Summer When it's 36 Degrees Outside
Yesterday when I woke up it was 36 degrees outside. Temperatures that low happen rarely here in central Florida, so I eagerly dug deep in my closet for a sweater, wrapped myself in my wool peacoat, and headed out for a day of errands. I pretended I was a kid again walking to school in Maryland, or a young professional on one of my first business trips to Ontario (OK, yesterday wasn't that cold). It was fun to pretend to be in a different place, in a different year. I made a mental note to remember this day when it's dreadfully hot in late July.
Yes, the summer is hot, but it's also a time to pretend and explore—and now is the perfect time to think about and research summertime activities. I wrote the following a few years ago, and I re-visit it every year, with my thoughts on how to spend the summer wisely:
With part-time jobs, community service activities, sports tournaments and workouts, and copious amounts of summer homework, it may seem like the summer is full before it even begins. After a busy school year, you are likely craving a switch-up of your normal routine. At the bare minimum, you want more sleep, right? While there is no right or wrong way to spend a summer vacation, it should be a time of growth and self-discovery — and fun! There are countless ways to achieve this.
Some students work all summer; they may work to help support their families, they may be saving for college or extra spending money, or they may simply want the experience. Whatever the reason, this is an admirable choice and certainly one that leads to invaluable skills learned.
Similarly, some students may find the summer to be a perfect time to volunteer in the community, and they unexpectedly learn more about themselves as they help others.
FUN PURSUITS — INDIVIDUALLY AND WITH FAMILY & FRIENDS
Have you always dreamed of writing a novel? Would you like to learn how to code? Hike some nearby trails? Read every book by a particular author? The summertime is a perfect opportunity to do some of the things that you’ve always wanted to do. Many of these fun activities are free and not structured — you do what you what, when you want, alone, or with friends and family.
ORGANIZED SUMMER PROGRAMS ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Some of these programs are more expensive than others, some are free, and some offer generous scholarships to students who have financial need and apply. There is absolutely no correlation between cost and quality. Some last just a few days over an extended weekend; others might be six or eight weeks. These programs have tremendous value, in ways that may be surprising.
Consider these tips as you review these programs:
For academic, arts, and athletic programs, look for programs run by the college itself — not outside groups who just use the campus as a facility. While there are exceptions, students are more likely to be led by the actual college professors and coaches who will use the resources readily available and familiar to them. Oftentimes programs with this arrangement are less expensive because there is no middleman.
Academic summer programs are for students who are eager to continue their studies beyond the regular school year, so if you’d rather be outside playing a sport than inside a lab, then it’s OK to play your sport! Don’t sign up for an academic program because you think that is what you are supposed to do.
The purpose of these academic programs should be to explore academic interests in a relaxed setting. It’s an opportunity to discover what academic areas you like and do not like. Steer clear of programs that offer college credit and grades; this should be a time to just be creative and to take risks without fear of a poor grade.
Going to a college’s summer program will have very little (if any) impact on whether you have an advantage at that specific college during admissions. In fact, with a few exceptions (notably performing arts and possibly athletics), the department that runs the summer programs does not communicate with the admissions department. Attend a specific college to help narrow your choices — discover what you like and don’t like about the campus — rather than to give yourself some mythical advantage in the admissions process. It is helpful to explore urban campuses, rural campuses, those big, small, nearby, and far away.
Staying on a college campus for a week or more is an opportunity to be away from home (and your own bed), meet new friends, eat different food, and be responsible for adhering to a schedule. It’s a chance to evaluate who you are away from your typical environment.
Assessing how you stack up away from the comfortable confines of your high school is another excellent reason to pursue a summer program. When you apply to colleges, you will be compared with students all over the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a realistic sense of where you fit in with your peers before you begin applying? If you have the opportunity to work alongside other students with similar interests, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to be surrounded by others who are passionate about science, theater, politics — whatever your interests may be. You will gain confidence in your chosen career path and will more clearly define your college list.
Spending time on a college campus as part of a program allows students to imagine themselves at college, away from family and long-time friends. It makes the idea more real and more tangible, and it also opens up a list of criteria to use when comparing colleges senior year.
Whether you choose to attend a summer program, take on a summer job, dedicate your time to community service, or pursue a particular passion, make the most of your precious summer time, and allow time for simply enjoying the long summer days!