Getting the Most from Your High School Summers

It may be difficult for high school students to recognize while studying for standardized tests and cramming to manage course loads, but summer is coming. Before you start making mental plans for your Netflix queue, however, take a moment to plan. What you decide to do with two months of free time says a great deal about what you value most.

Colleges do pay attention to how students spend summers. Elite schools often ask directly about summer activities in application essays or interviews. Unlike the academic year, when you usually have little say about how your time is spent, the summer months allow you to pursue the interests you select. In college, students will rarely be in class for more than 10-15 hours per week, so it matters how you work and what you do without a required structure.

What you do specifically doesn’t necessarily matter, so long as you choose to do something. A few extra video games and trips to the beach are a fine reward for another school year done, but balance is key. If you’re fortunate enough to have the flexibility, summer is a chance to go deeper on a passion. That could mean helping in a hospital, producing a play with friends, or building an app from scratch. A student who takes the initiative during a high school summer is likely to show the same initiative as an adult.

Don’t get too fixated on programs held by elite colleges. Colleges want to see summers used wisely, but attending an expensive program does not really impress them. Such programs are not original and don’t automatically show the achievement colleges wish to see. If your passions are best filled attending a summer program, great. If you find something else that will develop you more, even better.

Many families do spend some time during the summer touring colleges. It’s not imperative that you visit a school before applying – many students prefer to wait until after receiving admissions offers – but if you do, be intelligent. Research the school before going, keep your eyes open, and explore the campus and the surrounding area. Also, be aware that the school is on summer break just like you are, so you aren’t getting a real glimpse of what student life is like during the main academic year.

Instead of loading up on school visits, consider using the summer before your senior year to get a head start on your main college essay. While the full application isn’t posted until around August 1st, the Common Application prompts for 2017-2018 have already been released (and, to be fair, if you know what you’re doing you don’t even need to read the prompt!). The fall of senior year will be busy enough. Students who head back to school with their personal statement set report much less stress during the peak application season.

Lastly, by all means, take a vacation! Rest, relaxation, and recuperation matter for all of us, and it really is true that families find it harder to spend time together once teenagers are grown. Choosing to go somewhere interesting demonstrates curiosity about the world just as much as joining a large research project.

Remember, what you choose to do with your summer communicates your true passions. Do what interests you, do it deeper than you could during the school year, but do do it. If you can fill your time with activities that matter to you, you won’t just impress some future admissions officer. You’ll be learning a skill that will keep you fulfilled in college and beyond. The choice is yours to make.