The weather is getting warmer which means that summer is just a few months away. As a counselor, I’m a huge advocate of using summer as a time to relax and recharge, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for students to get work experience, pursue their interests, explore hobbies and talents, expand their knowledge, and enhance their chances to get into a top university.
Continue reading for ideas on how students can make the most of their summer and select the best option.
1. Go to University
Many higher education institutions offer pre-college summer programs. These are short-term on-campus programs which can last from one to eight weeks. They provide students with firsthand experience taking university classes, living in campus dormitories, and eating in dining halls. Some are open enrollment—meaning anyone can sign up—and others have a more competitive admissions process. Many offer a wide array of courses from various disciplines, are taught by university professors, and sometimes offer the opportunity to earn credit. It’s also a great way to test out a potential college major or career. Depending on the institution and location, it may be very costly to attend. Additionally, it’s important to note that participating in a pre-college program does not guarantee admission to that university (if applied during Grade12). It is a fantastic way to discover university life and provides an enriching learning experience.
2. Take an online course
If trekking around the world isn’t an option, students can fulfill their academic curiosity in the comfort of their own homes. Online courses are convenient, students can choose from a broad range of courses, and some are even free. EdX founded by Harvard & MIT in 2012, offers high quality courses from the world’s best universities for learners everywhere (partnered with over 120 institutions). EdX and Coursera offer free university courses that are taped or streamed from universities. With tons of subjects from robotics to American poetry, students get to participate in real-time or watch past lectures from professors at places like Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, etc.
3. Enter scholarship contests or competitions
This is a great way for students to push themselves and a way to earn money for college. However, please be aware of scholarship scams. You should never have to pay a processing fee to win money.
There are many research programs for students, from intensive and very competitive to less intensive and more focused on learning. These programs will usually pair students with a mentor who will usually define the research project. Once a student has figured out their areas of interest, they may also choose to find and reach out to a professor about potential opportunities, or seek a mentor for their own independent research. Summer research can have a valuable impact, immediate and future, personal and professional. Still, the task may not be easy. If it is truly a passion it will be prevalent on a student’s college applications, and thus commended by university admission representatives.
5. Get a job or internship
Both respectable ways to spend summer. There are even paid internships if students look hard enough or start early. Universities are impressed when students have jobs, whether they are working for the family business or just for fun. A student’s work history demonstrates their initiative and responsibility. An internship is a structured opportunity to work (usually unpaid) at a company, lab, or non-profit organization for a set amount of time. These can be very competitive for high school students, but opportunities are out there!
6. Job shadow
Job shadowing involves observing or doing small tasks in a professional setting to get an idea of what is involved in a particular field. It’s a great way for students to gain informal on-the-job training and career development. When seeking opportunities, it’s typically easier for students to start with people they know- relatives or close family friends. For instance, if a student’s parent has a close friend that works at an electrical engineering company. They may ask if they can help with filing or sit in a planning meeting or two. This will allow to them to gain a better understanding of the industry while experiencing the professional atmosphere.
7. Community service
This is when a student works (unpaid) to help the general public or their community. Usually, students who choose to do community service do so as volunteers, meaning that they choose to help because they want to do so. Community service can have numerous positive effects on students, such as helping them to develop soft skills, making contacts, and allowing them to improve the quality of life of others. There are many ways that students can volunteer, such as joining a non-profit organization, working with a church group, or they can choose a cause and create their own service project. This act of committing to help others over a long period provides personal development and fulfillment. Universities seek students who display a strong likelihood to contribute to their campus life, and community service is a great way for students to show this positive attribute.
8. Test prep
For rising Grade 11 and Grade 12 students, summer is a great time to explore SAT vs. ACT, self-study, and ramp up their study schedule. Pick up a test prep book, take an online prep course (Khan Academy–FREE), or find a test prep tutor to help them manage their time. Test prep keeps their brain active and engaged. It is important to note, that students spending their summer solely preparing for college admission tests is not impactful in terms of strengthening their university application, but interspersing some test prep in between their regular summer activities can be useful in students attaining their goal score.
9. Start a business
Students can create a business (independently or with friends) that offers a service in their community. I’ve heard of students starting babysitter’s clubs, walking dogs for the neighborhood, teaching music lessons, tutoring or even teaching elderly how to use technology. For larger scale ideas, there are companies/organizations that help students create start-ups from scratch. For example, a program at MIT called launchX allows students to create start-ups over the summer. Entrepreneurship is respected, dynamic, and demonstrates a “go-getter” attitude which universities appreciate and value. If this is something that interest students, they should find a mentor or begin to Google away. They may even be able to create the next award-winning application – the sky is the limit.
10. Write essays/personal statements
Grade 11 students are encouraged to get a head start on university essays. Many prompts become available late spring/early summer. Students can devote this time to develop their ideas, learn more about specific university programs/professors to incorporate in their essays, and begin drafting a great personal statement/essay to enhance their chances of admission. Besides grades and test scores, the essay is the most important soft factor considered by universities. The essay or personal statement can give admissions officers additional insight into who a student is as a person, what motivates him or her, and, more practically, how that student communicates and follows directions. If used properly, it can definitely have a positive impact on a student’s application. Not only will students be ahead in the college application process, but they will be thankful in the fall (Grade 12).
11. Travel abroad
Travel is a powerful experience that broadens minds, extends boundaries, and teaches awareness and understanding of cultural differences. It’s education at its best. There are several structured programs that allow students to travel internationally. Some offer scholarships. A popular one amongst students is Oxbridge Academic Programs. This program offers a wide range of destinations (UK, Europe, USA), and integrates experiential learning and social excursions into the daily instruction.
12. University visits
A campus visit is a valuable opportunity for students to get a firsthand view of a university. It allows students to ask questions, tour the facilities, meet other prospective and current students, sit in on a class, and understand the university on a deeper level. Visits will provide students with a more complete picture. As a result, this will help students refine their university list and decide whether a school is the right fit. Visiting universities may not be possible for everyone, so there are also alternatives such as virtual tours.
Of course there are many other ways for students to spend their summer wisely beyond the activities listed above. Additionally, it is not recommended that students attempt all 12 items simultaneously. Students are encouraged to use their imagination, spend time being productive, and start early preparing for their future.
List of Summer Resources
By Dr. Shanell Leggins – University Counselor at KIS International School, Bangkok, Thailand