Over the last week I enjoyed four conversations with four different college bound students about their summer plans:
- The first student, whom we’ll call “Charlie,” is a junior and avid soccer player who will play a portion of the summer with his traveling soccer league and will then take a two-week course on a college campus to learn more about engineering. He’ll also travel to Europe with his school’s soccer team to compete in tournaments.
- The second student, we’ll call her “Sara,” is a sophomore who studies three languages outside of school during the academic year. She will work at the Girl Scout camp she has attended since the seventh grade.
- “Jaimie,” our third student, hopes to attend a six-week summer study in architecture at a university with a renowned architecture program in order to determine if she would like to indicate architecture as a major on her college applications this fall.
- And finally, “Steven,” the fourth student, will shadow a veterinarian in the mornings and volunteer at a local shelter in the afternoons when he’s not traveling around the country with his family visiting colleges.
So which student is on the right track to planning a successful summer?
All of them!
When it comes to summer plans and the extra-curricular résumé, there is no single formula that is right for every student. My fellow College Coach college consultants and I recommend that students should look at the summer as a time to delve more deeply into interests or to try something they’ve never tried before. It’s all about making productive use of the time summer affords — in addition to needed rest and rejuvenation, particularly for students whose challenging course load and busy activity calendar during the school year can be stressful.
How a student chooses to spend his or her summer offers college admissions officers, who read hundreds of applications, insight into a student’s interests during the admissions process. Some students want to use the summer to brush up on something academic, whether it be enrichment in a subject already under study, or a subject that is new (like Charlie, with engineering, or Jamie, with architecture). Many students use the summer to pursue interests for which they simply do not have time during the hustle and bustle of the school year. That could be employment, volunteering, or even hobbies.
A young woman with whom I had worked years ago was a stellar student who took the toughest courses available to her, played three sports during the school year, and was a school leader. In her summer “down time” she followed her passion for photography and for writing, creating vivid photo journals of her travels. She was able to parlay some of this writing into one of the most impactful college essays I have ever read — the admissions committees at the highly selective schools to which she applied seemed to agree. Another student spent her summers working at a bakery making cupcakes and at a restaurant as a hostess. She used this work experience to great effect in her college applications by communicating the skill sets she had learned from these two jobs.
When it comes to planning for the summer, it is important to act early. Most summer programs have application deadlines in February or March, and the most competitive programs fill quickly. Often, there can be essays to write as part of the application for summer programs, and students should approach these with plenty of time to draft, revise and perhaps even revise again before submission.
However students approach their summer plans, they should do so with an eye to following their passions. When students are asked by a college admissions officer to talk about what they did for the last couple of summers, it is better when a student can show some genuine enthusiasm for those activities, whatever they may be. The student who shows passion for what he pursues is always going to seem more compelling an applicant than the one who only does something for the sake of doing something.