Many colleges will ask students how they spent their summers, and even if they do not, the summers often represent the time of the year where you have relatively more time to spend developing your non-academic areas. The reason that I am writing this in the winter is that in order to plan your summer, you may need to explore a variety of options.
EXPLORING POTENTIAL MAJORS OR CAREER PATHS
Many colleges offer summer programs to explore subject areas in more depth than you can do in high school. These are structured and challenging programs, and often require that you collaborate with other students. They do tend to be pretty expensive also.
1. Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SUMaC)
Location: Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Web site: http://math.stanford.edu/sumac
2. Stanford’s EPGY (Education Program for Gifted Youth at Stanford University)
Location: Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Web site: http://epgy.stanford.edu/
3. All Stanford Summer Programs here: http://spcs.stanford.edu/programs
4. Summer at Brown: Several areas
Location: Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Web Site: http://brown.edu/ce/pre-college/
Duration: 1-7-Week sessions
5. Lead Programs
LEAD Engineering: http://www.leadprogram.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=218901&type=d
LEAD Business: http://www.leadprogram.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=218898&type=d
6. Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovation
Location: Johns Hopkins University, Maryland
Remember: Taking a summer program does not necessarily mean you have a better chance of getting into that college, nor is it an automatic advantage on your resume per se. Colleges are interested in your experiences, not just the “name” of a particular program or college. If you go for a summer program, see in what broader ways you could take advantage of the program or college in general while you are there. Be a detective and look for opportunities to work with a professor, utilize facilities for your own project, or go beyond the required work to demonstrate a level of maturity that shows you know how to seek out resources. That will be impressive in admissions regardless of the program you do.
EXPLORING A CAREER PATH THROUGH AN INTERNSHIP
First of all, not too many companies are actively seeking 16-17-year-olds for internships. Therefore, you are going to need to scout out your opportunities carefully. Your best bet is to check your immediate network of parents, family and friends of family. But even before that you should consider two things and prepare a resumé.
Think first about what you would like to be exposed to? Make a list of potential areas that you are curious about. You might have things in mind already, or you could look back over your notes in courses related to the potential career path and jot down potential concepts that you would like to explore in “the real world”. Your second list should be a brainstorm of strengths you already have. What do you immediately bring to the table? Good quantitative skills, or quick learner, etc. Whatever you can think of that may help someone who has never managed a teenager before. Armed with these points, you are ready to approach your network and meet any potential opportunities. That meeting will be effective because after you share your lists, it is likely that he/she will be able to direct you to an opportunity that will be meaningful.
Remember: Keep a journal while you do your internship and record all of your learning, regardless of how small they may seem to be. When you are done, it can be helpful to look over everything to articulate what you learned and how this has changed your perspective. Try to produce something through the internship, something that you can claim as a particular tangible outcome. If there is a possibility to continue some work after your internship, or return to the same company, this will show some consistency and looks good.
INDEPENDENT PROJECTS OR RESEARCH
Students can also use this time in the summer to pursue independent research. Research is particularly desired if you are aiming for science or engineering in college, but also good if your intended major is in Business/Economic or even the Social Sciences. If possible, see if you can connect with a professor at a local university who can act as your mentor. This person can help you establish the scope of your research, be a sounding board to your process and give you valuable advice that can help with your planning. Furthermore, this mentor can be useful in reviewing your final paper, suggesting changes and formatting, and may even be able to suggest potential publications where you could submit and possibly get published. As with an internship, it is good to keep a journal and note your learning as you complete the research.
Some of my students in the past have also done independent projects, such as starting a small business, applying science to a tangible product (invention), doing a small micro-finance cycle, writing a short novel, starting a blog, developing applications, initiating a charitable organization, etc. Whatever you do though, it should have a personal connection to you. Don’t do things purely for the application, always ask yourself: Why is this important to me?
SAT/ACT PREP, COLLEGE ESSAYS AND INDEPENDENT READING
Admittedly, not the most exciting point in this entry, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that with this extra time in the summer, working on these areas is a good idea. SAT/ACT prep requires many full length tests and then thorough analysis of the questions that you get wrong, which means that you need 4-hour blocks of time to do the tests, and 2-hour blocks of time to review. This is pretty hard during your regular school year, so the summer should be taken advantage of. For 10th graders going to 11th grade, the best time to take these exams is first time in October or November and second time in January of your 11th grade year, so it is not that far away. For 11th to 12th graders, if you still need to do your testing, you really need to prepare in the summer because your fall will be filled with college essays and course-required submissions.
While the applications will typically not be out until sometime in August of your senior year, many of the schools do not change their essays year to year, and most schools will have a “Why Us” essay. So you can get a good head start on writing.
Independent reading is great for so many things, but we rarely have time for this during the school year with all of our required reading. Some of the colleges actually ask you what books you have read in the past couple of years for your own interest. And the UK particularly likes to know what reading has influenced your intended area of study.
While the summers by no means need to be all work and no play, they do represent relatively more free time in your otherwise hectic lives, which can be gainfully used. But you should also have some fun! You will have a hectic year in front of you, and you deserve some down time.