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How to Plan a Productive Summer Break

Summer will be here before you know it, and with time off of school, students should pursue activities and programs that align with their interests. A productive summer break can help students stand out in the admissions process – while also helping them to really explore their interests and gain a better understanding of what they want to do with their college education.

The key to a productive summer break is to plan ahead! While June may seem pretty far off in March, many summer programs are already filling up with early March and April deadlines. Students also need time to investigate different options and determine what summer activities seem most exciting and rewarding. Summer plans are not just about impressing admissions officers. These summer experiences can enrich students’ lives and give them opportunities they might not otherwise pursue during the school year. This is a time for students to learn more about who they are, what they like, the fields which interest them, and how all of this translates to their future college plans.

Step 1: Do Some Soul Searching
Before you start applying to dozens of summer programs on college campuses, take some time to really think about what you want out of your summer experience. Is it an immersive program with students interested in the same subjects? Or are you more independent and want to create your own adventure? Just like when building a balanced college list, it’s important to consider how good of a fit a summer program or activity is for you and if you think you’ll be challenged academically. Also think about what excites you! If sitting through more classes in the summer sounds really boring, then an internship or independent project may be the way to go. Or, if taking some extra courses gets you really excited, explore some summer programs at schools of interest that combine classroom learning with hands-on projects and collaboration with peers. There are endless possibilities, so take a minute to really reflect on what you want your summer to look like.

Step 2: Research, research, research!
Once you have an idea of the summer planning path you want to go down, do your homework! If a formal summer program interests you, take time to research all options open to high school students, including costs, financial aid if needed, program structure, timeline, deadlines, and more. Don’t just look at only the “name brand” schools for on-campus summer programs. See what other options may be available closer to you or at a school you haven’t considered before. The key here is to find a good-fit program – not just a program at a big-name school. If an internship with some hands-on experience sounds more appealing, research local companies or organizations in your fields of interest and see if they have internship programs or open positions for high school students. Don’t be afraid to reach out to places you’re really interested in to see what opportunities they have. If an independent project is more your style – like creating a new local hiking trail or creating your own business, research to gain inspiration from others and come up with a game plan.

Step 3: Prioritize Programs or Internships with Hard Deadlines
So you’ve done your research and you’ve found a few opportunities that are a good-fit for you and your goals. Now’s the time to apply! Since many deadlines can be as early as March or April for a June or July program, it’s important to prioritize those summer experiences with hard due dates. Start by applying to programs with the earliest deadlines, followed by those with later deadlines. Then, after all your apps are in, take some time to assess alternative options (see Step 5) should you not gain acceptance to the programs or internships to which you applied.

Step 4: Make Connections
Maybe you’re not applying to a summer program or internship with a hard deadline. Instead, you’re looking for a project or work experience that isn’t quite defined yet. This is when it’s important to make connections. Maybe your parents have some friends who work in a field that interests you who can point you in the right direction in order to find a summer job or internship. Or, if you’ve worked with a professor previously on a project and want to do your own independent research this summer, reach out see if they can help you secure lab space or mentorship. Fostering these relationships can help you find new opportunities that you may not have considered before.

Step 5: Explore Alternatives
Don’t be afraid to have a backup plan! Maybe the summer programs you applied to were highly selective and you didn’t get in. Or your internship at a local organization fell through. When planning your productive summer, have a plan B! This can be as simple as extending your current extracurriculars, like volunteering at a local youth organization teaching art classes or finding new ways to make an impact in your community through your interests. Maybe you can start a blog about your interest in fashion and design or create a YouTube channel that chronicles your journey to building a new robot for a competition in the fall. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Colleges just want to see that students are staying engaged in the summer and continuing to explore their interests in meaningful ways.

At the end of the day, a rewarding summer experience is the one that students enjoy while also learning something new. Students don’t have to participate in prestigious summer programs in order to stand out or deepen their knowledge on a subject, but it is important to keep all options open by planning well in advance.

At IvyWise we work with students to identify summer experiences that will not only help them learn more about their interests but also keep them sharp and engaged during the break as to avoid the “summer slump.” For more information on our college counseling services, including guidance on selecting and applying to summer programs or activities, contact us today.