my opportunities in other things. I may have tried writing for my school’s newspaper if I had discovered my interest in writing, and I could’ve learned about new and different techniques in both digital and film photography. And, when it came to how these classes would look on my transcript, I realized it was foolish of me to think that colleges would somehow look down on me for taking art classes or subjects that didn’t have to do with whatever I decided to put in the “Intended Major” section of my application.

High school is a time to explore. You don’t need to focus on one subject and spend all of your time doing that one thing; you can have fun taking different electives and challenging yourself by taking courses that you’d never think you could do. You will never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try out other things, and high school is the perfect place to experiment. No one expects you to come out of high school aggressively sure of what you want to do, but by trying different subjects out, you could potentially save yourself a lot of time in college. College is the time when you need to delve deep into whichever subject you plan on studying for the sake of fulfilling the degree requirements, and according to college students I know, that sort of dive usually only happens in the last year and a half of your time then.

My advice for new high school students is this: Don’t be narrow-minded when it comes to the classes you take in high school. You will be good at whatever you decide to do whether or not you take the 7 AP courses offered in that one field, and I guarantee that you’ll find something you’ll truly love to do by trying a variety of things. Yes, you have a transcript to worry about, and yes, you have certain credit requirements for graduating that are your first priority, but don’t be put off by classes based on how they’ll look on a piece of paper that you’ll forget about soon enough. It’s not the grade or the class name that matters; it’s what you’ll learn in that class that’ll help you in the long run.

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