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Why It’s Not Too Soon to Start Planning Your Summer

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Michael Yager College Admissions Advisor

Written by Michael Yageron January 11th, 2024

I started my journey in college admissions working in the small liberal arts environment at St. Lawrence University in New York and then Wheaton College in Massachusetts. In addition to recruiting students and making admissions decisions, I served in a number of other roles as an admissions officer at both schools, including athletics liaison, on-campus events coordinator, and technology implementation committee. After more than a decade in college admissions and Northeast winters, I made the switch to working in a high school setting as the director of college counseling at The Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, an International Baccalaureate World School. At Baldwin, I was a member of the curriculum design team and also the head coach for the varsity girls basketball program. Most recently, I moved to Texas, where I worked as the associate director of college counseling for Fort Worth Country Day and a seasonal application reader for Texas Christian University.
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by Michael Yager, former admissions officer at Wheaton College< With the holiday season in the rearview mirror and plenty of winter weather and limited daylight still ahead, it’s a fun time of year to start planning for summer. But, for high school students, there can be an added layer of anxiety around how they choose to spend this precious “free” time over summer, because they know it will become part of their college applications. Students often try to balance getting a much needed break with adding something new to their résumés. The good (and maybe the bad) news is that, from a college admissions standpoint, there isn’t one recipe for a successful summer. There are no golden ticket internships, research projects, or academic programs that will automatically unlock the admission gates to Stanford and Harvard. However, you can be sure that many colleges do care about what you’re doing over the summer. It’s a huge chunk of time, and how a student spends that time tends to be an accurate reflection of their priorities. If you’re an athlete, you may spend summer at camps, showcases, and tournaments. Aspiring engineers might take an advanced physics course at a local community college or sign up for a rocket science camp. Students focused on saving money for college may take a part-time job, while those who love the outdoors may set out on a once-in-a-lifetime hiking trip. Each of those experiences will become part of the narrative students share with colleges through activities lists, essays, and potentially interviews. Why do admissions officers care what high school students do over the summer? When I was an admissions officer conducting interviews, one of my favorite questions to ask applicants was, “How did you spend your summer break?” I wanted to know how students used their summers for growth (personal or academic) and/or how they created impact with their involvements. Some combination of service, part-time work, sports camps, and spending time with family were common responses to my initial question. However, it was often through my follow-up questions that I found what a student was truly passionate about. If a student told me they spent summer volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, that was a great answer on the surface. It became an even better story when they could articulate how they learned to hang dry-wall, frame out a house, and also discovered how important sustainable housing is for local economies, which is one of the reasons they planned to study economics in college. That’s just one example, and not every student will have such obvious and easy direct lines to demonstrate growth and impact. Maybe they shadowed a family friend at their accounting office and it turned out to be a disaster. But they likely learned how to persevere through a challenging situation, what effective and ineffective leadership looks like, or that they are no longer interested in a subject they had thought they wanted to study in college. How can high school students decide what to focus on during the summer? With colleges examining a student's narrative to help determine growth and impact, it’s important for students to do some self-evaluation in advance of summer to plan out the best use of their time. Now is the time to take stock of current involvements, interests, and passions, and decide where to allocate time this summer. Consider these questions:
  • In what ways can you grow personally or academically?
  • In what ways can you have a positive impact on your communities?
  • What are you currently involved in? Does the summer offer you a chance to take on a bigger role or expand what you’re currently doing?
  • Is there anything you’ve wanted to try or explore, but didn’t have time for during the school year?
The answers to these questions may not fall into some of the typical or pre-packaged summer options that exist for students. If you’re a creative or an entrepreneur, summer can be a very exciting opportunity to try out a new project or pursue an entrepreneurial idea. The independence and uniqueness of those projects will certainly give you opportunities for growth and stories to share with admissions officers. What should high school students do over the summer to prepare for college admissions? As you’re building your summer plans, there are also a few college-prep items to consider depending on your grade level:
  • Rising juniors may want to budget time for test preparation if they’re taking the SAT or ACT in the fall. Having dedicated time for independent study or a prep class away from the typical stress of the school year is beneficial for some students. In addition, rising juniors may want to explore some college campuses (in person or virtually) to get a better sense of their personal “fit” factors, and start building a list of schools of interest.
  • Rising seniors should dedicate some time to college applications over the summer. The more a student can get done during this time, the more they will enjoy their senior year. If you have a student looking into four-year colleges and universities, summer is an ideal time to begin brainstorming, outlining, and drafting essays. Continued visits to campuses and narrowing the college list will also set the student up for a less stressful fall semester.
There are so many ways to consider your summer successful. With some careful reflection and planning, you’ll have plenty of time to plan out a productive summer that will help you grow. Who knows what you’ll discover this summer; you might settle on your college major or a future career, or simply learn that spending time completely unplugged in nature is just what you need to recharge.

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