Rory Gilmore from the CW classic, Gilmore Girls was a model student. She was a staff writer for her high school paper, transferred to a prestigious prep school to increase her odds of attending Harvard, and when she wasn’t hanging out with her boyfriend (Dean or Jess, depending on the season), she could often be found beneath her favorite tree, reading “Anna Karenina” for fun.
Rory enjoyed her leisurely summer vacations until one summer, she finally visited Harvard and realized she didn’t have nearly the extracurriculars she needed to get in. Cut to: Rory frantically searching for a community service activity she thinks will impress the admissions committee, bedazzling a pink hammer with rhinestones, and spending the summer doing construction for Habitat for Humanity. The next year, Rory, like other students we’ve seen in the real world, was prepared and lined-up an internship on the Hill.
Later, Rory matriculated to Yale and (spoiler alert) lived happily ever after barring some drama with Jess, Dean, and college-boyfriend, Logan. So, how would we rate Rory’s summers?
Specificity & Rigor
Gilmore Girls, albeit amazing, is fictitious. In the real world, it’s possible that Rory would have gotten into Yale. She had excellent grades and read every classic piece of literature under the sun (and so should you), but, in all honesty, her activities were probably not specific enough or rigorous enough to really wow the committee of an Ivy League school. Next to test scores and grades, the most important criterion on your application is how you spend your free time. Summers matter because they tell colleges everything they need to know about you.
So, if Rory Gilmore was a student at TKG, this is how we would have advised her:
Rory was on the right path. She had two demonstrated interests in life (literature and writing) and she was on the way to developing those as expertise. While community service is great and you should definitely engage in it, we recommend gearing those activities (even those in the realm of service) towards the areas of expertise you are developing.
We advise you to build out two to four interests and become an expert in them. So, your activities could center around the general category of “writing,” but the more you can narrow down your specific interests, the better. If you don’t know where to start, pick two to four things you don’t hate.
Intern at a Major Publication
Consider an internship at a major publication.
Rory’s internship was a great move—after all, she was interested in political reporting, but what could have been even better, even more specifically tailored to Rory’s interests, was a political journalism internship.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many major publications that offer internships for high school students. We have helped many of our kids line up hard-to-get internships. Reach out to us and we may be able to find one for you.
One serious word of caution for those arranging their own internships: DO NOT take an internship if all you’ll be doing is getting coffee and collating papers every Wednesday. The point is to show the admissions council that you are both interested and experienced in a specific area, not that you spent the summer grabbing Starbucks for a famous investigative reporter.
Enroll in a Rigorous College Program
Ok, it’s not exactly a college program, but we recommend our high school writers check out the School of the New York Times. America’s most notable publication offers a pre-college summer learning program for high school students. Attendees will have the option to learn about sports reporting, photojournalism, writing for television news, arts reporting, journalism and the law, and more.
If you’re not able to score a prestigious internship, consider taking a rigorous college course. Many universities offer summer programs for high school students. Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism is among the most respected in the nation. They offer a five-week journalism institute for rising high school seniors as well as a media program for high schoolers from low-income backgrounds.
A note: Attending a university’s summer program in no way helps you get into that school. Trust us on this one.
Protégé to a Major Screenwriter or Reporter
If you’re going the Hollywood route and you’ve decided to take a four-week course at USC, while there, you may as well reach out to your favorite screenwriter and see if they need an assistant for those additional three or four weeks of your summer break. Often times, you can find contact information of their agents or managers, or even the screenwriters themselves on IMDB.
If you’ve opted for the School of the New York Times, try reaching out to your favorite reporter and see if you can help with research for a few weeks. Just familiarize yourself with their work first and identify what kind of help they might need.
There are TONS of great programs out there whose mission it is to help kids and even continuing-education adults improve their writing abilities. If you live in Houston, check out WITs. Consider spending your summer as a volunteer writing teacher. Just remember: specificity and rigor. If you go this route, don’t just teach at a summer camp two days a week. Be the summer editor of a middle school newspaper or choose an activity with which you will be responsible for an entire class, designing a curriculum, or doing something really immersive that actually makes a difference in someone else’s life. Just remember to do your research and make sure you’re signing on with a reputable non-profit where you will be doing challenging, meaningful, and full-time work. You may start by calling local community organizations, elementary schools, and even homeless shelters to see about leads. Reach out to us and we can help you design your teaching plan.
One of the best uses of your summer would be completing some kind of specialized research project. We had a kid who was interested in science secure a research position with a college professor. Her job was to wake up in the middle of the night, go out to the ocean, and pick up barnacles off of rocks. Because barnacles have a short lifespan when removed from the ocean, she had to sprint back to the lab and study them before they died. The professor listed her as a co-author on his paper. She’s at Harvard now. Professors are researching nearly every topic under the sun. Find the best in their fields researching the specific area of writing in which you’re interested and then talk to us. We can help you design your research pitch.
Need some help securing a quality internship or designing a research plan? Contact us here.