Podcast: Let’s get tactical: How to Plan your Summer

Welcome back to the podcast! After a refreshing holiday break, join me as I share valuable insights on making your student’s summer meaningful. Let’s kick off the year together!

Access Signet’s Guide to Summer Planning here.
Explore various summer programs and exciting opportunities from Pathways to Science, Teenlife, and College Match Point.


Sheila Akbar:

Hello, and welcome back to the podcast, we took a nice little break there for the holidays and all of January. And I know I really needed that time to recharge, I hope you all got a chance to recharge and refocus on what truly matters for you and your family. And here we are kicking off with a tactical episode about summer planning. This is a thing that I’m getting all the calls and emails about right now, what should my kid do with their summer? And what’s not spoken in that question is what should my kid do with their summer in order to get into college, or in order to look good for college or in order to be competitive for such and such College? Now, I think this is a really natural question. And I also think that a lot of the, let’s say fervor over summer activities is a holdover honestly, from when our kids are younger, and we need child care for them. In the summer, when school is not in session. There’s this whole question of like, well, if I have to be working, what the heck am I going to do with my kid? Who’s going to take care of them? And how are we going to keep them engaged and retaining the information they learned from the school year and maybe exploring new things and staying active and not just, you know, watching TV or playing video games all summer long. I think a lot of that is still true when your kid is in high school, even when they don’t need a babysitter or somebody to look after them and make sure they’re eating and not hurting themselves. We worry that they’re just going to sit around and look at tick tock videos all summer, they they certainly could do that. So I want to discuss this question sort of with that in mind is like, how do you make sure it’s a meaningful summer, I was going to use the word productive. But honestly, let’s all get away from feeling we have to be productive at all times. So meaningful, I think is what we should be focused on here. And you can define meaning in a lot of different ways, it may be investing in something that is going to help your student become a stronger college candidate, somebody who is more clear about their career or academic goals, as somebody who has more confidence in themselves or who has certain skills. You know, there are all kinds of ways to define this. So as we start to dig into this topic, I want to put summer activities within the context of extracurriculars in general, because there are some kind of key principles I think that they share in common. One is, why does this matter? Why do we need to do anything here? And do we truly need to do anything? So the answer is, of course, nuanced, depending on your students, your family situation, and maybe what some of your students goals are, or interests are. But the reason that colleges like to see extracurriculars, or students spending their summer in a meaningful way, is because it gives them an indication of what your student cares about, what kind of intellectual curiosity do they have? Are they self driven? Are they really focused on a particular academic or career path? It tells them all sorts of things, right? When you have free time, and you choose to spend it in a certain way, it does communicate what you care about what matters to you. Now, I do want to note that everybody has free time, some students need to work over the summer, or they need to be the one taking care of that younger sibling who is out of school, you should know that those things. I’m using air quotes here, count on a college application, you should absolutely list any jobs, part time work, family responsibilities, like taking care of siblings, or maybe relatives, you know, some people have their grandparents who live with them. And you know, there’s certain responsibilities that the teenagers may have. I’ve worked with teenagers who have been responsible for cooking meals for the family, whether that’s over the summer, or during the school year, they’re responsible for cooking dinner some several nights a week because a parent is working or they like to share that low. Maybe they just like okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. If we go back to why do these things matter? Why do colleges seem to place some importance on extracurriculars or how a student spends their summer one, it’s an indication of what matters to the student. And it can highlight certain skills, interests, Personality traits, like grit, resilience, a sense of responsibility, if they’re doing a lot of community service. And might highlight those those values for giving back or helping others. And that’s why it becomes important. It’s not that colleges are looking for something specific, they don’t really care how you spend your summer, as long as you’re spending it doing something that is meaningful in some way to you, and that you find a way to communicate what that meaning is in your application somewhere. So they understand why it is that you did X, Y, or Z. So we get a lot of questions about should we do the summer program at Brown? Or should they get a part time job at the mall over the summer, I’ll tell you, it is going to depend a little bit on the student and what specifically they’re trying to learn or trying to expose themselves to, if they are interested in getting into retail, whether they want to do marketing or their designer, or they’re just very interested in commerce, sometimes a part time job is the best way to get that kind of experience, you know, you’re dealing with customers, you’re managing inventory, you know, you’re you’re building relationships with other people who do that kind of work, you get to see a little bit about how a business actually runs. But if the let’s say program, I’m picking on brown here, they have a great summer program on campus. If the summer program at Brown, the course that you’re doing is on psychology. And that is the thing you think you want to study or go on to focus in for your career. Well, then absolutely, that that makes sense clear why that would be meaningful to you. And it’s not that one is better than the other, it’s going to depend on the student and how they make use of that opportunity. Right. So I don’t want you to feel you have to spend 1000s of dollars to do some fancy program. And I also don’t want you to think that certainly just because you do a summer program at a college that is going to help you get into that particular college, the admissions for these programs are run by totally different places. Generally, admissions for college is much more selective than admissions for a summer program. So there’s really no direct line there. The one way that those summer programs may offer some sort of help to students is that a student who lives on a college campus gets to know that campus pretty well. It’s much more than a tour at least or looking at pictures online. And so if it’s a place that’s far away from home, a school that maybe gets often overlooked by this type of student, if they’ve done a summer program there that could signal some interest in the school and also signal that the student knows what it’s like to live on that campus to be in that part of the country to be in a culture that’s different from wherever they’re from, when that can give admissions officers some reassurance that, okay, they actually maybe interested in our school, and wouldn’t be hesitant to go this far from home, because they’ve done it before. But it’s not necessarily going to give you a leg up or an inside track on admissions at all. So let me be absolutely clear about that. Now that we kind of understand, like you can do anything, and it’s kind of up to you on what kind of impact it has on your college application. Because you’re choosing to spend your time in a certain way that may bolster your candidacy in any number of ways depending on what you decide to do. Let’s talk about how you go about picking what to do with your summer because there are so many options. And there are options that you could combine with other options. So we have like almost a seemingly endless amount of combinations and choices here. I’m not going to do a probability LSAT problem for you. But that’s kind of what it starts to feel like right? So first thing to know, we covered the why should you be thinking about this. But But let’s think about the what is well, what are these summer activities that students do. And this is not going to be a comprehensive or exhaustive list. But these are the things I typically see from students, they go to a camp. This might be like your traditional summer camp where you’re out in nature and doing arts and crafts or learning how to canoe. It could also be like an academic camp or a career oriented camp. They’ll do courses, most colleges run summer session and you can either join the summer session with other college students or they have a high school summer session. They sometimes call it pre college. And you could do those courses either for credit, you’ll get a grade, you’ll have a transcript that you could submit with it, or you do it for non credit. You can still mention it in your college application. Students sometimes get internships these are harder to get for high School students, most internships realistically are for college students. But there are high school internships out there. And you can google for them. Or you could try to create one with maybe a company or a person that you have a good relationship with. We’ll get into this in the next section, a lot of students try to do something research oriented over the summer. And this could be through a structured program on a college campus, it could be through a network of their own, but they’re learning real research skills, whether that’s reading academic articles, and putting together a summary article, it could be applying something from one of those articles to some other topic. And they write something around that. Sometimes they’re actually collecting data, whether that’s through surveys, or fieldwork, or in a lab. And they’re learning all of these sorts of research and survey skills. And certainly writing skills come along with this too. So research, if that’s relevant to something that your student is interested in, can be a great way to build skills and get exposure to a particular field. But again, those positions can be hard to get a lot of students work a job, it may or may not be related to a field that they care about. Plenty of students work at the mall, scoop ice cream, rent kayaks at the river, whatever it is, jobs are great, they teach your students a lot of really important life skills, maybe they make a little bit of money, and they get to save and spend that on whatever they want, can be very rewarding for a student and give them a taste of what that kind of working world is like. And then we’ve got travel programs where you’ll go to some foreign country, and maybe be only speaking that language or learning about the culture or economy of that country, doing some sort of service work there, there are a lot of those that are around tend to be quite expensive. But if that fits your budget, and if the focus of the program is of interest to your student, it might be worth looking at. There are creative, academic, career oriented or social, like cultural, religious, or other interest based programs that students can do. And again, some of these are very structured, some of them are a little bit more like choose a project and someone will mentor you. And then we also have independent skill building, or projects that a student might take on. So some examples of this, I had a student who wanted to put together a poetry collection. By the end of the summer, I’ve had students especially over COVID, want to learn a new instrument or a new language, or create a podcast. And those have all been very interesting projects that students have been able to demonstrate what their real passions are, and learn some real skills. So I love those independent projects, too. And they might not cost you anything. So that’s kind of a brief overview of different kinds of things you can do. And now you’re starting to see why. Oh, my gosh, this feels like an essay T problem. How do I choose from all of these different things? I will get to that. But before we do, I want to get you to think about when should you be thinking about this, most of my students start planning in January or February because these structured programs, either they’re going to fill up, or they have early deadlines, those deadlines may be in January or February. And so you want to make sure you do your planning early enough that you can catch any good opportunities before they close, you may find that you don’t need to take any action until April or May. And that’s great. I just want you to have a plan before it gets too late into February. Right? So you don’t have to scramble for later. Okay, so now how, how do we put this plan together? What I always say is let’s start with our goals like, don’t think about, oh, I want to go to this prestigious program, or this is going to help me for college let’s like really focus in by the end of the summer. What do you want to have to show for how you spent your time? What do you want to learn about? What do you want to explore? Is there a hypothesis about a career interest that you want to test out, get some exposure and see if this really is the thing that you want to dedicate your next several years to, if not your life? What kind of people do you want to meet and learn from? What do you want to get better at? What foundational skills or knowledge do you need in order to pursue some other goals that you have? So if you’re younger in high school, and you think oh my gosh, it would be amazing to do some lab research or or help an economist with something they’re working on? Well, maybe you need to learn some lab skills or statistical modeling skills in order to actually be able to do that thing next year or the year after. So maybe this summer you spend your time learning our or you get some exposure to what happens in a laboratory and you start learning some of those skills so that you can take on more responsibility a higher level opportunity in the future. And then we can also think about logistics here. Do you want to be commuting to whatever you’re doing? Are you going to work online? Would you be comfortable living independently, either on a college campus or in an apartment, wherever you plan to go? And how much time do you have? You know, not just when to school get out? And when does school start, but also, you know, family vacations and holidays and things like that. And then that may tell you what weeks of the summer you have open, but also think about what hours of the day, do you have other responsibilities that you need to take care of. And so you’re not actually free until the afternoons? Do you have commitments on the weekends, I have a lot of students who do clubs, sports, and so they have practice, and they have games, they may have tournaments, if they are trying to combine opportunities, you know, something might be in the morning, and so you only have afternoons or evenings open. So really map that out in terms of logistics, another logistical concern is your budget, some of these programs can get quite expensive, over $10,000 to live on a college campus and take some courses. Not all of them are that expensive, but there are ones that are that expensive. There are some that are totally free. But of course, those are going to be a little more selective. And then you know, there are opportunities where you actually get to make money, you get paid as a intern or somebody who’s working in a particular thing. So what is it that your family can support? And what is it that you need around that? And then we can also think about intangibles, right? Like how do you want to have grown as a person over the course of the summer? And that’s a hard question to talk through with a teenager, but they may surprise you with their answer. And what do they want to this is a question I started with, what do they want to look back at their summer and be able to say, Wow, I really made progress around x. And in some cases, there’s gonna be something they can hold in their hands concrete that they built, there may be a project they completed at a job or an internship, they may be able to count new people in their network, there might be skills that they can now say they have in their toolbox. What are those things? And how do they connect to the larger goals of their success in high school, and eventually, their success in college and career?


A lot of people get frustrated with me when I start asking them these questions, because they just want me to tell them do this program. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. So if you really want to do it, right, start with your goals. Think about your logistics, and think about how these opportunities might connect to other things that you eventually want to do. So you take these reflections and these goals, and then you start to search, right? There are search engines for jobs for internships, for summer programs, I will put some in the show notes. But some that come to mind, one really great one is called Pathways to science. teen life is a really great one. College match point, which is another college admissions company has a page on the website they call summer match point. And it’s kind of a directory of a lot of these programs, as well. So you can start searching there. But of course, Google is your friend, if you put in the name of a college and you put in high school summer programs for high schoolers, and then the name of that college, you’ll find what you’re looking for. So you can go to those college websites. If you’re interested in trying to get a job or an internship at a type of company or a nonprofit, you can just go to their websites, see what’s there. And even if nothing is listed, doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to offer or couldn’t create something for you. So don’t be afraid to cold email or call to see what programs they may have that are relevant to you. And you should lean on your network to source and or create opportunities. So this might be mom or dad’s work friends or friend from college, they know who works in this other field that the student might be interested in. You don’t need to go out and say, Hey, will you hire my kid as an intern? But you could say, hey, my kid is interested in this field, would you mind talking to them for like half an hour and put them in a position of mentorship? You can always need mentors, especially in areas they’re interested in. So nothing bad can come out of that. But really good things could come out of it too, right? If this person that your student sits down with for a half an hour to talk about, what is it like to work in this field? And how did you get there? And they realize, Oh, you have these skills and you’re interested in this thing. I may have a project for you to work on or I know somebody who is looking for for help with something like let me see if I can introduce you to that person. So that’s kind of how you create opportunities. It’s all about mentorship, and then the opportunities will come. Don’t be pushing for an opportunity if it’s not there. And then I want to remind you to be creative. There are many paths to a single Little goal. And so if your student, for example, thinks they want to be a doctor, so you think they need to do either high level scientific research opportunity, or somehow work in a doctor’s office, what have you, those may be things that you could pursue. But there may be other ways to get them exposure to that field. There are, you know, like I said, summer programs for this, there are maybe shadowing opportunities, there are volunteer opportunities, oh my god, don’t overlook the volunteer opportunity. Number one community service, I think is really important for a growing teenager to learn that the world is bigger than themselves. And number two, this is something that does look good. On college application. colleges want students who are engaged in their communities, because it means they’ll be engaged in the college community. And community service can put your student in touch with all kinds of other people who may serve as good mentors who may lead to other opportunities, and other networks. And then the the actual work of that community service may also teach them a lot about what they care about how to deal with other people how to work as a team, you know, lots of important life skills come out of that. So people are always looking for volunteers. So don’t count that out. Among the possibilities here for spending a summer. And then a plant a few seeds about how to combine some of these things. Maybe the community service is something they do once a week, on the weekend, or in an evening. And they’re doing something else with the daytime hours. Or maybe the internship is three days a week, and the job is two days a week. You don’t want to overload your student. But I don’t want you to think that you can only test out one theory by only doing one thing for the summer. And then you also want to remember that other things could be combined in here that they actually need to do in terms of college admissions milestone. So over the summer after 10th grade, I like students to think about, get some data around whether they need to pursue standardized testing. So this could be they’re just taking some practice tests to see if it’s worth it. It could mean they’re actually doing a prep course or studying on their own or working with a tutor to get ready for a test early in their junior year, get it out of the way. If this is a summer after their junior year that you’re trying to help them plan, they need to set aside some time for all those college admissions tasks. It’s very hard to be intensively writing essays and building a school list and all that during junior year, which is you know, their hardest year they’ve ever had in high school. So save them some time over the summer to do that work and get started on the essays, I really encourage you do not leave them for fall of senior year. As much as you can get done earlier, the better you’ll have more time to revise and be thoughtful about what you’re saying. And you know, don’t count out the possibility that whatever they’re doing this summer may actually inspire them to pursue a certain kind of college, a certain kind of academic path, or give them stories about how their world has opened up through the various things that they’ve done, that they could use in their essays. So you know, build some time for reflection into the summer as well. And of course, fun and relaxation are extremely important for anybody but especially for a developing brain. So don’t go overboard. And if you need help with this, I have a guide to summer planning that is in our community totally free. And you can always set up a time to talk with me about how you might navigate this process for your kids. So don’t be afraid to reach out. Alright, hope to hear from you. And I’m excited for the next couple episodes we got lined up. I think you’re gonna enjoy them too. Nice to be back at it. Talk to you soon.

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