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Juniors: How to Make the Most of Your Summer

By Rachel, IvyWise Principal College Counselor

The end of the school year is just around the corner – seniors have made their final college choice, AP exams are impending, and for you high school juniors, it’s time to start thinking about how to get the most out of your summer.

First, let me say, congratulations on having almost completed what is arguably the toughest year in high school! Hopefully you’ve been focusing on academics, as your junior year grades are particularly important in the college admissions process. You likely have hit your stride in your extracurriculars, identifying what’s important to you, how you want to pursue it, and maybe a leadership opportunity or two. Of course there is always room, and even some time, for new interests to develop before you start applying to colleges this fall. Whether it’s breadth or depth you’re going for this summer, it’s time to start planning for an enriching experience!

Do something you’ll enjoy.
This is your summer vacation, after all! If at all possible, plan to catch up on sleep and spend some valuable time with friends and family. To remain competitive in the college application process, you’ll also want to line up some activities and things that will not only help you stand out and also reflect who you are.

Academics. It is important to stay sharp academically, even though you’re not in school. However, this is a time you should pursue something you think you’ll enjoy. Have fun with it! College courses often go beyond the general “English” or “Language Arts” and focus on specific, interesting things like “Genius and Madness in Literature,” a six-week summer course offered at Cornell. Many colleges and universities offer summer programs for high school students – it’s a great chance to get a taste of everything from dorm life to large lectures. If travel is not an option for you, take an online course. MIT OpenCourseWare offers free virtual classes on things like Game Theory. Pursuing these opportunities to learn more and doing well in a college-level academic setting are two things that colleges like to see from applicants.

Activities. This can be anything. Anything! Like a summer job at the movie theater, volunteering at a day camp, starting a community garden, or a photography class at a local studio. Whatever it is, consider picking something that keeps with your interests during the academic year, and possibly even a career. Colleges like to see long-term commitments from students and look for continuity in your activities. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t go out on a limb and try something new, which brings me to my next point:

Do something out of your comfort zone.
For a lot of students, travel and/or volunteering abroad can be a great way to step out of your comfort zone and enhance or challenge your worldview. If you are traveling with your family this summer, consider taking a few days during your trip to volunteer. You can do so at an orphanage or school; any place that could use an extra set of hands. Observe the people and customs around you and really absorb the things that stand out. Do your best to connect with the people and your purpose there.

If you have a good experience, you should continue your commitment to the work you do by raising money for the cause you’ve worked towards once you return home. The more you do, the better! Should you choose to write your personal statement about your experience, be sure to offer plenty of reflection. Speaking of the personal statement:

Get a head start on your applications.
Don’t procrastinate! Start on your application as soon as you can. While it is certainly possible that individual colleges/universities or the Common Application might update their applications and essay prompts, you can still work on basic ideas early in the summer.

Starting early will allow you to get plenty of feedback on your writing from friends and family. You can also start getting your list of extracurriculars and accomplishments together – describing what you do in only a few words can be truly challenging!

When I was reading applications, it was always disappointing when students couldn’t portray their activities and interests in a compelling, accurate way. It takes a lot of thought and a fair amount of time to relay all that you’ve done in a somewhat rigid format. Don’t forget that things outside of school have a place here too – if you maintain a heavily trafficked personal blog, for example, don’t forget to include it even though it’s not an official club.

Prepare as best you can for a challenging fall semester.
The only thing that might compete with the intensity of junior year is the fall of your senior year. Not only should you be taking challenging courses, but you’ll also be working on your college applications. Clubs will demand your time and your teachers will expect a lot from you. Anything you can do to set yourself up for success here will be crucial. The last thing you want to report is a dip in grades. Just remember, your load will get lighter once you submit those applications. Then it will just be time to wait!

Good luck, juniors! Have a great summer!

Click here to learn more about Rachel and watch her introductory video!

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