Time is money, or so the saying goes, and summer provides a vast vista of new free time, without the demands of the school year. Many students want to make the best use of their time this summer, both for their own fulfillment and to improve their chances of college admissions.
We’ve already written a guide to some top summer programs for high school students, but these are far from the only productive way to spend your summer. In this article, we’ll discuss why summers are so important, how you can make the best use of them, and give some suggestions for how you can spend your summer productively.
Why Do Summers Matter?
Summers are an incredibly unstructured time. Compared to the regular school year, students have no constraints or obligations on their time except for those they set themselves. You are free to sleep until noon every day, and spend every waking hour with friends or playing video games. (We do not recommend doing this for the whole summer, but sparing a weekend or two for it won’t hurt).
This makes summers a great chance for students to show what they value. Any subject students are passionate enough to invest their summers doing is one they clearly care deeply about. This passion is something colleges look for generally, so summers are a good way to demonstrate the depth of your passions.
Summers also provide opportunities to explore topics in new depth and in new ways, due to the extra time and travel opportunities they afford. Instead of spending 8 hours a day in school or doing homework, students can find jobs, pursue internships, or work on individual passion projects. The freedom to explore that this free time allows them is the greatest boon summer provides.
Colleges do not care about summers more than the school year, but summers provide a unique opportunity to demonstrate the depth and breadth of a student’s passions. This is an opportunity you should seize to the fullest.
Making The Best Use of Summer Vacations
The best way to use your vacation is to explore one of your passions in more depth; learning more about it, seeing if it’s right for you, and building up to greater things. This is true regardless of what your passion is, though how exactly you go about this exploration will vary greatly based upon where your interests lie.
The first step is determining where your interests lie, and what projects you wish to pursue. This will be simpler for some students than others. If you are already involved in a long-term project outside of school, then summer is a great chance to deepen your investment.
When increasing involvement in an existing project, you should do more than simply increase the number of hours you invest. Volunteering is very worthwhile, and many places need the help. Instead of just increasing your volunteering hours, however, you should look for new opportunities to learn skills and demonstrate leadership. You need to increase the depth of your commitment, not merely the breadth.
For example, one student might volunteer at a nature conservatory a few hours a week during the school year. They are passionate about the environment, and want to do more to help. Over the summer, in addition to increasing volunteering hours, you should look for new ways to get involved.
Some organizations have developed tracks to increase involvement, allowing students to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills while deepening their involvement. In other scenarios, the student will have to show initiative, for example by drafting a plan to combat an invasive species in the area, and bringing it to their supervisors.
If you are not already involved in an ongoing project, then you should find one, either with an organization or alone. This is a tall order, but you can start small and build up. Our next section details some ways you can start getting involved.
Worthwhile Summer Activities
It’s impossible to list every activity which may be worth pursuing over summer vacation. There are too many options, and students are far too unique in their interests and resources. Therefore, this section will talk more about categories of opportunities, and lay out which may make the best returns based on your interests.
One great way to spend a summer is an internship. These are available in a great many disciplines, and teach you real-world applications, instead of just the theory you might learn in a class. Internships are incredibly competitive, and many may already be full. It’s not too late to go looking for a more informal internship however, and the more niche your field of interest, the better your odds of finding a place.
Volunteering is always looked upon favorably, but you should be careful to spend your time wisely. In addition to the advice given above, we recommend joining an existing nonprofit, rather than starting your own. Wherever you end up, however, you should focus on increasing your responsibilities, and showing initiative.
Some students are unsure where their passions lie, as they are interested in too many subjects, or they want to explore fields which aren’t offered by their high school. These students should consider online courses. These are courses from universities across the country and around the world, and most are self-paced and offered for free. These will allow students to explore subjects that may interest them, and allow them to discover where their passions lie.
Many sports and other school-based extracurriculars continue over the summer, and these can be a good use of your time. If these are the core of your passion, then by all means continue them. Be aware that while athletics can be a route to admissions, it is very competitive. Demonstrating a long term commitment to activities you participate in during the year (such as dance or debate) is often a good use of your time, but it is not the only possibility.
As the school year ends and summer begins an ocean of possibilities unfolds before you. This is exciting, but also overwhelming. Any activity you participate in that lets you explore your passions will make for time well spent however. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself as well; high school only happens once, and you should make the most of it.
If you want advice on how you should best spend your summer, or want guidance finding the best ways to explore your passions, you should schedule a free consultation. We have long experience in helping students discover and explore new passions, and are eager to help you do the same.