Summer – Time to play and work?
What comes to mind when you think of your summer vacation? If you are in classes 8-11 and your goal is to study at one of the competitive universities in the US then summer is not just about having a good time.
Competitive US universities look beyond your test scores and academic performance when they assess your application. That’s because the majority of students who apply are often in the top 5 percent of their high school class and are capable of handling academic rigour. Admissions officers look at your extracurricular activities to help distinguish you from other applicants in the pool to assess if you are going to be fit on their campus.
Summer vacations are a great way to use your time productively. If you are a high achiever, planning ahead and capitalizing on your summer breaks will not only help you delve deep into your interests but to grow and mature vis-à-vis your experiences.
We have outlined 5 broad types of summer activities:
Structured Summer Programs
There are different kinds of summer programs globally to suit almost every interest. Attending a summer program is advantageous if you are interested in learning about and exploring a subject that your high school curriculum might not offer e.g. philosophy or psychology. For younger students summer school may simply be about leaving home for the first time and gaining exposure to different learning styles.
Often, summer programs are conducted at prestigious university campuses by organisations that rent the university’s space. Most of these programs are NOT affiliated with the university or their faculty and so by attending any of these programs you do not have an edge if you apply to that program as an undergraduate student.. So identifying a quality, appropriate program is important. Some competitive summer programs include Yale Young Global Scholars, MIT Launch, MIT Research Science Institute, and Leadership in the Business World at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania).
Internships are a great way to discover if you like working in a particular field. A factory internship for e.g., can not only improve understanding of the processes of manufacturing a product but also how the different departments liaise – valuable learning which can help you articulate your future goals.
As a high school student it is difficult to find internship opportunities because many organisations are concerned about your age and lack of experience (the chicken and the egg!). In that case, leverage your family and friends network to find meaningful internship positions. While working at an established brand is great, what you do during the internship, your learning and your ability to articulate is equally important. It is just as well to work at a start-up that you might be passionate about and where you might have more responsibility.
Students who are interested in studying STEM at university should give serious thought to initiating a project that focuses on your long-term goals. One option is to spend time in a laboratory outside your school working with scientists on a research project. Another option is self-guided research aimed at creating new products or services that help solve a problem. Many students we know have been successful at combining their interest in STEM with social responsibility to develop products that are purposeful. One student saw a need and developed marginal cost, clay water filters to help the people in the community near Sanjay Gandhi National Park improve water purity.
If you are interested in studying computer science it’s not enough to learn coding languages; your college application will be stronger if you can show how you applied your knowledge, for e.g. developing an app or enhancing the value of an existing product.
Students’ love having ‘social work’ on their resume because they think it makes them look good. Admissions officers are very good at reading between the lines. Only pursue social work if that is your passion and you want to make a real difference. One student who realised the importance of donating blood, organized blood donation drives three times a year throughout high school, increasing awareness in his village and each time identifying new ways to increase the number of donors.
If social work motivates you then we advise students to build upon what they are already doing. If, for example, you start teaching at an NGO one summer, you might be able to help them develop content the next summer. In the subsequent summer vacation (or during any other break) perhaps assist with developing a website. Note: IBDP students have to do social work to fulfil their CAS (creativity, action, service) requirements. This is NOT an extracurricular activity; it is part of your curriculum.
Academic Test Preparation
Summer vacation is a great time to buckle down and study for your standardized tests. Also use this time to do extra reading – stay in touch with world events, developments in your community and news especially relevant to your area of interest. Not everyone is interested in pursuing sports, music or social work. If you excel in academics and are eager to expand your knowledge further then find different avenues. We worked with a student who was passionate about, competed in and won several Olympiads.
Our advice: spend your time outside of school doing something you are genuinely interested in rather than trying to “tick all the boxes.” Whilst it is important for you to make the most of summer, we do not suggest that you need to plan something for every minute of every holiday; you will burn out before you finish high school. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!