If you are like a good one third of the United States, you’re coming out of a month-long string of unbearably cold and snowy days. These bone chilling temperatures already have me looking forward to summer! Perhaps you have also been dreaming about summer break. While most high school students will find themselves lounging poolside and sleeping in until all hours of the…afternoon…summer break also presents a unique opportunity for deeper engagement with the passions commonly set aside during the chaos of the school year.
Caution! A common misconception in college admissions is that every student has to be well-rounded. Not so! Therefore, do not spend your summer break engaging in activities that simply “look good to colleges.” No no no! What “looks good” are demonstrations of commitment and passion to a few areas that define YOU! And, chances are you’ll be happier doing something you love over something you perceive to be an obligation.
Check out these tips for how to make the most out of summer’s precious mental space and free time!
1. Consider your passions
Consider the activities which bring you deepest joy and satisfaction. Is it sketching clothing designs? Following sports statistics? Building with Legos? Teaching yourself code? Helping others? Traveling? No matter the passion, name yours and know it.
2. Explore passions and/or prospective majors through pre-college programs
Nearly all colleges and universities offer some type of summer programming for high school students. Programs vary in length, cost, topic, and residency options (e.g., attendees live on campus). You don’t have to go for the whole summer! Rather, simply a week of in-depth focus in an area of interest can open up possibilities for future study and deeper learning. Explore options through the college websites directly or talk to your counselor about options.
3. Job shadow
Summer is an ideal time to spend a work day (or more) shadowing someone who already does what you think you want to do. I cannot think of a better opportunity to see first-hand the pros and cons of any particular field. You may even be introduced to professionals in related fields of which you’ve never heard! A few years ago, one of my students was convinced she wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon. Through her time shadowing the surgeon, she was introduced to a radiologist. Guess what she is in school for now? Yep!
Does helping others make you burn more brightly? Do it. Better yet, combine your volunteering with an organization or other topic of interest to you. For example, one of my students loves politics. She spends her summers volunteering for local political campaigns. Another student knits blankets and cute stuffed animals for the Children’s Hospital. She loves knitting, runs her own Etsy shop and always donates extra inventory to the children. Get creative with how you devote your time.
5. Create your own adventure
Camps? Travel? Or a personal goal to read the entirety of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey? Opportunities are everywhere! One cool idea - two of my former students contacted Zoology doctoral students at an Ohio college offering themselves as free research assistants for the summer. They could never have predicted that they would spend twenty hours a week observing gorilla behavior! Have an interest in politics? Journalism? Sports? There are businesses and places everywhere eager for free help. From it you gain insight into a particular sector or area of study, you make network connections (future internships or jobs anyone!?), and…you walk away with something that “looks good to colleges” but actually feels better.
6. Get a job
Have a little more time on your hands? A job can be a great way to grow your independence, personal money management, self-responsibility, and work ethic. Again, an even better solution is when your job relates to a hobby, passion, or future area of study. One student spent three summers working at a golf course. While he greatly appreciated the free golf, he also learned a lot about course maintenance, business, and event planning. Now he is a business major with a focus on sports management.
7. Don’t wait to pursue opportunities
While some options may not have deadlines. Many pre-college programs, summer experiences, and even part-time jobs have applications available now and close mid-late spring. Start thinking now about how you would like to design your summer and act on those ideas!
Don’t just sit back and let your summer happen to you. Happen to your summer!