Three Secrets to an Intentional Summer
Bite your tongue for the tenth time today. It's only mid-June and your lovely sophomore is glued to her Instagram and pacing the yard drinking a smoothie. You know, (though no one has really confirmed it), that other parents have kids who are going to some STEM program offered by a real college, and some parents have kids who are volunteering to translate Spanish to doctors on medical missions in Guatemala, and some have kids who are at least reading the latest respectable non-fiction and listening to Ted talks. Shouldn't our teen dig in and start acting like an adult with a purpose?
But what about the fleeting golden days of freedom that summer brings? Shouldn't our teen hang on to those blissful opportunities to rest and enjoy being a kid?
Yes, and yes. How does that work? I have three secrets that may help it come together.
Here's my first secret: Choosing your goals is more important than choosing the activity. An intentional summer is extremely personal. Hypothetically, if your teen is super stressed-out after the school year, and the goal of the summer is to regain some sanity and learn how to enjoy unstructured free time, then pacing the yard with a smoothie may be a valid summer activity--for a while. When it ceases to accomplish an intentional goal, it is a waste of your teen’s time and hindering her chances to become a vibrant and interesting candidate on a resume. Conversely, if your teen decides to ramrod a bunch of impressive looking activities into the summer, without thought of how they compliment or sync with his true goals, it may be just as much of a waste of time. So, talk about the goals first, and not the activities. Note also that most college applications, including the Common Application, have a place called “additional information” section, where you can explain candidly why you chose to spend a summer the way you did. So, whatever you do choose, be intentional and have good, clear proof that it was accomplishing a goal.
Here's my second secret: There is no formula for how to spend the summer that will ensure you are going to get into any college. Most colleges want to know that the student they are recruiting is going to round out their student body. Each school is looking for something different, and it just may or may not be what you have. If you don’t have it, you probably aren’t going to make it into that school no matter how you spend you summer. If you fake it by trying to construct a summer to impress, you may end up in a school that is not a natural fit for you and you will spend the next 4 years trying to construct and impress. Which is a recipe for failure. Reading admissions blogs, college mission statements and reviews, and visiting campuses are great ways to find out what a college is about. But it may be more important to find out what YOU are about first. And then be the best at that you can be.
Here’s my third secret. Working a job, going on a mission, and attending an academic camp at an Ivy League hosted college carry the same weight on a college application. Because, once again, it is all in context of goal and motivation. If you are deciding between hanging out with friends while working a local job, or attending a leadership conference across the county, neither one on it’s own is going to impress an admissions counselor. But if you have never worked before and you decide to take on a mundane job and do it really well, that may raise an eyebrow. Or if you choose the leadership conference because you will be the first one in your family to leave your home state and see another part of the country, that says something about your character.
Set your goals, focus on discovering what makes you taller, and then do it for a reason. And enjoy those smoothies while you're at it.