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How to Spend a Productive Summer

Find out how to spend a productive summer in preparation for admissions season.


March 13, 2009

How to Spend a Productive Summer

At last, summer's almost here! After a school year full of hard work, you can finally put away your books, break out your bikinis, and soak up the sunshine. This is not only what you deserve but in fact what you need: If you have been working to your maximum level during the school year, you owe your body about two weeks off during the summer for a real break. Go ahead and pursue your favorite pastime, relax, sleep, and reflect on the past year and the year to come. Do not, however, get too used to your life of leisure! From a college admissions standpoint, it's important to be productive during your summer months. Working is looked upon favorably by the more selective colleges; working on your tan is not.

It is important to understand that when it comes time to apply to schools in the fall, you will be competing for admission against a wealth of other students who made the most of their summers by strengthening their talents and skills and/or making up in some way for their weaknesses. Ideally, you have already found something to do for this summer, but if not, here are some suggestions.

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For the summer after ninth grade, summer school can be a great idea, particularly if you want to get ahead in your curriculum. For example, rising sophomores in the past have used their summers to skip ahead in their math track, some by taking a class that prepares them for an honors or advanced level course, others by taking an intensive math course that spans at least six weeks of the summer. Other students have chosen to use their summers to take composition or creative writing courses to strengthen their writing skills.

For the summer after tenth grade, you might want to try participating in a program designed to strengthen one of your main talents. For example, if you're interested in engineering, you could try a program that teaches students to design their own autonomous robots, such as Carnegie Mellon West's seven-week RoboCamp. Students who are artistically inclined may want to try Northwestern's National High School Institutes (colloquially known as "Cherubs"), during which students who excel in music, theater, journalism, film, debate and/or forensics hone their talents through intensive workshops in their areas of interest. Another great opportunity for prospective film students is through University of Southern California's Summer Seminars, where students can study either screenwriting, the business and technology of film, or basic animation techniques. The summer after tenth grade also might be used to go away on a program abroad. Two great resources for finding abroad programs are and, where you can punch in specific countries and interests and find hundreds of excellent programs that are off the beaten track. I recommend committing to a program of at least six weeks: A true cultural immersion will usually take more than a month, and it will take two weeks just to get over your jet lag! Also, try to travel to a country where the residents speak the foreign language you're taking in school. In order to make the most of your experience, try and stay away from programs with too many other Americans, and try to devote yourself to one place for the entire stay. For example, if you're taking Spanish in school, it's best to go to Mexico or a Central or Latin American country rather than Spain, which is often teeming with Americans. Also, in cities such as Barcelona, the language of choice is Catalan as opposed to Spanish.

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What are other students doing for summer? Find out in our discussions.

The summer after eleventh grade is a good time to try and find an internship or other type of employment experience in one of your fields of interest. If you're interested in a sports-related career, let's say, this is an excellent summer to work for a local newspaper writing about sports or maybe even a local team. Remember, nepotism is not looked upon favorably, so make sure your work experience is aligned with your interests and not with your parents' careers. After all, you are not just spending the summer in Dad's office; this should be made clear to the colleges. Likewise, if you're holding down a job or internship, the ideal amount of time to do this is for about eight weeks. Given that the typical summer is twelve weeks long, you'll still have several weeks for relaxation and, of course, working on college applications.

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