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The importance of using your summer wisely

Taking estuary samples south of Cal Poly Humboldt

At the end of the school year, most high school students want to relax and have fun. While it’s certainly a good idea to give yourself a mental break from assignments, deadlines, and strict schedules, it’s also important to use your summers wisely. Summer break can give you a chance to explore your intellectual, creative, and career interests without all of the pressure that school puts on you. There are many ways to use your summer productively, but in this article we’d like to focus on how you can improve your college admissions and career prospects by signing up for a summer program in a field that interests you.

Summer programs come in many shapes and sizes. For politically-interested students, you might register for a regional, state, or national Model UN program. Aspiring scientists may seek out research internships, or a summer job in a lab. Artists might look into summer classes in techniques they want to improve. Student actors often join summer productions at local community colleges. For inspiration on the different types of options available, take a look at CollegeVine’s list of prestigious summer programs. Capstone clients have access to a large, curated list of summer programs across a wide range of fields and skill levels.

The most immediate benefit to participating in a summer program is that it will advance your skills and knowledge in the field you most want to explore. Many internships and other programs will have you working or learning at a higher and more practical level than anything you will be offered in high school, so your growth potential is also greater. You are also likely to be working with experts in your field, who can show you techniques and give you knowledge that you may have difficulty finding on your own and that will often provide greater context for your classroom learning.

You will be expected to act professionally in concert with other participants, program leaders and experts on a focused set of tasks. Increased maturity and more advanced social skills are common byproducts of good summer experiences. Depending on where your program is located, you may also be exposed to new geographic regions, new businesses or universities, and new local communities and cultures, giving you a broader perspective on the world around you and more experiences to draw from when you get to working on your college applications. For students in the arts, both visual and performing, summer programs are an excellent way to make progress on a portfolio or auditioning skills with the assistance of professionals. With lots of focused time to improve and learn, summer programs can incubate your artistic development.

Summer programs hosted on a college campus are also a great way for high school students to gain the firsthand experience of being at college, which is hard to prepare for at high school. This can be invaluable when you start to build your college list, because it will help you identify which characteristics of a college are most important to you, and what you want out of your college experience. If you already think you know which college you most want to attend, going to one of their summer programs is one way to explore their campus life, academic culture, and social opportunities before you have to start working on your applications and making a decision. Attending a college’s summer program is also a fantastic way to demonstrate your interest in that college, although it is important to know that many programs are quite costly and don’t necessarily increase a participant’s chance of admission at that university.

Another key benefit of summer programs is that they give you a chance to network with peers who have similar interests, and with educators and professionals in the fields you’re interested in. Working alongside peers provides an opportunity to share knowledge and skills with others, and can be a chance to determine which areas you might want to improve in. You can often develop your own internship at a college with a research mentor in your field of interest. Your mentor will be a great resource for learning more about the field and receiving feedback about your performance and future options. In some cases, you may work closely enough with professors or professionals to receive letters of recommendation from them at the end of your program. College applicants who can submit a strong letter of recommendation from a professor or business professional stand out in their application pool.

As you look for summer programs, you may notice that some are free, while others require you to pay. A very small number of selective programs may even offer stipends to selectees. Although the more prestigious tend to be free, and make competitive enrollment decisions dependent on applicant merit, that is not always the case. And you can still have an enriching and worthwhile summer experience at a nonselective, paid program. Just remember that it’s always worth looking carefully into the benefits that different programs offer, to make sure that your time or money will be going towards an effort that will help you learn and grow.

Capstone provides comprehensive summer program planning for our high school clients. Reach out today for a free consultation to see if Capstone is right for you!

Featured image (top): Students, faculty, and alumni take estuary samples in a Marine Protected Area 3 hours south of Cal Poly Humboldt during a school break in 2016. Flickr

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