So, you have a lot to celebrate this year. You studied your butt off for standardized tests, developed your college list, and perhaps even became president of the Debate club. While we’re sure you’re looking forward to spending your summer escaping into West Wing because it’s so much better than real-life politics, we recommend keeping your heels on the ground for just a little bit longer…like, until you retire.
We’ll spare you the lecture--you’ve heard it from adults your whole life. In the real world, you don’t get as many vacations as you do when you’re a kid. However, that doesn’t mean being productive year-round can’t be fun, too. The summer between junior and senior years is the opportune moment to dive in and explore your passions in life. While you don’t have to land on a major just yet, by this point, you probably have some kind of idea what interests you in life and colleges want to know about it.
Aside from grades and scores, colleges are more interested in how you spend your free time than just about anything else. It tells them all they need to know about who you are. So, consider spending your summer working hard on something that lights you up and take a break from the rest. Besides, if you’re not working, you’re going to spend the summer debating your parents about your curfew anyway, so you might as well get some recognition for those hard-won rhetorical skills.
Develop Your Expertise
The name of the college game is specificity. Universities want to see you develop an expertise in a certain area. This should even help you narrow down your career path once you’re in school. We recommend building out two to four interests and becoming an expert in those areas. The more specific, the better.
Enroll in a Rigorous College Course
Many of the nation’s top universities offer summer-session college courses for high school students. The summer between junior and senior years is a great time, not only to develop a baseline knowledge in the kinds of curricula you will see in college, but also to get a glimpse into what life on campus is like. Northwestern offers one-week, four-week, and six-week Debate courses. Cornell offers three-week Debate courses for college credit, as well.
A word of caution: While taking a college course this summer may increase your odds of getting into college in general, it will be no means afford you additional odds of getting into the college where you are taking that course. Cornell merely needs to fill their dorm rooms this summer to add to their bottom line. They aren’t going to admit Sally just because she took a Debate course at Cornell one summer over Pablo who took a comparable course at Brown.
Another great way to invest your time this summer would be landing a prestigious internship. While Debate may not translate into a direct career in the way that subjects like Science do, there are a number of fields that incorporate skillsets developed in debaters. Law and politics are among them. If you’re going to go the internship route, you want to make sure and arrange something with the best professionals in their fields.
While many companies do not offer blanket internships for high schoolers, there is nothing stopping you from pitching your own. Do some research and figure out who the best litigators are in the country. See if your congressman, a state senator, or a federal judge is taking on interns. If they don’t offer an internship program, connect and offer your services. After all, you are offering free support to them for an entire summer. We have helped students land hard-to-get internships in the past. If you need some help designing an internship or landing one, reach out to us.
A world of caution: DO NOT take an internship in which you’ll just be getting coffee and collating papers once/week. In order to set yourself apart from the thousands of other applicants against whom you will be competing for college admissions, you will need to show the admissions committee that you both learned and accomplished something with your time. Besides, taking on an internship where you’ll really get your feet wet will open doors for you to cultivate professional contacts and mentors that could help you with your career down the line.
So, you have big plans this summer. You’re going to get on a plane to a foreign country, teach English every Wednesday for two weeks, and wow the admissions council with how much being in Costa Rica transformed you as a spiritual/intellectual being.
Each year, admissions councilors receive dozens, if not hundreds of essays that start with “I stepped off the plane in x country and little did I know that, because I picked up trash from a playground in the city, my life would like literally be changed forever.” Volunteering is an awesome way to spend your free time. You are really talented and you have a lot to offer your community. If you’re going to set yourself apart, get creative and work really hard. In other words, actually do something that makes a difference.
Find a middle school debate team from a low-income community and offer to coach them for the summer. You’ll be able to tell the admissions committee about how you, not only designed your own curriculum, but did your research and found a school that was the right fit for your services. Talk to your teachers or local community organizations to start tracking down leads.
Many pro-bono lawyers and public defenders are understaffed. You could probably be really useful to a great lawyer working in the public service space or even a high-profile organization like the Innocence Project whose mission it is to exonerate wrongfully convicted people.
Need help securing a competitive internship? We’re great at helping kids design impressive summer activities. Reach out to us here.