Yesterday we heard the parent perspective on how their teens will spend the summer. Now, three professionals speak. First, an admissions officer.
She states at the beginning what our panelists already figured out. "As long as the student is doing something productive, we have no preference for how the summer is spent."
Then she adds, "There are some activities that are going to be more notable than others. Highly selective programs that don’t require the student to pay are impressive. (In New Jersey, Governor’s School and the New Jersey Scholars Program come to mind.) We also love to see students who work full time in a less-than-glamorous job, particularly if those jobs are a big contrast to their normal, upper-middle-class suburban lives. In fact, when I give info sessions, I often say 'look for a job.' (I used to say 'get a job' but given the economy, that’s not always easy.)
She also pointed out, "More and more students are doing research or doing college summer programs these days. While those activities are useful for the students, I think there’s a sense that they’re going to impress us more than other activities, and they don’t.
"Finally, we essentially ignore all those national leadership forum opportunities, People to People, etc. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not all that competitive and of no greater value than other experiences. That’s not to say that the experiences can’t be enriching for the student; they’re just not that unusual."
Linda Auld, of Suburban Learning Center, recommends summer standardized test tutoring for students who need more than testing strategies: "So it's really remediation in reading comprehension, writing skills, or math concepts which will help them with the SAT or ACT but more importantly will help them develop the skills they will need to do well in their academic classes. I often use the idea that we are 'prepping' for the SAT/ACT to motivate high school students to work on academic skill development."
Now, from a high school teacher's perspective. Lauren Fazio says, "Since I teach writing, many of my seniors come to me for help with their applications, more specifically the short answer sections. I did see one college (it was definitely an Ivy, but I don't remember which one) that explicitly asked the question, "What did you do last summer?" My student was able to talk about a church retreat, a class she took, and books she's read -- definitely more personal than the other questions, and shows an active applicant. I think that's the bottom line--as
long as they do something.
"But, I still think this is prime time to explore options and paths
they might want to revisit later, not just for an impressive resume
(though that's always nice) but for something to talk about in an
interview, write about in a common app short answer, or nurture as a
"They might learn from being a camp counselor that they want to teach young children (or DON'T want to teach young children). Or if they volunteer in a
hospital, they may learn how to care for others--a skill that extends
far past hospital walls. Or if they take a photography class, they
may develop a passion (and a portfolio to show colleges later). At
the very least, any of these avenues will give them something to say
when colleges ask, in writing or in person, 'What significant event or
activity has changed your life?' And with so many demands on
them during the school year, summer is a great time to devote the
hours. They're less likely to resent the hours they spend doing
something that, without the resentment, they may end up loving."
One final comment from our admissions officer panelist. "One thing I have noticed is that it’s hard to quickly find what the student has done in the summer, given the way the Common Application is structured. The only way we know what’s a summer activity is by the length of time (# hrs/# weeks) spent on the activity and if the student actually tells us. I would love to see the summer separated from the overall list, but that’s just my personal preference."
Summers do matter -- but there are many ways to make them worthwhile, fulfilling and fun for our teens, as well as attractive to colleges.