Did you know that how your child chooses to spend his summer will impact college admissions?
Whoa there! Don’t go out searching for all the latest and greatest summer camps and conferences with which to pack your child’s schedule. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. However, it is critical that your high schooler make wise choices about how she spends those summer days.
Things to Avoid
1. Idle days – I remember how many of my teenaged friends spent their summers. They would sleep until noon, hang out at the pool until they were bored, and then run with the crowd until the wee hours of the morning. Today’s counterpart might include video games, Facebook or internet surfing for hours, or shopping at the mall all day. Whatever the means of wasting time, it has no place in the lives of teens who want to go to a good school.
2. Crazy days – By the same token, I have seen many a well-meaning family totally blow their child’s chances at a great college because they stay too busy. Between overloading on academic classes, participating in too many activities, attending back-to-back summer opportunities, and traveling constantly, these students never have time to process anything. Therefore they learn very little from the wealth of experience they were privileged to have. Neither do they have time to develop anything unique about their extracurricular profile.
If you are serious about helping your child develop in meaningful ways and staying competitive for college, you can’t afford either extreme during your summer.
Things to Do
1. Push the envelope with an important leadership activity– many people look at my children’s impressive leadership achievements and wonder how they were accomplished in a relaxed home. The secret? Most of the activities (or at least the planning and background work) were done in the summer when the academic load was lighter. My kids would work hard to get the specific project completed or have the speech perfected/poster made or all the background work done in the summer months. They were able to do this because they were at home, not traipsing all over the country going to every conceivable event. We had plenty of time for relaxed brainstorming and planning while enjoying each other and relishing life.
2. Learn an important skill – summer can the perfect time for honing special skills whether it is more time spent practicing a beloved instrument or perfecting their watercolor technique. Students can work in research labs learning to handle equipment or for a master craftsman learning how to throw pots.
3. Job shadowing– summer can be a great time to follow people around who do what your student is interested in. Whether it is an engineer, physical therapist, game ranger, college professor or pilot, the slower days of summer provide a great opportunity to learn about various vocations. Most kids really don’t have a clue about what adults do for a living (including their parents). They need to get a clue. Trust me!
4. Catch-up – while I really don’t think kids should do school 365 days a year, there are times when you have to catch up a bit over the summer. My son got in over his head on a huge leadership project one spring and elected to let the majority of his classwork wait until summer. This made his life much easier and allowed him to be successful at both endeavors. But, a student who makes this choice MUST be diligent to actually do the work in the summer.
My daughter suddenly discovered that she loved math and science as a sophomore. But she also realized that if she wanted to pursue that academic course, she was behind. She ramped up and got through several high school math and science classes one summer in order to take the AP classes she wanted in the fall.
Families with younger students may choose to spread the schoolwork out over 11 months and have a more relaxing day-to-day experience. When my kids were young, we rarely did more that 3-4 subjects at a time. We tended to do history in the winter when we could read aloud by the fireplace and science in the summer when we could go out exploring. We would do short bursts of things like grammar or specialized unit studies.
5. Test Prep – The summer after the sophomore year of high school should be spent prepping for standardized tests – PSAT (the gateway into National Merit), SAT or ACT. The slower pace of summer allows time for a number of full-length tests, smaller writing segments or math segments. Time spent here preparing for this academic hurdle can pay huge dividends down the road in college admissions and scholarships.
6. College Applications – The bulk of college applications need to be completed the summer after the junior year if the student is applying to competitive schools. Families are often shocked at how much work is involved. If you don’t start early, the senior year gets impossible.
Summers are precious breaks from the routine that we can utilize to help our child figure out a little more about himself. We can ramp up or wind down, but either choice must be a thoughtful one. College admissions officers are not looking for grinds, but for interesting people who have spent their time well. Summer is the perfect opportunity to help our students develop the “interestingness factor.”