By Rachel, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
It’s always been important to make sure your activities align with your interests, and exploring virtual activity options is no different. Colleges don’t want to see you go through the motions – they want you to engage with opportunities you genuinely care about. This is an important thing to consider as you decide how you want to spend your upcoming summer. You may be thinking to yourself, “Planning for my summer?! But it’s only January!” Now is actually the right time to start making a plan and putting it into action so you can track any relevant deadlines and make sure you feel good about how you’ll spend your summer months.
The pandemic has changed a lot of things for people everywhere. We know it’s changed the college admissions landscape in many ways as well. Admissions offices have updated testing requirements and adjusted how they will evaluate students’ extracurricular activities. They have shifted their expectations for what students can and will be able to accomplish outside of the classroom during times of social distancing. So while admissions offices recognize things will look different, it’s safe to say that, generally, schools are still expecting to see students find ways to get involved with their communities in some meaningful ways especially now that organizations are adapting to make opportunities safe and available to students.
In my opinion, there are two great options for a productive and virtual (or socially-distant) summer: research and/or social engagement. These types of summer activities give students a chance to go deep into one area of interest. While these may not have been an option for many students in 2020, I think there will be ways to explore research and volunteer opportunities in 2021.
While it may seem daunting to get involved with research as a high school student, it might be more accessible than you think. Research opportunities can be available in a variety of different fields, but can be especially accessible to students interested in STEM. If you’re interested in pursuing research opportunities for this summer, here’s how to do it:
- Identify departments of interest at your local university or college and read the bios of the faculty. One potential perk of virtual opportunities is that, depending on the field and the project, you may not be limited to schools in your area. You could apply this same approach to schools everywhere which would really allow you to cast a wide net. You can also get help identifying and facilitating research opportunities though IvyWise partner Lumiere Education, which places students with researchers from top universities.
- Create a list of faculty members, preferably in a few departments, who have interests related to yours. Try to be open minded. The more people you have on this list, the better.
- Reach out via email starting now (January). Explain who you are and your interests. Inquire if there are any ways you can support their current work virtually or, if possible, safely in person if the school is nearby, this coming summer. I’m thinking about things like database organization, categorizing results, etc. It may not be the most glamorous work but it’s important to research and could be a great experience for you!
- The more inquiries you send, the more results you may have. Expect that you won’t hear back from everyone. I have seen this work before and can lead to awesome opportunities so definitely give it a try.
You can also get help ident
Volunteering and Social Engagement
We often think about volunteering or community service as showing up and getting things done at a local non-profit. This is certainly one way to support organizations and causes important to us but it’s not the only way. Volunteering can be anything from tutoring and mentoring younger students to supporting an organizations fundraising or marketing efforts. Especially in light of the recent pandemic and limited resources, many local non-profits might welcome some additional help this summer. If this is something you’re interested in doing this summer, here’s how to get started:
- If you have a local non-profit you’d like to support, start with a phone call. Explain that you are a high school student and are interested in a summer-long volunteer opportunity including remote work. See what happens!
- Spend some time searching online resources like Volunteermatch.org. This is a good starting point if you don’t have any ideas of where to look, or your local non-profit doesn’t have any ways you can help at the moment. You can explore numerous opportunities to virtually support causes like human rights, education, and arts and culture. Many virtual volunteer opportunities are flexible and will work with your schedule, which is a plus.
- Look for opportunities that will provide some depth and opportunities for leadership. If you can’t find anything long term, consider creating your own opportunities for leadership and to give back. For example, if there’s a one-off project you want to do like collecting non-perishable food items for the local food bank, reach out to some of your friends to get them involved, too. Organize a time to get together over Zoom and work on a plan to fundraise and purchase, collect, and deliver the donated items. This not only provides more support to an organization, it also shows colleges your commitment and potential for leadership.
College-Based Summer Programs
Of course, a third option for students this summer could be a program on a college campus, but it needs to be a good-fit for your interests. If you’d like to do a college-based program, make sure it aligns with your class year and is more specific and hands-on. Keep in mind that admission to these programs can be very competitive, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be in-person. Many programs last year pivoted to an online model or were canceled altogether. When applying to summer programs this spring, have a back up plan should you be unable to attend.
One thing that’s become apparent during this pandemic is that we have to be ready to change and adapt. Your college preparation journey, and the ways you explore your intellectual and academic interests, is no exception. I hope you can build your summer around an activity meaningful to you. Once you know what your options are, you can feel confident you’re taking the right steps and make sure you have time for fun and relaxation, too. At IvyWise, we work with students in every grade level to identify and hone their interests, including identifying meaningful summer activities that they’ll enjoy and add to their applicant profile. Contact us today to learn more about our college counseling programs and how our team of expert counselors can help you plan a productive summer.