By Sonali Bridges
Every year, students look forward to summer break – a chance to unwind, have fun, enjoy time with family, and maybe make new friends at summer camp. In high school; however, the plan for summer starts to feel like it might carry a bit more weight than just having a good time. But how do colleges really view those few months between school years and how can students endeavor to use that time fruitfully?
In talking to students and parents each year, we often hear the same myths continually passed around. Things like students must have a certain number of service hours, or have to try a sport, or even that students should do a summer program at the college they wish to get into. Avoid the rumor mill; instead, students should view the summer as an opportunity to try on something they may not have the time or ability to do during the school year. What colleges really want to see from a student’s summer is that they’ve been productive, but that productivity is not narrowly defined. The activity or activities should be meaningful to the student and align well with their interests or needs. If it seems too early in this brand new year to be thinking about the summer, you’ve been fairly warned – many summer programs that require applications begin taking them (and may even have deadlines) in January! Below, we’ve shared our top recommendations for using summer like a pro (and why) – many students may do more than one in a single summer:
- Find a job/internship: Work experience is an excellent way to spend the summer to help young people develop important skills and traits such as accountability, customer service, work ethic, and much more. Some students may need to earn money to help support their family or individual expenses, showing additional responsibility. When possible, students should investigate internship opportunities in a field that interests them to help them explore what a particular career or field may look like. Reach out to your school and/or counselor for resources to find these opportunities.
- Service work/volunteer: Volunteering in the community is never a bad idea especially in this time of widespread need. Students are encouraged to consider types of service work that speak to them whether it’s serving an existing community organization or creating their own drive to support an underserved community need. Look for opportunities to put in significant time and which hopefully, make a significant impact on both students and the community.
- Summer programs: Summer programs could include anything from traditional camps to a college-like experience on a campus that focus on a specific theme, topic, activity, or talent. Keep in mind that these types of programs come with a price tag and it is not an expectation from colleges that students participate in paid programming. With few exceptions, attending a campus-based program will not impact a student’s future application for admission at that specific college.
- Academic: For students who wish to expand their academic experiences with coursework that may not be available to them at their high school, taking advantage of the summer months can allow students to take courses at local community and four-year colleges as well as virtual courses from universities across the country. Students who may be interested in career-specific academic areas such as engineering, architecture, and business, among others may find great value in getting more experience in these areas if related courses are not offered at their high school. Students may also choose to take high school level courses if they wish and as their high school allows; some students use this time to get ahead for more challenging courses in the next year or to make space for additional courses they wish to take in high school. Taking college courses in particular shows a student’s initiative and interest in challenging themselves. Do be aware that any transcripts for these courses would become a part of a student’s academic record when they apply to college.
- Creative: Many students may complete one or more activities from the areas above for their own unique summer experience. Others think outside of the box entirely! We’ve seen students start their own businesses based on products they make, build websites that provide resources for a specific purpose, complete a scientific research project or other academic research – the sky’s the limit! Have a unique idea for their summer? Run it by your counselor to help flesh out the plan to make it successful.
The only wrong way to spend your summer is to waste it! While staying productive is important, be sure to balance your activities with some rest, relaxation, and fun as well!
Sonali Bridges is the founder and president of Bridges Educational Consulting