Advice from BCA Mentors
High school can feel like an intimidating four-year ordeal, full of unknowns, especially a school like BCA.
We invited a group of MEK alumni, who are now upperclassmen students attending Bergen County Academies (BCA) — one of the top high schools across the U.S. — to share their best advice for succeeding in high school and beyond.
We want to give our hardworking incoming Bergen County Academies freshmen a huge head start by facilitating a conversation with 6 incoming BCA seniors.
- Paige: Academy of Visual Performing Arts at BCA
- Jennifer: Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology at BCA
- Salome: Academy of Engineering and Design Technology at BCA
- Carrie: Academy of Engineering and Design Technology at BCA
- Annika: Academy of Medical Science Technology at BCA
- David: Academy of Business and Finance/International Baccalaureate at BCA
These upperclassmen students are currently attending and thriving at one of the top high schools in the country. They are also all seasoned graduates of MEK Review’s programs at one point or another: High School Honors, SAT Prep, ACT Prep, SAT Subject Prep, AP Exam Prep, and College Counseling!
What did they wish they knew about high school before starting? What would they tell their younger selves?
Here are the questions we asked — and this is what they told us!
Q1: What are some of the most challenging issues you faced in high school?
A: Creating priorities for myself.
“I realized that I would often have to make decisions about what was more important to me. In most cases, personally, that was school, so a lot of social aspects had to take a back seat as I prioritized my school work.
Also, I realized that even with good time management, sometimes, it was still incredibly hard to manage all the work. I would push through and get everything done, but it was hard, being a perfectionist, realizing that with so much work, not everything can be perfect.”
Q2: How did you manage your time efficiently?
A: Schedule your time. Eliminate distractions.
“To be honest, I did not always (manage time efficiently).
But the key is planning how much time you are giving yourself for each assignment and blocking out all distractions and social media. For example, maybe you will give yourself 6-8pm to get an essay done, so you will sit there and just write for 2 hours before you give yourself a break.
You will be more motivated to get it done, as opposed to just sitting down at 6pm thinking you have an infinite amount of time before bedtime to complete an assignment.
Turn off Netflix and social media. Get it done first, and then you can reward yourself with a bit of relaxation. In other words, try not to procrastinate!
#3: How did you choose your college track?
A: Pay attention to what you enjoy.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do freshman year.
However, after an internship in a biology lab and a science honors program outside of school, I quickly realized that the medical and research path wasn’t for me. I began to notice that I enjoyed presenting, writing, math, and a combination of analytical and creative activities.
In addition, being in the business academy and taking part in different school activities, like competing in DECA, running the school store, and participating in debate, all made me realize that I was really interested in the field of business. I wasn’t sure about the econ or business track until I made my final decision about where to apply to college.”
Q4: Do you have a bad memory or story from high school? How did you overcome this experience?
A: This too shall pass.
“It was one of those junior year weeks with no sleep and no end to the work. I was running on caffeine essentially. I also was getting sick due to all the stress. In the moment, it seemed like it would never end. I got through it by reminding myself that it was only a bump in the road and would not always be like this.”
Q5: Is there anything you wish you had known before starting high school?
A: Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
“Get to know your teachers and guidance counselors. They want to help, so even if you are unsure about something small, go ask! They are experienced and will only want to help you succeed. It doesn’t mean you aren’t smart if you ask them for help.
In fact, I did the best on assessments for which I went for extra help. Additionally, they often understand your high school experience and can just be nice people to hear advice from.”
Q6: Is there any other advice you’d like to give incoming freshmen?
A: Grades are not enough.
“When it comes time for college applications, grades, test scores, and numbers are important, but it is certainly not everything. A lot of people have good statistics.
You have to go beyond that. You don’t have to do a million things, but you need to have a few things that you have significantly contributed your time to and have achieved something in.
You have to remind yourself that while school work is important, an important part of high schools is finding what you are passionate about. Devote yourself to those interests.”
Key Take Aways
Tip #1. It’s all about time management!
Whether it came to selecting your extracurricular activities or completing homework, our BCA upperclassmen stressed repeatedly to incoming freshmen that time management was key.
Freshmen students need to build and practice strong study habits and good organizational skills right away to be able to handle the challenging classes and other activities.
They advised freshmen to think carefully about extracurricular activities, especially ones that are very time-consuming such as sports. Students need to make sure that the clubs they belong to truly reflect their interest and passions, especially if they plan to sacrifice time and effort to participate. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Our upperclassmen also advised for freshmen to come up with strong study habits. They emphasized that cramming before a test is not an option if students are seeking a high GPA. They also strongly suggested for students to use a planner or organizational phone apps to keep on top of all their assignments, tests, projects, and extracurriculars.
If you want more tips on how to better manage your time, read our 3 Secrets to Getting and Keeping a Top GPA.
Tip #2. Take initiative.
Whether it’s getting to know your guidance counselor, getting help in a class, or taking advantage of available resources and opportunities, our BCA upperclassmen all said: “remember to take action on your own.”
Unlike middle school, freshmen will experience much more independence and much less direct help. Some students struggle with this newfound freedom as they are more accustomed to teachers or administration guiding them with information at all times.
Above all, our BCA upperclassmen stressed the importance of taking initiative in high school:
- On Grades: “If you get a bad grade on a quiz or paper, don’t expect the teacher to come and talk to you about it. You need to come to them.”
- On Guidance Counselors: “You need to make a point to get to know your guidance counselor. Drop into their office or chit-chat with them when they are in your homeroom. Get face to face time with them.”
- On Events: “There are many cool and interesting events and opportunities you can be part of, but you don’t always know about them. You have to make a point to find out.”
- On Seeking Extra Help: “If you find yourself struggling in a class, don’t wait! Reach out right away for help from a teacher or tutor.”
As you can see, it’s important as a freshman student to take ownership of your experience and performance by reaching out to teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, directors, and, of course, additional support such as our teachers at MEK Review for help or direction when needed!
If you want to know exactly what you should be focused on during your freshmen year of high school, don’t forget to explore our 9th Grade Checklist.
Tip #3. Know your weaknesses.
Our BCA upperclassmen also emphasized the importance of identifying your areas of weakness as soon as possible. You may have aced math all your life, but reach a stumbling block when the math topics increase in difficulty. One of the upperclassmen described struggling intensely in her Calculus class until she reached out for help.
All of our BCA upperclassmen were in agreement that students shouldn’t try to ignore the problem and think they can just figure it out on their own.
You have too many other responsibilities and coursework in high school. Ignoring the root of the problem will only make you fall further behind. Instead, reach out for help right away to fix it as soon as possible.
Go to your teachers. Consult a classmate for advice. At MEK, we also offer solutions that have assisted many students over the years during their academic struggles, such as High School Honors Courses, which prepares one for rigorous math and science courses.
One final bonus tip from our upperclassmen:
We’re all in this together!
Our BCA students emphasized that although high school, especially a challenging magnet school, can feel intimidating and stressful, everyone is going through the same experience. Everyone is nervous, unsure, and sometimes needs help.
Expect and participate in a strong sense of community and fellowship with your classmates that will bond you together and keep you going during your 4 years of high school!
For over 25 years, we’ve successfully coached students on developing the right skills and discipline to thrive at BCA and other rigorous schools, as well as during the tough college admissions process!
If you’re interested in taking the next step, here’s what we recommend:
- For 7th Graders: Explore Pre-High School Prep. Build early momentum so you can ace the BCA, SSAT/ISEE, and other high school admissions tests next year.
- For 8th Graders: Master Algebra, Algebra II, or Advanced English. Earn an edge in challenging Honors or AP courses with the help of MEK’s experienced tutors.
- For 9th-11th Graders: Get ahead with SAT prep! Explore our one-on-one Pre-Roadmap to College program, designed to guide students through the full journey of getting accepted to their dream schools.
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Interested? Contact us to enroll or request your (FREE!) academic plan consultation!