Take a deep breath. Ahhhh. Can’t you just feel that summer air approaching? Smelling the ocean breezes and mountain wildflowers. Watching little kids jump through front yard sprinklers. Sipping sweet cold drinks as we build elaborate sandcastles. Taking late-night walks to see brilliant sunsets. Hearing the crack of a bat hitting a baseball.
No more homework. No early morning alarm clocks. No essay stress. No dinner table interrogations about college. No college forms to fill out….
Wait. What? A college admissions consultant talking about enjoying the sights and sounds of summer and leaving behind the college admissions drama?
YES. That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s important to take some time in the summer and recharge your batteries. Allow yourselves time to unwind and relax. College admissions can wait just a little while. Unbelievable, right?
Bring back summer
Check out what William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Harvard Admissions, has to say about summer: “Bring summer back. Summer need not be totally consumed by highly structured programs, such as summer schools, travel programs, or athletic camps. While such activities can be wonderful in many ways, they can also add to stress by assembling “super peers” who set nearly impossible standards. Activities in which one can develop at one’s own pace can be much more pleasant and helpful. An old-fashioned summer job that provides a contrast to the school year or allows students to meet others of differing backgrounds, ages, and life experiences is often invaluable in providing psychological downtime and a window on future possibilities. Students need ample free time to reflect, to recreate (i.e. to “re-create” themselves without the driving pressure to achieve as an influence), and to gather strength for the school year ahead.”
Believe me. I know you might feel overwhelmed by everything you think you need to do for college admissions and feel like you need to get started ASAP, but I ask you to recognize that summers can be an important time for personal growth; they are a time when the sixteen-to-eighteen-year-old brain is developing and growing into the future college student brain. And part of that process is to let go of some of the college admissions drama, so you can relax and then begin that transformation.
So, what to do? What to do? Summers are important, but there’s no magical formula for what you need to do to get into any college — even the most highly selective ones. When it comes to your summer, please, please, please do something outside of school. Summer school is fine, sure, especially if you need it to graduate with all your credits, but try also to find something non-school related to do that gets you out of the house. Even if it’s just going to the gym, or, taking long walks and listening to your favorite music.
If you still feel like you need to do more with your extracurriculars, this summer is your opportunity. There are things you can do right now to get started. Explore the wonderful world around you. It’s never too late to start something new in your life.
You have time
Don’t panic if your summer isn’t yet planned. If you’ve already got a summer internship or program abroad, that’s fabulous, but if you’re just now getting into the summer groove, you still have plenty of time to find something productive and engaging to do.
Advice for Rising Senior Summer
I encourage all my rising seniors to get a paying job and pursue a personal project — something they’ve always had an interest in, but might not have had time to spend on it because of the many other obligations of school and extracurriculars.
Here are a few more suggestions for the best approaches to college admissions prep during the summer:
- Take time off: Take some time — at least a week or two, if not more — to be completely switched off from school and all school-like activities (this includes form filling and essay writing…).
- Read and Write: During this summer, make sure that you spend lots of time reading (real books), writing (just for fun), and being outside. Read real books about something you wish you had time to reach during the school year. Write, write, and write some more. The more comfortable you become with your voice, the stronger your essays will be. So keep a journal, write your gratitudes, take a question a day from this list and write a few sentences about your thoughts.
- Get Outside: Spend time outside whether you’re exercising or just absorbing some Vitamin D. Get your microdoses of sun and nature.
- Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health: exercise, practice yoga, dance, running, or long walks. Learn more about meditation and mindfulness — or just spend a few minutes — or more — sitting in stillness and allowing your brain to resettle after this stressful year.
- Independent Projects: This is your chance to take on that independent project — something you’ve always cared about and wanted to explore or learn more about or help out with. Teach yourself how to do something from a video and books. Learn to do something like basic car maintenance or gardening or roller skating. You could tackle a big fitness goal or walk a certain number of miles every day. You could learn a martial art. You could learn how to play an instrument or write music. You could create a blog or conduct personal research on a topic that appeals to you. You could start volunteering at a local assisted living facility or homeless shelter. Pick up that one activity you quit because you didn’t think you had time for it even though you loved it.
- Research and Internships: You can help with research in a lab (you get those positions by emailing any and every professor you know or you could get an internship (you get those the same way as research). U/Atvelonis described how he found his summer research position and I feel like it’s pretty similar for most students: “I went to my local university’s faculty page for the College of Engineering, Department of CS. I found a ton of professors and looked at the ones whose work I found really interesting and emailed them about possibly assisting them in the summer. I emailed at least 20 professors, and only one replied, and they interviewed me and had me in their lab over that summer. It’s also noteworthy that you shouldn’t seek this type of opportunity out if you don’t enjoy it. I would have hated my summer if I didn’t feel fulfilled in what I did every day there.”
- Campus Programs: Or you can do a program somewhere on a campus or around the world. But don’t feel like you need to pay for an experience to make it worthwhile.
- Get a job: As I said, I encourage my students to pursue personal projects and get a paid summer job. You can actually stand out from the applicant crowd these days by making a smoothie, flipping a burger, or scooping ice cream. These kinds of jobs allow you to learn about taking care of others and listening to what the customer wants, learn about organizing your thoughts and activities, learn to work with others and gain experiences you might never have the chance to gain again. So, blow whistles at kids running around a pool. Teach swim lessons. Learn to make delicious smoothies or to work a cash register. Deliver pizza. Fold sweaters and t-shirts in a shop. Wait tables. Herd little kids through activities at a summer day camp. Wrap burritos. You’ll have some experiences you might never have the chance to have again. You could also start a social media business if you’re into social media and help businesses with their social promotions over the summer or you could share your organization skills with a small business. Plus, you’ll make some money, which is always nice.
- Community Involvement: Look around your community and see what needs to be done? How can you help your neighbors? Where do you see a need? You could help the elderly, those who are unhoused, offer free tutoring, or work at a food bank. I have lots of suggestions for ways to help out in the community in this post about extracurricular activities. You can start there for some ideas.
- Try some of these kinds of programs: Northwest Youth Corps. Also, if you’re a writer, there are tons of amazing writing programs to look into: Sewanee, Kenyon, UVA Young Writers Workshop, Susquehanna, Columbia, New York Times. College MatchPoint has an extensive list of ideas, courses, suggestions, and activities that can work virtually this summer.
College Application Planning
When you’re ready after taking a little break, spend a little time thinking about and planning for college admissions. Think of this as your time for College Applications Readiness. Maybe take a college trip if there are colleges near you that allow visitors. Do some virtual tours and info sessions. Research colleges on www.niche.com and my website, www.collegevizzy.com and come up with a preliminary college list. Spend a few hours reading through the common app. Start filling out those basic forms — everything rolls over besides the college specific stuff — don’t do that until after August. Brainstorm some ideas for those college essays. Float the idea of writing a personal statement. Or two. I have a long list of questions you can ask yourself to get started included in that post (also above).