How should an applicant use the summer?
Parents usually look at summer in one of two ways. Either they want their high school student to get a well-deserved break after all the pressures of the year, or they worry that there is a particular program or internship that the parent of a college-bound student should be attending to. In reality, there are a variety of valuable ways a prospective college applicant can use the summer months. Alas, simply relaxing (or traveling with one's parents) is not one of them.
Competitive Summer Programs
A rigorous and selective program summer program gets the attention of the college admissions office, particularly if the student is deepening a skill the student has already focused on in other ways, such as a school newspaper editor going to a journalism program. Here is a list of some of these programs:
The reality of non-selective pre-college summer programs
There are a wealth of pre-college programs out there that aren’t particularly competitive. Yale, Brown, Stanford, Andover, Exeter – you name it, they’ve got some type of summer program. They list offerings in many academic disciplines, and most understand it’s the summer and offer a lighter, more playful experience where possible. Many people you ask, or sites you consult, will advise that attending these expensive but not very selective programs will not help an applicant get into a prestigious college or university. While it’s true that the mere appearance of this summer activity on the resume will not do much for the applicant, there are other factors to consider.
First, if the student is building depth in a particular area of focus, such as anthropology or law, sacrificing a summer to take classes in that area will demonstrate commitment and intellectual curiosity to the admissions committee, and prepare the applicant to be more poised and conversant on the subject for essays and interviews. Second, a student attending a month-long program (or longer), interacting with students from all over the country and even the world, in a class full of high achievers, taking responsibility for their own lives and learning, will experience transformative growth, and admissions officers look for mature, sophisticated students.
Finally, it’s a crucial networking opportunity. A professor or a teacher at an esteemed institution might write a recommendation. Also, the student is likely to return home wired to a lot of program alumni. Word of contests and other learning opportunities will flow through the group chat, and the applicant’s new friends will convey the news of what’s happening in Hong Kong, Iran, and Nigeria, not to mention L.A., Miami, and New York. All of this helps make the student knowledgeable and exceptional.
Serve the community
If you don’t have the scratch for such a program, don't worry. One can gain a lot of college admissions leverage by devoting the bulk of the summer to volunteering. College admissions officers value commitment and service, and they know the difference between a lame community service gig completed through one’s school to satisfy a requirement, and a genuine sustained effort to help people. A summer of real, useful, life-changing service to the community is only going to play if it is just that. Making connections with those of another ethnicity, and approaching the experience as an opportunity to learn as well as serve, is particularly valuable. If a student is going to volunteer, the student has to be committed. Doing a halfhearted, perfunctory job will be a miserable way to spend a summer, and it will tell when you write about it in your essays (and it will be very telling if you don’t write about this activity, listed in your activities list, in one of your essays). Even more impressive is the student who founds a nonprofit organization, perhaps with a friend or two, to fill a need, particularly if the non-profit is sustainable, and isn’t just going to disappear after the applicant gets into college.
Get a job
College Admissions Offices appreciate a summer of honest work. Work demonstrates responsibility and dedication, that someone deemed you trustworthy and useful enough to hire and hold on to you. Also, whether an experience is worthwhile or not depends always on your perspective. If you think your lifeguarding job is tedious or beneath you, remember that you occupy a prime position to study human behavior. Keep a journal! This could be a college essay in the making. If you are working at a fast food restaurant, think about how it’s organized. Notice how much money is coming in and how much you all are getting paid. Think critically about your work, and impress the admissions committee with your analysis.
Rising Seniors! Your application season has begun!
For rising seniors, a portion of the summer working on college applications and drafting your activities list is well spent. You’re going to want a stellar essay and stellar supplementary essays for every college you’re applying to. It’s time to get your college list sorted and start writing. If you haven’t lined up your recommenders, do it now, while they have the time to write you a good letter, rather than wait for the fall when they’ll be crazy busy (and annoyed with those who asked for letters of recommendation late). In the fall you’ll be crazy busy as well. If you’re like most students, you have overloaded your senior year with AP courses to make up for the light course schedule you took earlier. There will be intense academic, extracurricular and social pressure in your senior year; you’ll be grateful if you clear a lot of your application work off your plate before the year starts. This would also be a great time to get guidance from an admissions consultant. Contact Bentham and see what we offer.