At a time when college-bound students believe they need to conquer the world, we need to keep them grounded and remind them that it’s okay to be a regular kid even if it’s only for two months of the year – summer. They hear about their peers getting patents, getting published, or even working on finding cures for diseases. But these extraordinary stories are the exception, not the rule.
As high as expectations are for our youth, college admissions officers are remarkably supportive of students leaving the demands of the school year behind them to recharge during the summer. Old fashion fun should be intermingled with productivity even for students who have their sights set on highly selective colleges. In the eyes of colleges, summer is still a protected time where high school students get to explore life, enjoy friendships, and bask in their free time.
If you have a high-schooler wondering if they are doing enough over summer vacation, take heed. Whether students have a traditional summer job, attend a program, or are immersed in their sport or hobby of choice, there should always be downtime.
The school year is full of jam-packed schedules with classes, club activities, and the grind of schoolwork. By the time summer rolls around, students are drained. If the schedule continues at that pace, students start the next school year feeling exhausted. We want our kids to feel their best when they start. And, they need to be at their best as most colleges look at senior year grades before they make final admissions decisions.
While every student needs to do something productive during the summer, the opportunities are limitless. From babysitting, to working retail, to preparing for a marathon there are so many good options. The key is to make sure there is an objective in mind.
Part of the goal of summer should include hanging out with friends, going on vacation, and taking time to consider the future. Even if students feel like they need to be superheroes during the year, summer is the time to be a regular teenager.
What many students don’t realize is that colleges are careful about what they expect from students during the summer. There is no longer a separate section for students to list summer activities on the most widely used college application platform, the Common Application. Summer and school year activities are combined leaving only ten spots for listing what a student does outside of school. When one considers four years of high school and four summers of experiences, oftentimes there isn’t room to list everything.
Colleges don’t want students giving away their summers to impress them. But it still is hard for students to believe that downtime is expected and encouraged. Which leads many ambitious students clamoring to do an academic program or take college classes. These programs are expensive, and colleges are quick to tell prospective students that in no way do they expect this from their applicants.
When I was an admissions officer and an admissions dean, I loved when students had traditional summer jobs. These are opportunities to make some money, but more importantly have real responsibility. I didn’t necessarily know about the times that they stayed up all night to watch the sunrise or the memorable day at an amusement park with their best friends. I didn’t need to know because it was obvious they weren’t trying so hard to impress me in their applications.
Balance matters. Summer fun may seem like a luxury in the intense landscape of college admissions. In fact, it is the necessary ingredient for a student to be their best self when they get ready to write a great college essay, fill out their college applications, and embark on senior year.