In a few weeks, my small town of Hopkinton will host 30,000 runners as they begin their journey towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Each of them set a goal and each had to plan ahead to have a chance of accomplishing this feat. It won't just happen.
Similarly, the summer represents an opportunity for your child to set a goal – and help level the playing field –as they prepare for college applications and their lives as young adults. Grades, test scores and whether or not your family has the resources to send your child on an amazing volunteer trip need not come into play here. Everyone can find something to do in the summer that will be worth talking about in a college interview and that may make them stand out in a crowded field of applicants.
More important, it will genuinely move your child along on his/her path to maturity and increased self-awareness. It may even help with the discovery of a passion or a career direction.
Summer activities can help your teenager learn about his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It can help increase independence, provide a sense of responsibility, develop an ability to interact with and accept feedback from people they do not know well, and even realize the consequences of not following through with commitments.
A job, internship or volunteer experience is a great way to accomplish many of these goals. As can something as informal as learning how to code online, setting up a regular time to visit/help an elderly neighbor, starting a lawn or pet-sitting business, and more.
I’ve been talking with my students about planning for the summer. But I know there are still many teens who do not yet have a plan. It is not too late, but finding a worthwhile summer activity does take work and persistence. Also, I find that this is an area in which your child may need some encouragement and help (from you) in brainstorming options, thinking outside the box and finding an opportunity that feels worthwhile.
Here are some questions to help get them started:
- How much available time is there to add something new (taking into account current responsibilities)?
- Does your child need to make money? Is there money to spend on an activity or experience?
- Is there a career interest that could be explored? Either through a formal career exploration program or by setting up shadowing opportunities with acquaintances to learn about various careers.
- Is there a class or a weekly tutoring session that will make a difference for school in the fall? This may be the time to learn some more effective study skills or work on strategies for writing.
- Is there an interest that has not been fully explored? Maybe there is a class that is nonacademic – cooking, photography, painting, modern dance, etc. Or maybe there is a neighbor who is skilled in an area of interest and who could use a volunteer and teach some skills at the same time.
Ideally, your child will uncover something that he or she is passionate about and excited to pursue, either as a possible career focus or leisure activity. Having an area of intense interest can help a teen blossom and weather many of the less than positive experiences that they need to get through on their way through high school (learning what they do not like can be important too).
Whatever your child decides to focus on this summer, and however it turns out, they will have something of substance to talk about when the college interviewer asks that inevitable question: “How did you spend your summer?!”
Check out the web sites below for summer activity ideas (search on summer programs for high school students or pre-college programs).
And remember, your child's chosen activity need not be part of a formal program.