It’s summer time! Time to put down those pens and pencils, turn in those textbooks, log off the computer (unless it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, of course), and take a break from school. At least that’s what most high-school students assume. Unfortunately, with the rising costs of a college education, coupled with the increasing competition each year for college admissions, students can’t afford to simply rest on their laurels and wait to get back on the grind in August. While it’s absolutely essential that students have a moment to exhale and enjoy their summer, it’s also critical that they maintain (or improve upon) their competitiveness during these few months. Below are the most important things every high-school student should accomplish during the summer, to ensure they remain a few steps ahead of the rest.
Read, read, and read.
Reading is one of the best ways to continuously develop your vocabulary. I don’t mean simply read your favorite sci-fi novel (though I’m tempted to indulge in “A Song of Fire and Ice” myself). I’m talking about those publications that will give students not only more exposure to vocabulary, but also current events. Read local and national newspapers (I’m still very much an advocate of print papers), visit the local library, and check go through some of the 100 Great American Novels. These are books referenced time and time again. Do students even have library cards anymore? I remember giving a programming lecture and referring to the Dewey Decimal System. I was met with a room full of blank stares. But I digress…
This will definitely help as you prepare those college admissions essays as well as prepare for the SAT and ACT.
Yeah, it’s great to have a paying job. But admissions offices look for what makes applicants stand out from the crowd. Volunteering is an excellent way to not only add to your resume, but also demonstrate that you give back in ways that are meaningful to you. In addition, they just make you feel good as a person to do them! Look for opportunities at soup kitchens, shelters, after-school programs, retirement and nursing homes, or any other areas you can think of. No deed is too small.
These activities can not only help your resume reflect a more diverse and concerned person, but also be used in admissions essays and introduce you to individuals who can serve as mentors, references, and more.
Research possible majors and careers
So you want to be a doctor. What kind: Obstetrician, pediatrician, neurosurgeon, or podiatrist? This means medical school is in your near future. But before you get there, what will your undergraduate major be? You don’t have to be a pre-med major to attend medical school. What about chemistry, biology, or math even? The sky’s the limit! Take time now to look up what majors would interest you. Also research the required courses in these majors, so you will know what to expect and how you can prepare now while still in high school. You may be able to take some Advanced Placement (AP) courses that will give you college credit as an incoming freshman!
Find summer internships and camps.
Now that you’ve identified majors and careers of interest, it’s time to find a program that allows you to gain more experience in the area (and maybe a little change in the process). Check local companies and government offices in your city/region, as well as organizations dedicated to your prospective field. For example, interested in becoming an attorney, contact the National Bar Association and see if there are any programs in your local area for high school students.
Additional resources are colleges and universities. Many departments offer summer camps for high-school students, and some will pay for all expenses (housing and meals), requiring you to only get there. Search around your city, state, and across the country for opportunities. But apply early, these are usually advertised in the spring semester (approximately March/April). The more popular ones will fill quickly.
This will give you exposure to activities in your field, allow you to meet professionals in the area, and also possibly introduce you to department faculty who can provide valuable scholarships as you apply for admissions.
Now that you’ve done all of this work, make sure you begin to document everything you’ve accomplished and are accomplishing. Create a one-page resume, which will highlight your academic experience (including GPA), work experience, honors and awards, and volunteer work. This document will serve as your professional calling card, and should be updated with each new activity or accomplishment throughout the year. More information on creating a resume is discussed in my book.
Start finding the money trail.
It’s never too early to start identifying what financial aid you qualify for. Have you ever seen the stories about students earning $100,000 in scholarships before they’ve even graduated from high school? It’s not because they waited until the last minute. Research all types of scholarships and grants that you qualify for now and store their names and website links in a spreadsheet for easy retrieval. Check companies, credit unions/banks, national organizations, city, state, and federal government, etc. for all opportunities. This is when Google will be a HUGE benefit.
Also, create a FastWeb account now and be sure to be as detailed as possible with your information.
Starting early is the key to minimizing the stress of the college admissions process for you as well as your family. Take advantage of your summer vacation to not only get some R&R, but also make sure you’re staying competitive and on your ‘A’ game!