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Next Steps Blog


Hmmm - What Should I do with My Summer Vacation?

by Suzanne Schutte
Associate Director of College Counseling

Summer gives you the time to complement what you do during the school year. It is a great time to focus on a passion, pursue something you think you might be interested in, or just do something completely different from school. It is also a great time to get a job. 

What you SHOULD do is something that you WANT to do. Whatever you choose to do, engage in it as fully as you can – get involved and pay attention. The key to getting the most from your summer experience is to take a genuine interest in what you are doing. What you learn from your experience is what will make you a more interesting candidate for college, whether it is flipping burgers, working with kids or continuing to volunteer at your Project’s organization.

The Choice, a New York Times blog about college, recently featured the following responses from College Admissions deans on the summer experience:

Question: How do you encourage students to spend their summers? Are professional work experience or programs abroad viewed positively or can some become too gimmicky?

Mr. Syverson of Lawrence: Students should follow their passions and develop the aspects of their personalities and proficiencies that are most exciting to them, not the ones they think will best “package” them. Far too many students are spending far too much of their young lives attempting to do “what the colleges want to see in an applicant” in order to someday gain admission to some highly idealized (often hyper-selective) college.

Mr. Brenzel of Yale:
We encourage students to make use of their summers in the way they find most interesting. If they undertake a specific program, it should be because it appeals strongly to them, not because they imagine it will look best on a resume. Why? First, it is frankly impossible to know what will look best to a particular admissions committee at a particular college. Trying to outthink or outguess the admissions committee strikes me as a useless exercise, though many book authors and private consultants purvey the illusion that they can do this for you. Second, for both education and life, the best program is the one that you find most valuable for yourself at this point in your life. We also honor and value summer jobs; for many students they are necessary and for others they can be just as important a learning experience as anything else. What’s important to us in not what you chose to do for the summer, but what you got out of it.

Mr. Poch of Pomona: While unusual activities may add a great deal to a student’s experience and have a profound effect on their world-view, for some it just comes across as decorative, not substantive. Is a special experience or summer expected or a minimum requirement? No. Many of those “special” experiences reflect the educational and economic background of the family more than the curiosity or talent of the student. For example, I believe most admissions officers would assume it’s not fair to expect a student who works and contributes to family expenses to take an overseas internship. I confess I often wonder why some students who live in areas that have many social service needs unaddressed will ignore the local situation but move to another country to perform a similar social service. Is it really a service trip or is it a summer vacation built for college admission purposes? It may be both and that’s not a penalty point, but it isn’t a bonus consideration either. Is the student whose family connections provided an internship at a high-profile organization more worthy than a student who delivered pizza or tended to family farm commitments? The rest of the application will give us the answer.
Posted by Kristen Bailey on Tuesday February, 2, 2010 at 09:26AM


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Susan Lee
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9511

Lauren Gersick
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9512

Leslie Schaffer
College Counseling Assistant
415 593 9519

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