By Tiffany, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
As the warmer months approach, I find myself discussing summer plans with students on a daily basis. The summer season can be an impactful period in the college admissions process, and it is important to start planning for the longer break now.
In fact, universities like Stanford prompt students to answer, “How did you spend your last two summers?” in their supplemental essays in their application process. In my time at MIT’s admissions office, I’d often read responses referencing the summer as a moment to enjoy something simply for the pleasure of it or to express intellectual curiosity. The summer can be a blank canvas, allowing students to paint a picture of whatever piques their interest.
If you have started to read this article hoping to discover the specific formula needed to plan your “perfect” summer, you will not find one concise answer. The summer can be spent working at the local grocery store, researching alongside a professor, volunteering at a pet shelter, reinforcing your skills in an area of academic challenge, starting a blog, training for a sports season, learning a new hobby, or powering through endless books simply for the pleasure of it!
In many of the conversations I have with students, they are at a loss as to where to begin. While my specific responses are tailored to the unique interests and goals of each student, there are some common themes and advice applicable to almost every situation.
Review Your Interests
The spring semester presents a wonderful opportunity to take an inventory of your academic experiences thus far, especially the positive ones. While underclassmen with fewer experiences may have a tough time determining interests or passions, there are simple questions to help identify them.
For example, start with a list of your classes and review them one by one. Were there units or topics you particularly enjoyed? Were there any topics or concepts you found surprising, challenging, or unsettling? Were there questions left unanswered that you would like to explore? Were there any experiences you would like to repeat or build on? Answering these questions should help create overall themes or ideas to pursue this summer.
Consult Your Trusted Resources
Now that you have a couple of ideas in mind, it is time to consult trusted resources for leads on specific programs, suggestions, or opportunities. If you have established a relationship with your school counselor, consider connecting with them soon to get their advice. As a counselor, my email inbox is full of summer opportunities for my students. Similarly, your school counselor will likely have several suggestions to help you narrow your search. Community leaders, school administrators, teachers, club sponsors, religious leaders, coaches, or mentors could also help you uncover relevant summer opportunities, especially if your interests fall in their areas of expertise. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
Additionally, many college websites are excellent sources for summer suggestions. For example, universities such as MIT, Stanford, and Tulane offer general advice ranging from how to prepare for their specific applications to specific advice and links to summer programs for high school students.
Lastly, don’t forget to consider yourself to be a trusted source as well! If there are books, blogs, hobbies, inventions, etc., that you have stumbled upon naturally, it could be valuable to plan to explore them further this summer.
Start Your Summer Prep Now
Now that you have identified the “what” (your theme or general idea) and the “how” (specific opportunities or programs), it is also important to pay attention to the “when” in order to successfully plan your summer. The steps noted above may take some time to achieve, so starting sooner will allow you to keep more opportunities open.
I wish summer opportunities had a definitive planning period, but unfortunately, it can span the entire spring semester. Some of the most selective research opportunities for high school students have already closed their applications, while other programs have yet to even list their summer courses! Local opportunities may become more readily available as the year progresses, with a flurry of activity in April and May. Regardless, having an idea of the experiences you would like your summer to include can help you prepare for when these opportunities open up.
Great summer experiences often begin with spring exploration and preparation. Taking some time this spring semester can help you discover impactful ways to paint your summer. If you are a college-bound student who is unsure how to identify best-fit summer activities, our team of admissions experts can pinpoint options that align with your goals.