Summer is a great time for experiential learning. Whether it’s a homestay with a Spanish family or a camp where they build robots, students can find a way to explore their interests. For the ecologically-minded student, the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges has a two-week program that includes research on a boat on Seneca Lake, as well as camping in the Adirondack Mountains.
While these programs can be fun and educational, some students need to earn money over the summer. Having a job can help students learn how to work with people, prioritize tasks and manage time. Earning a paycheck can also provide a wonderful boost to self-esteem.
Summer jobs can also offer opportunities to explore career interests. If a student wants to be a veterinarian, a job at an animal hospital or shelter is an excellent way to see what’s involved in being a vet. Working as a camp counselor is great for students who may be interested in teaching or psychology.
If earning money is not a priority, volunteering is a way for students to pursue causes they believe in, and feel good about making a contribution. Landmark Volunteers offers two-week summer service programs. Students choose from dozens of projects, where they’ll engage in mostly manual labor.
For a student who’s interested in politics, election year is a great time to get involved. In addition to volunteering for their candidate, students can participate in the National Election Symposia at the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions. This program is sponsored by the Junior Statesmen Foundation, which also runs summer schools offering three to four week AP level classes in U.S. Government & Politics, Constitutional Law, Foreign Policy, and related topics. Sessions are held at Georgetown, Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Northwestern.
Students can create their own summer programs. A prospective science major might contact professors at local colleges who are doing interesting research and see if they could use some help in the lab over the summer. This can be a way for a student to check out if microbiology is really where she’s headed, and if things go well, there’s the possibility of a recommendation letter.
The idea here is to do something other than spend the entire summer playing video games. Now, if a student wants to learn to design video games, that’s a worthwhile endeavor. Digipen in Seattle offers workshops in video game development and 3D animation.
Whatever summer activities a student chooses, it’s helpful to keep a journal about the experience. The material can be valuable when it’s time to write essays for college applications.
There’s no right summer activity that will help students get into college. While structured activities like courses and jobs can be valuable, students have such busy lives during the school year that they also need some time to just relax.
Without the stress of daily school, homework and extracurricular activities, students can take time to look inward and think about what they want to do with their lives. Students who have a clear vision and develop their talents have the best chance of success in college and beyond.