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Bringing Joy Back Into Summer

Start a non-profit. Secure an independent research project. Work a job. Bond with family and friends. Enroll in summer programs. Travel. Show leadership. Volunteer. Pick up a new hobby. Master a new skill.

For aspiring high school students, summer is not the glorious sun-drenched, sleep-late, 8-week state of blissful boredom it was when I was growing up.

Summers have become another opportunity for students to pad their resume and prove they are well rounded, or pointy, or responsible or gritty—whatever the latest buzzword is in college admissions. How can your children put the joy back into summer while still responding to the unspoken requirements and expectations from their dream schools?

Here are 5 tips for students to help make their summertime both an investment into their future and rewarding for its own sake.  

1)      Reflect. Define your values and identify who you are before you decide what to do.  Colleges care more about why you are choosing what you invest in than how you achieve it. Take 5 minutes and run through this Values exercise.  Then take 20 minutes and write down 3 supporting examples for each of your top 3 values. For instance, if I choose autonomy as a value, I may reference my love of being in the mountains, symbolizing freedom of thought and untethered possibility.  Get as creative as you want here!  Ultimately, making the connections between what is important to you at your core, and choices and interests you have already established, can be the beginning of writing your own story—one you will want to continue to fill in. A consistent and deliberate set of values can help not only ensure that what you are doing is in line with your true self, but it looks impressive to colleges too.

2)      Take the pressure down. Look at the less expensive and close-to-home options first. You don’t need to exhaust yourself with consuming travel and time commitments if you are energized by being with your friends and family, even as you challenge yourself with new opportunities. As the world begins to open up, it is tempting to revert back to the idea that colleges will be looking favorably on expensive or prestigious and selective summer programs.  Think instead of finding balance and taking smaller steps.  This does not mean consider only virtual, but it does mean taking the stigma away from local programs, internships and community college classes. The standards by which colleges gave out points during admissions will likely never be the same again. The holistic review, looking at the whole student instead of selecting credentials, was previously lip service with most admissions.  Now it is the life preserver that colleges need to trust in.  Your summer can shine just by finding your balance and making practical decisions.

3)      Collect data.  Take an aptitude test and measure your natural strengths along with your interests before making decisions. I run my students through YouScience, a set of scientifically assembled brain games that synthesize interests and aptitudes, and then dissects how those strengths and inclinations apply to their future careers and life satisfaction. Some aptitudes, this assessment asserts, are actually like appetites: if one doesn't find ways to incorporate that natural ability into daily life, it is hard to feel whole and happy.  Once students identify these appetites, they can target activities that will keep them engaged, happy and productive. (YouScience also automatically identifies career clusters and activities specific to each student’s assessment, so students are more likely to reach their potential and maximize their strengths).

4)      Research. Identify some colleges on your potential radar and get familiar with their requirements and wants that define their student body.  Until you find out for yourself from the school’s website or admissions staff, you are only guessing at what you think the college wants in an applicant.   You can’t please everyone, so having a preliminary list will help target priorities.  For instance, if you are applying to Universities in the United Kingdom or Canada, you won’t need a competitive extracurricular resume.  If you are applying to Georgetown, there are expectations of a full, vibrant activities list complete with evidence of diversity and political awareness. If your dream school is Rhode Island School of Design, consider taking the time to add content to your portfolio.  Read profiles in the Fiske guide, dig into the school’s social media platforms and connect with current students via social media or through emailing or calling the college directly and asking to speak with a current student.  Most colleges are set up to gladly accommodate.

5)      Journal.  Keep busy and choose to find satisfaction and pride in what you commit to do.   This is not just a state of mind-- it is discovering the words to describe your best qualities through the example of what you choose to invest yourself in.  (You will have the opportunity to do this when you write your college essays, so this is good practice!)  Whether you need to work full time this summer or choose to travel and bond with your family, make a list of how that experience is best supporting and developing your values, and then embrace your strengths and values with confidence.  Find the words and purpose behind what you do and write it down.  Remember, even if you aren’t experiencing your dream summer, it will pay off if you are deliberate about your choices, and aware of why you use your time the way you do.   

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