The Importance of Summer Vacation
Summer vacation is a fantastic time: 10 weeks when just about anything is possible every single day. For some of you, retaking a standardized test, going on college tours, or even beginning to write your college essays will use up some of your time. I want to use this article to challenge you to do something beyond the standard list of summer activities:
Have a transformational experience.
You see, admission counselors like applicants who are not only open to new experiences but also recognize that even the smallest experience can change one’s life forever. This may seem like small potatoes compared to the importance put on standardized test scores and grades, but think of it another way. For most young people, going to college is the most significant transformational experience of their lives up until that point. Admission counselors want students who will embrace change and leave a positive impact on their college community.
So where do you find transformational experiences during the summer?
Short answer: just about everywhere.
Long answer: in this article, we’ll explore two ways you can find an experience that will leave its mark on you forever. You’ll also learn how to discuss this experience in your college essays.
Out of all the transformational experiences out there, travel ranks at or near the top. Going to a new continent, country, state, or even town can tweak your worldview and overall look on life. To put it another way, you don’t need to walk on the Great Wall of China or stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower for you to have an epiphany about life, the world, and everything.
Here’s What You Do
I bet you have at least one trip planned for this summer. Let’s use it as our example. From the moment you leave home, PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING. Even if your memory is an iron trap, bring along a journal and chronicle your days on the road, air, or sea. Not only will journaling help you better appreciate your experience, but it’ll also come in handy when it comes time to write your college essays.
So what do you do besides writing down observations? Easy: get out of your comfort zone. If you’re going to a new city, take a walking tour with no route in mind, or get off the subway at a random stop and see what’s near the station. It’s through this kind of exploration that people stumble upon great restaurants, amazing sights, and unexpected adventures. And since I mentioned food, try a local dish. Who knows, you may love it.
“But I’m not going on any trips!”
If you don’t have anything planned, or money is an issue, consider applying to one of the many travel programs that help high school students travel the nation and the world. Your school may have a partnership with one of these programs. If not, here are two organizations that award travel scholarships to students with financial need.
- Global Navigator Scholarship: CIEE is one of the most respected programs that help American high school and college students study abroad. CIEE offers more than a dozen summer travel opportunities that last 3-4 weeks. The Global Navigator scholarship covers 20-50% of the total cost. (I wholly recommend CIEE, as they coordinated my study-abroad program when I was in college.)
- School Tours of America: School Tours of America provides funding to students that go towards a School Tours of America tour within the United States. In addition to these scholarships, the website includes links to scholarship boards exclusive to students who want to travel during the summer.
So yes, there are options for you to travel no matter your family’s financial situation.
Volunteering & Internships
So maybe travel isn’t your thing. That’s fine. In this section, let’s discuss how volunteering and internships can help you have a transformational experience.
Finding Somewhere to Volunteer or Intern
Right off the bat, college admission counselors love applicants with volunteer or internship experience. Just as important, though, is where an application chooses to volunteer or intern. What this means for you is that you should aim for something that fits your interests. Want to help the needy? Volunteer at a food bank. Want to enact change at the local or state level? Volunteer with a political organization. Aspire to specific career after college? Intern with a local company in that field.
Once You Start Work
It’s impossible to journal when you work, so write journal entries at the end of each day you volunteer or intern. You might realize that you like the work more (or less) than you initially thought. That’s the kind of realization that makes for a transformational experience.
Finally, when the internship or volunteer experience ends, it never hurts to ask your manager or supervisor if they would write you a letter of recommendation for your college application portfolio. 🙂
Writing Your College Essays
Just about every college essay has a prompt. However, all of them boil down to one fundamental question: Could you tell us about yourself? Invest some time to brainstorm how to link your experience with the prompt. In most cases, the experience will come up as an example to prove a more significant point. Here’s an example using a typical college essay topic:
What do you want your future roommate to know about you?
“I would like my roommate to know I am open to new experiences. For example, last summer I [insert transformational experience story here.]”
Wasn’t that easy?
As someone with a few transformational experiences his belt, I encourage you to get out there this summer and discover what the world has to offer. Don’t worry; I promise that there will still be plenty of time to lounge on the couch, go swimming, and eat a few hot dogs on the 4th of July.