Summer is coming. In fact, many families are already making or have made some plans for their summers. If you are a 9th or 10th grader who has ambitions to attend a selective college or if you are a parent of such a 9th or 10th grader, I encourage you to use the summers to your advantage. You are building the record you will present to an admissions officer RIGHT NOW, so make this time count. How? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Go to summer school or get tutoring to shore up your academics, particularly if you are struggling with math. The harsh reality is that you will have no chance of attending a selective college if you don’t have good grades and good test scores. So if you’ve had some problems in one or more of the core academic subjects – English, Science, Math, Social Studies, Foreign Language – then you need to get back on track now. There are two reasons I especially emphasize your need to get on top of math. First, Math is particularly unforgiving if you get behind. You simply can’t do Algebra II well if you don’t get Algebra I, so it can be a GPA death spiral. Second, the better you are at Math, the better you will be at the standardized tests.
2. Follow a passion. What do you love studying or doing? Environmental science, drawing, acting, singing, playing soccer, volunteering? Whatever it is, do a lot of it during the summer. There is no other time during the year when you can devote yourself to a passion 24/7. Passions that are cultivated and developed turn into great fodder for college applications. They help you stand out from other similarly credentialed applicants. They give you material for the essays. They demonstrate you are someone who turns energy and interest into action and impact – exactly the kind of students selective colleges want.
3. Explore careers. What is your vision for your future? Do you have an idea of what you want to do to generate income for yourself and your family when you “grow up?” It is really good to have answers to these questions by the time you begin completing college applications. And the best way to have answers is to have had experiences that give you answers. For 9th and 10th graders, the best experiences are usually volunteer experiences because it is hard to get a paid position under the age of 16. Don’t worry that your volunteer experience will probably include “low level” tasks – you are just interested in being in a setting where you can observe people doing what you might like to do one day. Interested in politics and imagine yourself the next Senator from the State of X? Volunteer in a local office of your current Senator and convince your parents to take the family vacation to DC while the Senate is in session, observe from the gallery, and set up an appointment with the Senator or his/her staff. Interested in science and see medicine as a possible career? Do some volunteer work in a local hospital. Interested in math and see business as a possible career? Make contact with a local banker or business owner and ask to shadow him/her for a week on the job.
None of these activities will take ALL your time during the summer. You and your family can still take a nice vacation and you can even go to camp or do something else that isn’t focused on being “productive” and “building your record” for college. In other words, with a little planning and thought about your summer, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Are you trying to choose between multiple options for the summer? Do you have wisdom to share about good things to do during the summer? Post a comment and let’s talk together about how to make yours the best summer ever!
Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (most recently at Dartmouth College). Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)