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Building Your ‘Resume’ During Summer ‘Vacation’

By Robert LeVine

It may be February, but summer is coming. Before students start fantasizing about time off from school, take a moment to plan. Colleges do pay attention to how students spend summers. In fact, many schools require essays explaining what the applicant did during high school summers. A student who demonstrates initiative outside of school is likely to show initiative as an adult.

Unlike the academic year, summer months provide flexibility to do the things you want to do. Go deep in an important direction or try something entirely new. But what should you do? Although there is a lot of pressure to pursue internships, research, elite college experiences and other popular activities, as long as you do something valuable, what you do doesn’t necessarily matter to colleges.

The truth is: when the admissions office evaluates an applicant’s candidacy, summer activities seldom make a significant difference. If the program is academic, its value pales in comparison to high school grades and standardized test scores. If the program is extracurricular, it is not as lengthy as year-long or lifelong pursuits; it does not prove any special achievement; it probably makes little impact on the greater world; and unless it is original and unique, it does not differentiate between everyone who does the same kind of thing.

Please do not fixate on classes and camps presented by elite colleges. Attending an expensive program does not really impress admissions officers. Instead, focus upon whether the activity will be valuable to the student. We say it all the time: build the person, not the resume.

Also recognize that “one size does not fit all.” What works during the summer after grade 9 might not work during the summer after grade 10 and most certainly won’t optimize the summer after grade 11. Whereas a college class may be a great experience for an underclassman, for those about to begin their final year of high school, you should be able to find something more valuable than a pre-boxed experience.

WARNING: if you choose to attend a few weeks at a college, remember that this is more than a camp. It is an audition! They are watching you. They may embrace you – or reject you – based upon the way you participate (or not) on their campus.

Again, do what makes sense for you, not what you think a college will want to see. They’re trying to find the student, not the student’s resume.

When planning, consider beginning your college admissions effort. Many families choose to spend time during the summer touring colleges. That’s fine, but it is not imperative that you visit a school before applying. Many students prefer to wait until after receiving admissions offers are received. Everything looks different with an offer in hand. If you do decide to visit some schools during the summer, be intelligent. Do not overdo your visits and cause fatigue and agitation for the student (and family). Do not use the visit to select or reject a school. A few hours on campus is merely research for a decision you will make later.

Investigate the school before going, keep your eyes and ears open to evaluate the human element of the place, and explore not only the campus, but also the surrounding area as well. If you take an official tour, ask unexpected questions, like “What does everybody do on Wednesday nights?” This provides insight into what life is really like at the school, and tour guides give honest answers when they are unprepared for non-standard questions.

If you are going into the last year of high school, get a head start on your college essays over the summer. The first semester of senior year will be extremely busy, and multitasking leads to stress, not top-quality work. Students who head back to school with their main Personal Statement completed are more effective during the craziness of application season (and their parents are more likely to stay sane, too).

Finally, when planning your summer, plan a vacation! Rest, relaxation and recuperation matter for all of us, and once teenagers are grown, it really is harder for families to spend quality time together.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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