Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer. Nothing better than slippin’ on your flip-flops, rubbing on some SPF 15, and soaking up the sun while dipping your toes in the pool, right?
WRONG, especially if we’re talking about the summer between your junior and senior years of high school. This needs to be a productive summer, a time of pursuing your academic and extracurricular interests. It’s the last part of your high school career that really counts, so you don’t want to waste it being idle and lazy. Why? Because this summer is going to become part of your application, whether you like it or not.
We’re not trying to be buzzkills here. Your friends here at Admissionado love to have summer fun just like anyone else. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and the rising senior summer is a time for growth. If you have fun along the way, that’s great, too.
So how can you have a summer that’s meaningful and leads to personal development? The answer is simple: don’t force it. Do something that interests you, while simultaneously challenging you. More importantly, make sure it aligns with your ultimate goals. If you have zero interest in biology or medicine, don’t force yourself to volunteer at a hospital. Likewise, if you don’t care for literature or prose, don’t enroll in an intensive, college-level creative writing workshop. What you do with the summer should be organic, an extension of what already interests you.
The big question remains, “Why is this summer so important to my college application?” The answer is twofold.
First of all, in a perfect world, this summer experience will become fodder for an incredible application essay. A word of caution here. To paraphrase the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” The destination in this case is a winning essay. But if you plan your journey solely around this pursuit, you’re going to have a wholly superficial experience. We can’t tell you how many students fall victim to this. The thought is, “I must do something that will make for a great essay!” when the thought should be, “I must have a meaningful experience that aligns with my interests!” Keep the latter in mind when planning your summer. Don’t force yourself into a misguided journey; it’ll just lead to a disingenuous destination. Trust us… There truly is nothing worse than an emotionless essay about an artificial summer activity.
The second reason that this summer is so important is because when you get interviewed during the application process, the interviewer will always ask, “So, what did you do last summer?” You’d better have a good answer! In my experience as an admissions interviewer for Harvard, most applicants don’t, and it reflects poorly on them. This isn’t to say that you should rush out and spend a couple of grand on an Ivy League summer program (which are a waste of money for most students anyway, in my humble opinion). What you do during the summer doesn’t have to cost anything! Join a volunteer group for a cause you’re passionate about. Start a volunteer group for a cause you care about. Whatever it is, you’ve got to have a good answer when that question comes up in the interview.
“Why?” you ask, “Who cares what I did last summer? Why is it anybody’s business, and why should it matter?!” It matters because applicants who undertake meaningful summer experiences are much more likely, in the eyes of the AdCom, to continue pursuing meaningful experiences in college. Applicants like this ultimately add to and enrich their university communities, and that’s what AdComs are seeking above all else.
So put away your SPF 15 and dreams of poolside tanning, and get to thinking about how to make the most of your summer. And if you’re that concerned about your complexion, get a spray tan. It takes like five minutes, leaving you with 1,343 hours and 55 minutes to have an incredibly meaningful summer experience. That’s plenty of time, so get to it!
By Stephen Black, Admissionado Senior Consultant