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Made in the Shade

It might not feel like it where you are, but Spring is technically here! A look at the calendar (if not the snow on the ground) shows that summer isn't far behind. Granted, it might arrive after two and a half more months of homework, reading and exams -- but it will arrive!

Traditionally, summer stretches endlessly in front of the weary student, offering uninterrupted time with no schedule, no responsibilities and no activities tied to school or schoolwork.

The reality is quite different.

More and more teenagers enroll in summer school, attend (or work at) organized camps or take on jobs. So much activity! But are these students making the most of the precious opportunity that summer offers?

Successful students will keep certain strategic considerations in mind as they plan for this stretch of relative freedom:

  • First of all, summer should actually represent a continuation of your efforts to develop your interests and strengths. Some activities that are important to you may only be possible during the summer. But your summer endeavors will have more impact -- both on college admissions and on your own personal development -- if they build on and feed into how you spend your time during the school year.

  • Secondly, because summer is more self-directed, the student must take the initiative to explore and take stock of their tastes and abilities. Well-used summers can give students a better handle on what they want to do over the next few years. This in turn makes finding the best environment for success (i.e. college) that much easier to identify.

  • Finally, a series of well-planned summer activities that build on each other and the student's developing skills will culminate in accomplishments the student will be proud to detail in college applications during the fall of senior year. Those credentials will have the most meaning, however, based on the solid foundation of the student's actual passions and abilities.

Let's look at how students can keep these considerations in mind as they approach summer break at each stage of high school.

Freshmen: Freshmen are usually not attractive hires for most businesses because they are simply too young. This can be a good thing! Use the time to volunteer, shadow, try out a project of your own, or organize your friends to achieve a goal -- all without the pressure of a paycheck or boss.

Sophomores: By now, students should have developed the self-knowledge to prune away passing interests and begin to identify a focus for junior year -- perhaps even gunning for a leadership position. This is the perfect summer to go away to a program on a college campus to explore and deepen these interests, add to your skill set, and confirm your direction.

Juniors: Just as junior year is the most important year for academic accomplishment, summer after junior year is the most important chance for establishing your strategic direction for college applications. This is your final chance to put something impressive on your resume. Pretty much any program that involves high school students will be open to rising seniors this summer, so choose carefully, and by all means start early enough not to miss deadlines. But watch out: many pay-to-play offerings are nothing more than glorified summer camps! Find a good one, or develop your own project.

The upshot: Recognize that "free" time over the summer is a resource to be utilized. More time means the student can take on more and accomplish more. You only have three summers before filling out your college applications -- don't waste a single one!

If you need help in deciding how to best use your summer opportunities, click the "Contact Me" button at the bottom of the page, or call 847-660-8625.

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