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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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What exactly is a meaningful summer?

Uploaded: Apr 19, 2013
A student from Danville asks:

I keep hearing counselors talk about students having meaningful summers. Well, what exactly does that mean and what are some good ideas? Thanks, Jeremy

Dr. LaScala's response:

That's a great question, Jeremy. Most college applications have a section to list and describe your accomplishments, including summer activities. If it is on the application, it is safe to assume that it is important in the admissions process.

Regarding extracurricular activities in general, depth is more important than breadth. Students who discover two or three opportunities to pursue have the most fun and success. These can be projects, activities, employment or even college-level coursework not readily available during the regular high school year. Summer is an important time to build your extracurricular record.

Younger students are still forming their interests. Younger students should be encouraged to enjoy a wide exposure to many wholesome activities. For example, a student may want to volunteer for an animal rescue foundation, but may show little or no interest in becoming a veterinarian. Everything a student does should not be judged as good or bad depending on whether it fits an adult's idea of 'meaningful' or career-focused. On the other hand, an older student who believes she wants to go pre-med should demonstrate an active interest in clinical medicine by volunteering or finding an internship at a hospital or medical clinic.

You do not have to travel or spend a ton of money for your summer to have an impact. Here are some possibilities:

On-line courses. I know one student on a tight budget, who enrolled in an inexpensive on-line design course. She was guided through the creation of a 3-dimensional model bedroom (complete with furnishings, fabrics, window treatments, rugs, the works!). This project became part of her portfolio when she applied (successfully!) to several excellent architectural programs.

Employment. Students with jobs learn many vital life lessons and gain valuable leadership experience—especially if they can continue the job into the high school year.

Internships. Internships are tremendous opportunities for students to build specific skill sets and gain valuable experience in a particular field or area of knowledge. There are many summer programs to choose from and costs vary greatly. Get an early start researching these opportunities as many selective programs have March and April deadlines. Another bonus of applying to more selective internships is that the application is similar to the college application (many selective intern programs require letters of recommendation, school transcript, test scores and a personal essay) An 11th grader who completes this type of application process gets a good head start on the college application process.

Community Service. Time is more plentiful during the summer and students who are drawn to volunteerism can expand this interest over the break.

College Research and Visits. Summer is a perfect time to develop a balanced list of good fit colleges, explore each college fully and, if possible, plan to visit a few.

I hope this kick starts your ideas about how to spend your summer!

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit www.doingcollege.com; Call (925) 891-4491 or email at elizabeth@doingcollege.com

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