Students (and parents) often ask me how they should spend their summers. Should I go to summer programs? Should I take SAT courses? Can I just play video games and watch TV? Uh, no, to the last one for sure.
Summers are important because it provides colleges a glimpse of how you spend your free time. It's also a great time to do things you didn't have time for during the school year. Here are five great options for the summer:
1. University Summer Programs
Yes, lots of students are going to them. No, you won't automatically get accepted to USC if you go to USC's summer program (or any other university's summer program for that matter). However, university summer programs are a great way to focus on a specific interest area (business, engineering, art, etc.). Since most high schools don't focus on career exploration, studying engineering at Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovation program or business at Georgetown's Fundamentals Summer Program may help you learn more about those careers.
Living on campus will also help you see if you really like the school and have what it takes to handle college life. I had a student whose dream was to go to NYU. But after a summer in New York City, he realized he hated city life and applied elsewhere. I also have many students come back from summer programs way more motivated because they got a better taste of the hard work needed to succeed. Whatever the reason, summer programs might be the way to go.
2. SAT or ACT Study
Yeah it's a little boring, but it's the best time to get it in. You can take an expensive training class or study on your own. Either way, you should do it before your junior year (when you need to be taking them). What's the best way to study? That's another post for another time. All I can say is every good test prep plan requires taking plenty of practice tests.
3. Volunteering (with ONE non profit)
That might seem boring too, but summer is the best opportunity to commit more time to ONE local non-profit or cause you're interested in. Focus more on deep than wide. When you commit more time, you'll develop stronger relationships with the leaders and the community the organization is serving. You'll learn more, have a richer experience and may even help with leading big events or new projects. Summer is a great time to invest more deeply in the organizations you're passionate about.
4. Independent Projects
Start a cooking class out of your house! Start a weekly fitness group with your friends! Make Youtube videos on how to dance! Do something, anything... but find something you're interested in, set a goal and then go for it. Don't be afraid. There's plenty of time to be scared when you're an adult (401k's, osteoporosis, etc.). Do something fun and challenging and set an awesome goal for the end of the summer. Yes, it demonstrates leadership, personality and all that stuff (blah, blah, blah) to colleges. But more importantly you'll have a great time and accomplish way more than you ever think you could.
You're thinking, "YUCK." But wait. Reading is the easiest way to build your English foundation for the SAT or ACT. The more you read, the easier it will be to fly through those reading comprehension passages. If you read good stuff, you'll pick up good vocabulary and you'll intuitively learn how to formulate good arguments. AND you might just fall in LOVE with reading (your English teacher's wildest dream!). Don't just read anything. Read good, classic literature. Read the New York Times. Read the New Yorker Magazine. Read about what's going on in the news right now and what's happening all over the world. Don't make it chore. Read on your smart phone when you're in the bathroom in the morning. Read on the way home from school. Read when you're waiting for mom to finish her manicure at the spa. It's OK to read what you like, but also read widely and deeply. Set a goal for reading 3 or 4 books over the summer and go for it. I promise you won't regret it. You'll do better on the SAT and you'll discover a world you may never have seen before.
I've got other suggestions including part-time jobs and internships. But that's another post for another time. Develop a plan and go for it. And make your summer both fun and productive. Questions? Comment below. Thanks!