Q: How do you recommend that I spend my summers during high school? Is there a strategy or a plan I should follow?
A: For all students, how they spend their summers in high school can be a great advantage. That being said, while there are some ideal experiences we will recommend, it is not necessary to spend a tremendous amount of money. Here are some thoughts:
Pursue a passion. If you know what you love, find a way to do that… and, parents, find ways to support this. Of course, this could be through jobs, internships, or costly summer programs, but it could also be through reading, writing, self-exploration, self-study, internet research, and many more possibilities. It doesn’t require money to pursue a passion! It may require reframing or finding new ways to explore this passion, but the dedicated will always prevail.
Explore an interest. Maybe you don’t have a passion (like most high school students)... in this case, use some time over the summer to test out whether some of your interests might be developed into a more intense interest (or even a passion). Are there programs? Or are there other ways to learn more about this interest? Books are a good start, but so are blogs, podcasts, websites, etc. I have had students enroll in free online courses through Coursera and the like. Are there opportunities to see this interest in action? Do you or your parents have any friends in the industry? Can you shadow? Never underestimate the power of reaching out to someone.
Focus on a weakness. Consider those courses in which you struggle and consider spending some time working on building those skills and mastering that content. If, for example, math is not strong for you, think about putting some time in reviewing what you have already done or previewing what is to come. Again, summer programs can be helpful here, but they can be costly; however, Khan Academy has a tremendous amount of free resources.
Develop your leadership. Regardless of what your interests are, there are always ways to consider developing and refining your skillset surrounding leadership. There are programs, of course. But think about creative ways to cultivate your skills.
Develop a strength. We all should know our VIA Character Strengths, and we can always find ways to focus on our strengths more intentionally. All of us can and should do this, but this is particularly helpful for those who might not yet have a passion or are lukewarm about their interests even.
Volunteering. Find a way to give back to your respective communities in some way, and volunteer your time. We do not recommend blindly volunteering or doing so to “look good” on a college application. Instead, find something meaningful and commit yourself to it. You will be surprised what you can learn about yourself!
Visit colleges. Summers are an excellent time to visit college campuses. Sign up for the tours and the info sessions, even if they are at colleges you are not necessarily interested in. There is so much to learn about how to see colleges and about the application process.
Explore careers. If you are unsure about what career path you might wish to pursue or if you are supremely confident, use the summer to try to get a job, get an internship, or even just shadow people. Ask around. Talk to your parents and parents’ friends. Talk to you friends’ parents. A day spent here and there following someone around is a great use of time.
Test prep. When we survey seniors about their regrets, no one ever says that they regret having put so much time into test prep… but they do say the opposite. Especially for those pursuing applications in the USA, you will have to sit for the SAT. Summer is a good time to put in small, regular chunks of time.
Get a job. Summer is a good time to get a job. It is not always about pursuing career paths or figuring out what you want to do. Sometimes it is about making some money, learning responsibility, and maybe even learning what you do not want to do!
Enjoy your family and friends. We can often overlook our loved ones throughout our busy school year -- especially our grandparents! Carve out time to spend with important people in your life. You will not regret this later.
Read. Find something you enjoy reading and read every day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, find something else. There’s no reason to suffer through a book just because you started it, especially when there is so much wonderful out there to read.
Relax. Last but certainly not least, take some “me time” for yourself to regroup and relax. This is the most important thing for your summer! Do not neglect it!
I don’t think that any summer vacation is truly poorly spent. It is my perspective that we tend to naturally pursue those things that are attractive to us. However, in having spent time speaking to thousands of students throughout the years, those who felt their summers were unproductive were unequivocally those who had intended to do certain things but who then did not. So, take some time to make a plan for how you might want to spend this summer and indeed all of your high school summers and figure out a plan to make it happen!
If you are looking for ideas, please keep in mind that we have a regularly updated Summer Programs listing here on our blog. Check it out and be sure to share if you have programs that you would recommend!