SAT and ACT preparation courses or tutors are not always a smart investment, especially over the summer when colleges want to know that you’ve been productive. In the fourth of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, learn if it makes sense for you to invest in summer test prep or pursue other options.
Expensive pre-college programs or college courses are all the rage with parents and students these days, but should they be? High school students often wonder how to make the most of their summer vacation: take courses at a ‘prestigious university’ or pursue local, and often cheaper, options? In the third of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, we have the answers that will ensure you weigh the pros and cons of each option.
To get paid or not get paid, that is the question. High school students often wonder what’s the best use of their summer break: get a paying job or get an internship? In the second of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, we have the answers that will ensure a productive summer that will impress college admissions officers.
What’s the best order of operations for rising seniors to complete strong and differentiated college applications over the summer before their senior year in high school? In the first of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, we have the answers that will ensure that you don’t waste time or need to back track while giving you the the longest time possible to finalize your college list. If you haven’t yet put together an extracurricular resume for your college applications, start one now using my online course, which will give you the perfect format to start organizing your extracurricular and eventual professional resume.
If you are a high school student keeping up your grades and keeping busy with some activities you enjoy, while also spending time with family and friends, congratulate yourself! You are obviously managing your time well as you work towards your goals.
Having said that, many students decide they want to do more. Specifically, they hope to differentiate themselves on their college applications with an outstanding extracurricular resume.
It’s a problem, however, when students think this translates to taking pricey service trips abroad; or starting a club for the primary purpose of claiming the title “founder”; or gaining membership in multiple organizations without really doing anything.
To develop a resume that will truly stand out, one that deeply showcases your interests, highlights your leadership skills, and underscores your values and character, consider other ways to upgrade your involvement.
First, What Not To Do
It is meaningless to randomly join groups or undertake projects that do not underpin or intersect with the things that are important to you. Be thoughtful and selective about how you spend your time; a school counselor, mentor or other advisor can give you some feedback for your ideas if you’re unsure about where to start.
Also, don’t wait until the end of junior year to decide you need to do something… (Anything… and quickly!) There is nothing wrong, of course, with trying something new senior year; but an activity that represents a natural progression of your interests — rather than a resume line you’d like to fill — will authenticate your interest and involvement.
Being authentic — being true to who you are at your core — and perceptive about what motivates you, is key. Choose activities that help you grow (at your own pace). You’ll know you are on the right track when you feel challenged, but not overwhelmed; energized, but not depleted, by your choices. Here are some ideas to help you elevate your extracurricular activities:
- Promote a passion
Maya’s favorite pastime was knitting. She learned it from her grandmother, who enjoyed it as a relaxing social activity. Knitting also provided an outlet for Maya’s creativity and developed her problem-solving skills. After her grandmother passed, Maya decided to organize a group at a nearby senior center, exchanging tips with other knitting enthusiasts and inspiring novice knitters to learn more.
- Explore a career interest
Job internships for high school students are limited and competitive. You’ll need to start early and do some research to land one. But remember, there are other ways to learn more about your fields of interest. Some ideas include job shadowing, summer programs, personal research, a community college class, or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).
- Create your own opportunity
If what you want doesn’t exist, create it! Here is one example: Jen wanted a temporary means of earning money to pay for a summer engineering program, but babysitting and tutoring weren’t adding much to her savings. She used her mechanical inclinations to her advantage by buying old bikes, cleaning and repairing them, then reselling them for a nice profit. She paid for her summer program and learned some basic lessons of entrepreneurship, too.
- Step outside your comfort zone
When Devin resolved to create his own opportunity to explore his career interest in teaching, it made sense to combine it with his love of dance — he’d been dancing competitively for years. With the support of his dance studio, Devin initiated a year-round weekly dance class for students with special needs. He was a little nervous at first because he did not know what to expect — and he was in charge! But he took a risk, reached out to an underserved population, and in the end, reinforced his faith in both his desire and his abilities to instruct and connect with others.
- Solve your problem
Do you shake your head on a regular basis wondering why something is the way it is, and how you’d like to make it better? If you want to improve something, start where you are. Whether your inner engineer cringes at the poor design of the school cafeteria’s lunch line or your heart for social justice longs to inspire a local service group, step up to see the difference you can make in your own world.
- Commit to your community
Even as a sixth grader Ray could not get enough of math. After competing in middle school math competitions, he realized he would have loved that same opportunity years earlier. He began a math club at his old elementary school, starting with games, adding tutoring the next year, and organizing district competitions the next.
- Learn logistics
Ray’s math club required preplanning to lay the groundwork. He needed to secure permission from the school principal, enlist the aid of a club advisor, arrange for classroom space, get help with publicity, and set up a system to communicate with parents. As he gained further insight into the tasks required behind the scenes, he also gained self-confidence in his abilities to execute his expanding plans.
- Demonstrate dependability
Part of developing maturity and cultivating success is following through. This means that if you commit to a part-time job or volunteer position every Saturday morning, you arrive every Saturday — in the morning. This is not to say you won’t ever have a scheduling conflict or fall ill, but if you find yourself regularly making excuses to cancel, rethink your choice of activity.
- Leave a legacy
Let’s return to Ray – although it was difficult for him to think about leaving his math club, he wanted to make certain it would endure. During senior year he trained two of his former students (who were now high school freshmen) to co-lead the group once he left for college; they will do the same when they are seniors. Ray’s longer view of this activity further conveyed his commitment to improving his community.
- Uplift others
Some students demonstrate high achievement and involvement in athletics or academics or performing arts, for example. But if everything you do seems to focus entirely on yourself, try to incorporate some of the suggestions above to find activities that will also uplift others.
You may or may not find a new passion in service; but at the very least, you’ll have a better appreciation for your own advantages. And without a doubt, colleges will be noting what you’ve contributed to the greater good, as opposed to just yourself, when they envision what you might contribute to their campus.
While colleges increasingly emphasize the value of “experiential” or “hands-on” learning within their own communities, high school students are discovering real benefits in setting aside time during their high school careers for internships or other out-of-classroom experiences. In fact, they are finding that internships provide amazing opportunities to gain significant work experience while exploring long-term career options.
But these opportunities don’t magically appear. You have to plan ahead and do a little networking.
And believe it or not, now is a good time to begin nailing-down plans for next summer.
Although college students usually stand at the front of the line for internships, businesses and nonprofit organizations are increasingly holding positions open for students currently in high school or those transitioning to college. But make no mistake—these positions are getting increasingly competitive. And many application deadlines are coming significantly earlier than in past years.
It may take advance planning and persistence, but opportunities are out there.
Going through the internship application process teaches much-needed job search and employment skills. Preparing a résumé, asking for recommendations, landing an interview, and understanding what it means to be a responsible employee are all skills that give high school students an edge in college and beyond.
And it’s no secret that internships strengthen college applications, as these opportunities introduce students to career fields or potential majors and reinforce valuable research or lab skills.
An internship helps students understand how professional organizations function in the real world. While learning and working, interns have the opportunity to refine career goals. In fact, a summer internship can serve as a “trial period” to test ideas about professions and industries without making any long-term commitments.
If you’re especially lucky, these kinds of opportunities can also lead to award-winning science fair projects, journal articles, or patents.
Where are the internships?
Local businesses and organizations sometimes have formal internship programs designed specifically for high school students. But for the most part, these programs do not offer housing and are usually limited to students able to commute or living in the immediate area.
For example, here is a sample of the many organizations making internships available to high school students in the Washington, DC area:
- American Fisheries Society Hutton Program (due January 31, 2017)
- Bank of America (due January 27, 2017)
- Department of Defense/Georgetown University Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (due February 28, 2017)
- Department of the Navy Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Highway Administration 2016 Summer Transportation Internship (applications due January 20, 2017)
- George Mason University Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) (applications due February 5, 2017)
- Geosciences Bridge Program (applications due March 31, 2017)
- Goddard (applications due March 1, 2017)
- High School Diplomats Program (applications due January 8, 2017)
- J. Craig Venter Institute, DiscoverGenomics Science Education Program
- Library of Congress (applications accepted any time)
- The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
- Montgomery County Police Department
- National Aquarium
- National Archives
- National Air and Space Museum (application window: January 15 – February 15, 2017)
- National Eye Institute (applications due March 1, 2017)
- National Human Genome Research Institute (rolling application process but all due March 1, 2017)
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (applications due March 1, 2017)
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (applications due March 1, 2017)
- National Institute of Health Summer Internship in Biomedical Research (applications due March 1, 2017)
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- National Institute on Aging
- National Institutes of Standards and Technology (applications due February 1, 2017)
- National Marine Sanctuaries
- National Science Education Center (Application window: January 1-March 15, 2017)
- National Security Agency
- Research Science Institute (applications due January 12, 2017)
- Rosie Riveters (spring internship)
- National Security Language Initiative for Youth (Department of State immersion program for less-commonly taught languages)
- NASA (applications due March 1, 2017)
- Northrop Grumman
- The Smithsonian Institution
- Uniformed Services University Summer Research Training
- US Department of Agriculture
- US Department of State Pathways Program
- US Secret Service
- Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars
- Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program at the National Cancer Institute (applications due December 16, 2016)
For a great list of opportunities outside of the DC area, check the webpages maintained by the Rochester Institute of Technology (scroll down for high school students and note that while the dates may not be updated the links are).
Be aware that some internship opportunities are “salaried” positions, some have stipends, and some are strictly volunteer. Again, they are generally highly competitive, and some deadlines may already be past. So make note for next year.
Also, many organizations don’t advertise the availability of summer internships. This is when you have to do a little investigative work on the internet and through other kind of public job listings. Use your networks—parents, relatives, family friends, teachers—anyone who may have contacts in businesses or organizations of interest to you. Internships, particularly for students at least 16 years of age, are great ways to get to know yourself a little better while building skills that will make you competitive for the future.
Nancy Griesemer is an independent educational consultant and founder of College Explorations LLC. She has written extensively and authoritatively about the college admissions process and related topics since 2009. Never miss one of Nancy’s articles – subscribe to her mailing list below.
Learn about a once-in-a-lifetime extracurricular experience for those to like to take a walk on the wild side. You can pursue this activity only in August 2016 in an exotic setting and celebrating a truly global event. Disclaimer: Not for those who like to play it safe.
Learn how to select pre-college programs or other summer activities that will help your chances of college admission.