by Kara Courtois, former admissions officer at Barnard College

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —Dr. Seuss

This is the summer of reading—or at least, it could be your best literary summer yet. With the change in many summer plans due to COVID-19, my fellow college admissions counselors and I are regularly encouraging students to focus on what is in your control. Enter—READING!

By reading with intention this summer, you will likely pass time more quickly, be able to contribute to conversations with family and friends more thoughtfully, and you may even see your reading scores increase on future standardized tests. Best of all, reading will also allow you to travel to places that you may not be able to see in person this summer.

I asked one of my neighbors, a rising high school sophomore, what it would take to get him to read this summer. His response was simple and honest: MONEY! I was sorry to let him down that I am not able to deliver on that incentive, nor did I think it was advice I wanted to encourage, but it did make me laugh.

If you’re ready to accept the fact that reading this summer may not earn you any cash (but instead will likely improve your vocabulary, literacy and knowledge of life), I challenge you to consider some of the questions below.

  • Is there a topic you want to learn more about?
  • Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
  • Other than books, are there any magazines or newspapers that come to your house or you could subscribe to in an area of interest? (e.g. Popular Mechanics if you like tinkering, National Geographic if you’re a budding photographers or nature buff, Cook’s Illustrated if you like to cook or would like to learn, etc.)
  • Are there any artists, athletes, or other public figures you already follow on social media who might also have a blog or book you could read? (For example, my 12-year-old son likes to fish, so he’s reading a book by a local fisherman he follows on Instagram, and is now learning how to make his own fishing lures.)
  • Do you have any friends or family who are readers who you could ask for recommendations?

Then, take these simple actions to gain access to free books and reading materials:

  1. Set up your library card to access your FREE electronic library so you can borrow books from your phone, tablet, or laptop. You can usually find simple directions to do so right on your local library’s website. If you do not have a library card, you can often also apply on that website or walk into your library with proof of residency if they are open. If you prefer to purchase books rather than read e-books or use the library, Bookshop is a great way to support smaller, independent retailers.
  2. Visit Goodreads or download their app to create your own reading account. You can track your past and future reading, connect with friends and family to share book titles, or search for more titles by authors you may have already liked.
  3. Look up book lists on any search engine or helpful sites; I like Common Sense Media Books for Teens.
  4. Register for Book Bingo at your local library! Most libraries sponsor summer book bingo with small prizes. Here’s a great example of one library’s options.
  5. Challenge a family member or friend to a summer reading challenge! Having an accountability partner is usually more fun than just pursuing a goal on your own. Grab a friend or family member and set a simple goal of reading five books this summer. As an incentive, plan a fun outdoor adventure or trip for ice cream to celebrate your accomplishment.

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Written by Kara Courtois
Kara Courtois is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Kara holds degrees from University of Notre Dame and University of Portland; she completed her graduate coursework at Teachers College, Columbia University and Steinhardt School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Kara was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College. Visit our website to learn more about Kara Courtois.