13 Jun Make This Summer Count!

Aaah! Two months of relaxation, parties and fun in the sun… That’s what many teenagers think of when they think of summer. However, nowadays US colleges look at the last four years of a student’s life when considering their application for admission. So summers, starting after fourth form (or Grade 9 in the American system) should be planned strategically and used judiciously.

Many parents and students ask: “What do colleges want to see me do during the summer?”

Generally speaking, colleges look for applicants who are committed, engaged, intellectually curious, and active in discovering and pursuing their interests, wherever those interests lie. This especially includes the summer, when students have the spare time to spend as they choose. In the past, our students have volunteered, started their own community service projects and businesses, interned, shadowed professionals, led or been a part of academic and religious camps, taken college courses, done research at universities, and the list goes on and on.

From community service to language immersion programmes, whatever a student chooses to do should be selected after careful thought and discussion about needs, interests and passions, and how those can best be met and/or furthered. And it doesn’t have to be just one thing. A student can dedicate one month to tackling a reading list to improve reasoning skills and vocabulary, and spend another three weeks working, all while taking SAT classes. The summer is also a prime opportunity for students to discover new interests by exploring hitherto unchartered territory. The important thing is to be strategic. That is: think about what activities can be of most impact, personally and to the community.

The summer is what you make it. Whatever the programmes or activities chosen, students must seize the opportunity and really seek to extract as much value from whatever they do as possible; and by value I mean the opportunities for personal growth and development, not the brand name or perceived prestige of the programme. Choosing a programme based on the ostensible influence or advantage in the college application process is a costly mistake that many parents make. Be wary of “special nominations/invitations” for conferences with hefty price tags — some cost as much as US$10,000! ‘Invitations’ like this have sent students and parents alike scurrying to their high school principals, guidance counsellors, employers and foundations in hopes of obtaining sponsorship. Yes, the conference may be a great way to meet other students with similar interests, learn a few things about global issues, leadership or professional areas of interest, and have a great time exploring a new city, but as Denise Clark Pope, a lecturer in the School of Education at Stanford University points out, the marketing pitches “are feeding off myths and helping to perpetuate them”, that a child has somehow been selected for a special destiny.

“The real depth (to an activity) in a highly selective process is: How has this shaped or influenced you? And your ability to articulate that … for each opportunity, there will be a context or the deeper meaning — where are you coming from, or where are you going with this experience?” Ford asserts.

Indeed, in the college application process, this is the depth or value to any experience, summer or otherwise. How have you been affected, what are you able to effect, and can you express that in a compelling way? The point is to think and search. What do you hope to discover about your interests? What do you hope to discover about yourself? If your family can afford it, and you will derive value from a leadership programme, go for it! If the best class/programme in your interest happens to be at a local university, take it!

A universally applicable tip for this summer – READ, READ, READ! The benefits cannot be emphasised enough. It will lead to better SAT scores, better English grades, better conversational skills … a better life!

The bottom line is that colleges look for students who are active participants in their lives. Not students who spend all their time relaxing while life happens to them. Whatever you do this summer…make it count!