Saturday, March 9, 2019

I was a slacker in high school

I barely got out of high school on time, and I was either out of my mind or brilliant (or a little bit of both) for taking both the ACT and the SAT, because it was the SAT in the end that got me into my in-state college. At 36 and a Ph.D. student, I still have some regrets. Here's my story. Learn from me.

To use my own words, I was a total slacker in high school. A Slacker with a capital "S". It's been quite a while since I've seen any of the Back to the Future films, but whenever I do see any of them, I can imagine Principal Strickland speaking to me when he calls Marty McFly a slacker. These scenes, I joke, were made just for me.

I barely graduated high school on time. I had to make some credits up through mail order correspondence courses. How I got into college was a miracle. During spring semester of my senior year, I still did not have any schools lined up, because I slacked on applying to any. That was, until a recruiter from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee came out our way to Muskego High School one day for a presentation. I saw a flier hanging on the wall by the guidance office advertising the session and inviting students interested in attending to stop by guidance for a pass. I don't remember what class I had during that time, but I do recall that, whatever it was, I really wanted to skip it. No kidding. I just wanted to get out of class. So, I went down to guidance for my pass. And the rest, as they say, is history. I was immediately sold on the recruiter's presentation. She did an awesome job, and I quickly arranged for a tour of the campus. But now came the tricky part - getting admitted!

Now, I don't remember if I had already taken the ACT and SAT tests (yep, as much as I was a slacker, I took the SAT test for the heck of it!) by the time I met with the Stritch recruiter, or after. I do recall waiting 'til the last minute and taking them during that spring semester of my senior year, though. But I'm thankful I did happen to take the SAT test, because my ACT score ended up being too low to get into Stritch. The school, which ideally preferred the ACT, had a conversion calculator to determine what I would have received on the ACT by taking the SAT, so they used that score. Many say the ACT is supposed to be the easier of the two tests, but I found the opposite to be true in my case. I kept running out of time for each of the sections, and because of that, I left a lot of questions unanswered. Things seemed a lot smoother and more relaxed with the SAT in my case. Anyway, I did well on the admissions essay, and I was ultimately accepted through the university's conditional acceptance program, which meant my grades would be closely monitored for at least my first semester and my participation in co-curricular activities limited for a while. In effect, I was entering the university on academic probation right off the bat.

"Instead of plotting my own destiny, I allowed myself to just sort of drift around in the wind for a while, landing wherever and whenever the wind stopped for a moment or two."

All these years later, Stritch still can't seem to get rid of me, I joke. I'm in the school's Ph.D. program, and I actually joined the student government again this past school year as a senator - at the age of 35. My recruiter still works for Stritch, and we continue to keep in touch from time to time. Wonderful school with a lot of great people. Many happy memories created over the years.

Anyway, I'm sharing all of this with you, first off, because I enjoy looking back in time and laughing at myself and how it's truly a miracle that I managed to get out of high school in time and into college, but most importantly, I really want this to be a teachable moment.

See, I just didn't care about much of anything when I was in high school. It's not that I didn't want to learn. I loved to learn. But on my own terms, I guess. There were a few classes that I really enjoyed and got a lot out of, but the majority of them were just kind of "blah" to me. I was just there because I had to be. I wasn't involved in any clubs or activities, either. I was up very early in the morning for the bus, and so by the time the school day ended and I got off the bus, a ride which seemed to last forever, I just wanted to watch a little TV, eat dinner, and doze off. Some years later, in college, a few of my professors would explain to me that I probably just wasn't engaged. They told me that I obviously had the smarts to get into college, and that they've seen some impressive work produced by me.

Whatever the reason or reasons for my lack of interest and effort in high school, though, I still have some regrets all these years later. I sometimes wonder what opportunities I missed out on - what paths I may have inadvertently closed - by not taking high school more seriously. Instead of plotting my own destiny, I allowed myself to just sort of drift around in the wind for a while, landing wherever and whenever the wind stopped for a moment or two. I got into college mostly by sheer luck. And as much as I love Stritch and feel that the school has certainly prepared me for success in life and career, I still occasionally ask myself, "What if?" What if I had just one more conversation with someone back then on career paths, and that one conversation was the one life-changer I needed? What if my grades and test scores were higher? What if I took more initiative to learn outside of the classroom back then, and, as a result, really found something to be passionate about?

Don't have those same regrets. Don't put yourself in the position of having to wonder about all of the what-ifs. Take advantage of this time you have during these high school years. Start giving some serious thought early on as to what you may want to pursue for a career. Start thinking about any particular training, experiences, and higher education you may need for those careers you're exploring. Network and talk. Have conversations with family, friends of your family, family of your friends, teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, business owners, tradespeople, etc., etc. about options after high school. Research and dive into any relevant volunteer opportunities that may give you an edge on your resume. Time is on your side at this age, but the time will also go quickly enough, so don't squander it.

I joke that I did so poorly in high school the first time around, that I was sent back. Hopefully, I get it right this time, not for me, but for the students and families I have the pleasure and responsibility of serving. Perhaps I finally found my true calling all these years later.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also find these previous posts, High school students and stress, Building a general foundation first, and Preparing for the ACT test, interesting and helpful.     


  1. Great read! My son will be a freshman in the fall. He is a very good student now, but that can change! I will share this with him...just in case. I wish I could've shown this to my older son a few years back. He could really have learned from it. Congrats on reaching the level you are at! Best of luck with your PhD studies.

    1. Thank you for sharing and for your kind words! Really appreciate it. Glad you found this helpful. Wishing you and both sons all the best!

  2. I’d like to know on the ACT & SAT are students required to know 2 or more different strategies in math? For example teachers are now teaching different strategies other than just the standard way, adding, multiplying and division as most of us growing up in 60’s & 70’s learned. Also, are they allowed to use calculators while taking the ACT and SAT

    1. Thank you for reading and for your inquiry! Greatly appreciated. To answer your question about calculators first, yes, students can use calculators on both the ACT and SAT tests, but only during the math portions.

      For the SAT test, all scientific and all basic four-function calculators are allowed, as are most graphing calculators. Graphing calculators are highly recommended. Here's more information from The College Board Web site:

      For the ACT test, calculators are not required to solve any of the math problems. If you do bring one, there are several key restrictions to be mindful of. Here's a brief one-page document on calculator usage I found on the Web site of Jones County Junior College in Mississippi:

      As for your first question on the two or more different strategies in math, that's a great question. I'm not sure offhand. I'm certainly not an expert in this topic. However, I do know you're not required to show your work. You're only tasked with selecting the correct answer, so I suppose it simply just comes down to whatever method or methods work best for each individual student to arrive at the correct answer. Here's a blog post from that offers some great advice for getting through the math portions of either test:

      I'm with you on the "old-school" way of learning math. I graduated high school in 2001, and that's the way I was trained. I can easily go through the four basic functions in my mind and figure out percentages pretty easily, as well. And if a problem is a little too complex, I can still easily figure it out on paper. The new strategies are completely foreign to me.

      Thanks again for reading and for reaching out.