Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author
I very much agree with Michael Schoch from Noodle who suggested this is a tricky question to answer because different people worry about different things. That said, I would rank fitting in, peer pressure, and managing what might be a crushing workload as the top three concerns.
Fitting in and peer pressure are particularly intense worries. High school teens in particular stress about how they look and what they say. It's a highly judgmental age. In fact, educators and psychologists often refer to this as the "invisible audience," the constant backdrop in teens lives. It's the sense that someone is watching at all times. Whether peers are actually judging them, or it's imagined, the pressure to manage one's image, appearance, feelings, reputation, and especially on social media, is a constant for high school kids.
Of course, depending on what kind of academic trajectory a student is on, taking a load of Honors and AP classes is not for the faint of heart. High school students often struggle with very little sleep, and intense expectations in terms of classwork and grades. High school can feel like a four year anxiety attack with every moment counting toward that college application.
The culture of a school will also have an impact on the kinds of pressure a student faces. Is it an ultra-competitive place, full of rich and privileged kids? Or more of a crunchy granola school, laid back, where everyone dresses casually? Is it one with a diverse population of families and socioeconomic backgrounds and a nice mix of types? For example, are athletes the big men/women on campus or do geeks rule? Or is it some combo of both? The truth is, some high schools are dominated socially by one sort of student, others are more diverse. Some high schools are really fierce, others less so. The culture of a school will be driven not only by the types of kids that go there, but importantly the strength, ethos and leadership of the administration running the school. Are teachers inspiring and happy to be there? Or are they worn out and resentful? Is the administration forgiving, or do they occasionally remind you of the police? Most high school staff members feature some of the above. But these are some of the aspects of school that may affect your experience. Schools like people unfortunately, get a reputation. What's the word on yours? This may give you insights into what life will be like.
Whatever your worries, you should know that you are hardly alone in your concerns. Many high schools students mask their anxieties and fears, as well as their true feelings and even identity. You wont see it - that's the point of the mask - but I assure you, it's there - even for the most popular kids, and it's very normal. Your best bet for getting through high school is to have a strong support system, stay true to who you are, stick to your values no matter the situation and temptations, and join clubs and find friends that make you feel good. The "make you feel good" part of friendship is really critical. Many kids in high school worry about being accepted into a certain group, only to finally get in, grab onto some rung in the hierarchy and then try to hang on for four years. This can lead to a stressful and unrewarding existence.
The last word on worries: although every high school student will face tough challenges, it's important to reach out for help if it ever gets to be too much. That invisible audience or the fear of being discovered should never stop you from seeking help - even if it's just to talk something out with an adult. High school can be magical time, or a tough time, or a little bit of both. The real trick is to take an active role in making be the best it can be.