going to college

What I Did on my Summer Vacation…

There comes a time in the relationship between a college coach and a student when the question of summer activities is broached. The conversation might go something like:

I just received a letter in the mail telling me I’m a leader in <name that field>. Do you think <name that camp> in <name that college town> will look good on my resume? It’s gonna cost several thousand dollars. Should I do it? Or should I take classes at <name that prestigious university>? Because I’m also hearing that taking a job over the summer is now the new thing. What do you think?

Relax, take a deep breath, and Zen. Summer vacation shouldn’t be giving you an ulcer.

Sure, I know the summer plan mythology: if a student wants to get admitted to the college of his dreams, he’ll need to spend June, July, and August ridding a disease from a distant and exotic continent, monitoring fair elections in an emerging democracy, and learning Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and Swahili (all in between visits to grandma’s house, no less!). But let’s separate hyperbole from reality.

First off: Grams needs her hugs. No myth there!

Second: Doing something over the summer is important, yes, but the name of the summer program or where it’s housed will rarely make or break your college application. (There are, indeed, a few summer programs with enough cachet to wow an admission officer right off the bat, but we’re really only talking a handful.) What does matter is the experience itself, not where the student has that experience. Does the experience fit a student’s overall narrative and interests? Does the student demonstrate passion for what she’s doing? What did the student learn, and how did it impact her character, dreams, or intellect?

Find something to do that you would love doing–something that will teach you a thing or two about yourself, your dreams, and your goals. Once you’ve found it, don’t hesitate: do it!

So if you want to work at Dunkin’ Donuts over the summer because you think it’ll give you the practical work experience you need to explore the world of business, go for it. Thinking of volunteering for your city councillor’s election campaign because you think it’ll help inform your decision to pursue political science? By all means! Itching to immerse yourself in scientific research within a local college professor’s lab? What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone! Want to take that class in gothic architecture because you think you’ll find it intellectually stimulating? If your local university offers it, sign up!

Don’t get too caught up on whether one program sounds more prestigious than another — there are no magic formulas here. Instead, focus on which one will bring you greater satisfaction.

And whatever you do, don’t forget to visit grandma!



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Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory.