No, it’s not really summertime yet, but it is time to start making plans for summer. Why? Because how you — and here I am targeting high schoolers, but in particular rising seniors — spend your time over the summer provides meaningful information to colleges about your skills, interests and level of commitment.
And, deadlines for applying to certain summer programs are approaching or, unfortunately, have passed. Also, don’t forget that you soon-to-be seniors most likely will be writing essays with some variation on the theme of “what you learned from your summer experience.”
Does this mean you need to solve world hunger or pad your résumé with some buzzworthy (and probably exorbitant) prestigious summer program? Not necessarily. However, it is wise to be strategic. The goal is to find something you genuinely like to do, do it well and learn something from it that will interest colleges.
In this column, I will provide some broad ideas and particular recommendations for what’s right for you this summer. In a nutshell, there are four standard options for a typical high schooler’s summer: travel, work, volunteer and enrichment programs.
The low fare option
Before I explain more about these options, I want to emphasize that there are low-cost alternatives for how to have a valuable summer. I call this the “two meaningful things” rule — basically, each student needs to do some soul-searching and set a goal of accomplishing two meaningful things over the summer.
Examples abound. Read all of “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. Memorize all the capitals of the world. Research your family tree. Start a blog. Teach yourself calligraphy. Whatever the two “meaningful” things are, keep a journal about it and record what you learn. Cheap, simple, effective … and, hopefully, fun.
The standard fare option
If you are fortunate enough to have more resources at your disposal, here are the standard summer options.
* Travel: Expand your frame of reference and learn about different cultures and their perspectives; perfect fodder for a college essay, not to mention a valuable personal growth opportunity.
Either make the most of an already-planned family trip or try striking out on your own. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this — become an exchange student and live with a host family through American Field Service (www.afs.org/usa) or Youth for Understanding (www.yfu-usa.org). Participate in a language immersion program such as EF International Language Centers (www.ef.com) or Global Routes (www.globalroutes.org). Plan a road trip and visit national parks and historical landmarks.
* Work: College admissions officers like to see that students are responsible, take initiative and work well with others. Having a steady job and getting promoted is a way to show you have these skills. It is not bad for the wallet either. While it is sometimes challenging for high school students to find employment, keep in mind that this type of work experience does not have to be highly professional to be worthwhile. Jobs such as bagging groceries, baby-sitting and coaching are viewed favorably.
If possible, it’s best to show commitment over time — depth rather than breadth. Consider applying for jobs through the city (http://administrative-services.cityofdavis.org/part-time-employment-opportunities), look on websites (www.summerjobs.com, www.snagajob.com) and network.
* Volunteer: There are many kinds of volunteering opportunities to consider when thinking about summer. Community service, unpaid internships, tutoring, and getting involved in a cause are all examples of ways to demonstrate dependability and learn valuable skills.
There are “psychic rewards” as well, such as personal satisfaction, being part of something bigger than yourself, connecting to your community. Check out the YMCA, local religious organizations, FamiliesFirst or a charity of your choice.
* Enrichment programs: What is an enrichment program? It is a fancier way to say education opportunities, i.e., schooling. There are multiple avenues to finding the right enrichment summer program for you.
Start by figuring out what you would like as a focus — math, science, engineering, music? Then consider what type of arrangement you would like … daily, weekly, for months at a time. Options range from a chance to live in dorms and go to classes on a college campus, to commuting to classes on campus, to online opportunities.
Costs vary depending on the level of service and can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Most colleges — such as the UCs, the Ivy League and art/music schools — have their own summer programs for high school students. Check websites of campuses you’re interested in for more information. This is a great opportunity to “try on” the school. But keep in mind, participation in these programs does not mean automatic acceptance to the college come fall.
Tend to business
Along with your summer activities, be sure to keep the ball rolling with college admissions. Summer is the time to work on drafts of application essays, put together an academic résumé and visit colleges in preparation for the busy application season come fall. In the midst of all of this, many students also are busy with sports camps and team tournaments.
Until next time, remember that as Henry David Thoreau said, “One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her husband and two daughters. Reach her at email@example.com, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.
Attend a free workshop
What happened to those lazy days of summer, you wonder?! Well, there is no easy answer except to be prepared and keep a balance as much as possible.
Along these lines, I will be leading a free workshop titled “What Should I Do This Summer to Get Ready for College?” if you want to get a jump-start.
When: Saturday, June 1
Time: 2 to 4 p.m.
Where: Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis