In the coming weeks, thousands of young people will find their daily routines changing as the academic year comes to a close. Some will go to the beach. Many will sleep until noon. Others will jet off to parts unknown for new, exotic adventures. And, at some point in the weeks that follow, most will find themselves on a college campus or two.
The choices students make as they embrace the summer months can impact their personal growth while providing important clues to college admissions officers about the character and convictions of the candidates they are considering. If you are a rising high school senior, how will you spend your summer months? The following do's and don'ts provide guidance in making good and productive choices.
1. Do what you love—and love what you do. Invest in the talents and interests that intrigue you and/or give you joy in life. Attend a sports camp, participate in community theater, or take a painting class. Find opportunities to develop your skills and demonstrate an advanced level of commitment to the things that are important to you.
2. Do visit college campuses. Summer is a great time to become better acquainted with colleges that are of interest to you. Take tours. Talk with students and professors. Becoming more informed about colleges will enable you to be more purposeful in arriving at your "short list" as well as the manner in which you present yourself as a candidate.
[Explore the U.S. News guide to college tours.]
3. Do try to find a job. It feels good to cash a regular paycheck and many admissions officers like to see that candidates—especially those applying for financial aid—are beginning to assume a degree of financial responsibility.
4. Do learn more about career tracks that might interest you. Talk with professionals in your community and explore experiential internships that can give you valuable insight as you contemplate academic directions in college.
5. Do start to work on your college applications. In particular, take a look at essay requirements and begin thinking about how you might use them to tell your story. Starting early means you are less likely to push deadlines as you try to manage the academic pressures of your senior year.
[Get advice on writing college application essays.]
6. Do something different. Find an adventure. Climb a mountain. Go sea kayaking. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Learn a new language. Go out of your comfort zone just to see what is out there. Take reasonable risks. Self-confidence and the willingness to take risks are desirable traits as colleges make fine distinctions between strong candidates.
1. Don't tinker with the genetic code. Resist the temptation to make yourself over into the image of what you think admissions deans want to see. Be true to yourself. Admissions officers are most interested in authenticity. They want to see the real you.
2. Don't kid yourself about the importance of overseas service projects. While a commitment to service is a potential hook in the eyes of admissions officers, don't overlook opportunities to provide needed services in your own community for those that might land you in faraway places. True service is selfless in nature. You don't want to be regarded as someone who has engaged in the best service experience money can buy.
[Learn how local community service can help you pay for college.]
3. Don't forget to set your alarm. Tempting as it might be to pull up the covers and stay in bed a while longer, the world will pass you by if you sleep the day away. Unless your interests are purely nocturnal, the odds are you will miss opportunities for meaningful engagement if your "clock" isn't in sync with the working world around you.
4. Don't assume that attending an academic program on a college campus will help you get into that school. The frenzy to get into such programs often rivals that of the actual college admissions process in some quarters. If you choose them, do so for personal enrichment and not to impress admissions officers at the school in question.
5. Don't allow yourself to become too comfortable. Long days with "nothing to do" can be habit forming. While you do owe yourself a vacation, it doesn't have to span the entire summer! Instead, develop industrious habits that will pave the way for a smooth transition into a senior year that will be as complex as it is fast-paced.