Insider Tips

Plan Your Summer Now

Summer for our students takes on a whole different meaning than summer camp and fancy vacations. It’s a time to add depth to their areas of academic interest with laser-like focus.

Colleges are interested in scholars… colleges ACCEPT scholars.

‘Scholar’ can be defined as a learned person who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. It doesn’t refer to someone who knows a little about a myriad of things but rather expertise in a particular subject. Colleges SEEK well-rounded classes rather than well-rounded students. They’d like to see depth in one or two areas of interest. This might be quantum physics and poetry or debate and art history.

So, take some time to review what subject you like in school, get specific. Did you love the Revolutionary War when you were taking AP US History? Are you obsessed with creating computer games? Do you love reading philosophy in your free time? Where do you spend your time outside of school? Are you the arts editor for your school paper, writing reviews and spending hours painting portraits of your friends then reading about 19th century artists? See what we mean? Can you tie together some of your interests to create a theme?

Craft a meaningful summer by showing colleges you went above and beyond, exemplifying your true passion for learning and show them how YOU will benefit THEIR community rather than the other way around. Meaning if you are clearly the artist/journalist then chances are you will bring your writing and painting skills to college and perhaps major in art history. BAM…they get it and see you as a contributing student.

Here are our top tips for leveraging your summer(s).  And… of course we want you to weave in some rest and relaxation… preferably reading a classic while spending the weekend on the beach.

RESEARCH:  Reach out to a local professor in your area of academic interest and investigate any research opportunities available for a high school student.  Or, do your own research.  Nothing should stop you if you have an idea.  A high school senior cultivated populations of algae under her loft bed and won first place and $100,000 in the Intel Science Talent Search.  We’ve had students attend RSI at MIT and take part in research that set them SO apart that they were essentially recruited by top colleges. Another great option is to explore presenting your written work at an academic conference in your targeted field of interest.

  • For example, the College of Charleston in South Carolina is hosting a conference on 4/15/16 and you can submit your paper to present at the conference (due 3/3/16). The conference is an opportunity for high school and undergraduate students to present research on a variety of topics, including Southern and South Carolina politics, civil rights, political extremism, educational opportunity and economic development, political communication, human geographies and world politics.

TAKE COLLEGE CLASSES: There are amazing classes available at top colleges in their precollege programs.  You can study The Physics of Stars: Their Structure and Evolution or learn about Ancient Mummies and New Technologies at U Chicago. But, you don’t have to go away to an expensive college program — you can take a local community college course if it’s in your area of academic interest.  The Common Application asks if you have taken a course for college credit; so use summers to do so and to build up your level of academic expertise.

: If you are a junior, the goal is to finish them BEFORE senior fall so you can focus on your classes, not writing essays.  We have been offering 4-day Application Boot Camps for 12 years so students can craft compelling college applications.  If you aren’t able to join us, do at least dedicate a defined time period to your application before your classes start in the fall.

READ: If you are interested in history, create a reading list around a specific time period or event of interest.  Check out the Concord Review (link) which is a compilation of high school student’s history essays. This shows you how it’s done well and makes great reading. Are you a book lover? How about reading the Harvard Classics?  They are free online so no excuses. Love physics? Read renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku’s 2012 book, Physics of the Future.

WORK: Get a job. Lots of great college essays have been written about jobs working at McDonalds or Starbucks.  Steer clear of hedge fund or law firm jobs or fancy internships, as it will be clear to admissions officers that your parents or their pals got you the gig.  Holding down a job shows colleges you have discipline and initiative, not just privilege.

FORGET EXOTIC: There are lots of flashy, expensive, international community service programs where you pay to go to some exotic locale, whether it’s India or the Galapagos Islands, and do service work.  But again, colleges aren’t in the dark about this.  They know that some of these programs cost $6,000 to $10,000 to do community service. So, instead of just trying to think of what would be impressive, think of what would be meaningful.  Can you do a community service project in your own community related to your interests and expertise?  Can you change something you see needs changing?  Can you make a difference?

DON’T GET CONNED: Watch out for the mass mailing marketing efforts that try to con you into plunking down lots of money because you are a “high achiever.”  They simply buy mailing lists from the College Board based on your PSAT scores.  They will make you think you are being selected and are unique, but check the depth of the programming.  The New York Times wrote an article in 2009 about this situation or simply Google the organization and ‘Is this a con?’.

Plan your summer NOW to maximize and deepen your academic interests. Keep it simple yet deep, focused and true to your passions – there is no rest for the scholarly!

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