Plan For College – Seven Summer Strategies For College-Bound Kids

Once a student reaches the eighth grade, in some ways summer needs to be more strategic. I’m not talking about adding yet more busy work to your soccer-filled schedules. I’m talking about developing a new filter through which you do things. I want you to start living in the “big picture” of being college-bound so you’ll start doing things now that will help shape your college experience later. Here are seven smart summer strategies for college-bound kids and their families:

  1. Visit a college campus. Before this summer is out, go to at least one campus – and do more than walk around. Craft more a personal visit by finding out in advance which classes and events actually connect to your current interests. In fact, between now and the first day of freshman year at college, every time your family takes you out of town for any reason, make sure a custom campus visit is part of that trip. “Big Picture” Plus: Your college-bound plans will be far more powerful once you know what that experience looks and sounds and feels like.
  2. Read a classic. A lot of kids hear “classic” and immediately think “old,” and we all know where old stuff ranks on the “Mom-can-I-do-that?” list. Listen – books become classics because decades, even centuries, of readers read them, fall in love with them and read them again. Jump into Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The classics are the common cultural language that crosses all generations. They expose you to new worlds. And they are GREAT READS. “Big Picture” Plus: Committing to reading something unfamiliar is a great step towards building the academic discipline you’ll need in college.
  3. Go to camp. Making s’mores is great – but building a robot is amazing! Today’s summer camps have you climbing mountains, studying sea life, coding video games – and often living right on college campuses in dorms with fellow college-bound kids. If money is tight and the program you want is not free, make sure you check into scholarships they offer or work hard to raise the funds the year before through jobs, your church, friends and more. Summer camps dramatically expand the world in which you feel you belong – the bigger, the bolder, the better. “Big Picture” Plus: Camp is a fun way to learn how to live with people who are nothing like you, a strong start for college.
  4. Get your academic act together. Commit this to memory: what graduates you from high school does NOT always get you into college. If you have a “D” or worse in any subject, it’s like you never took that class when you apply to four-year institutions (only “C” grades or higher generally count). Head to community college over the summer and take the class again – and get college credit at the same time! In California, high school students can enroll at community college for free (check your state). Community colleges are also great places to take advanced classes your high school doesn’t offer or you can’t get into because of limited space. All of that will boost your college application’s impact. “Big Picture” Plus: Summer courses give you a taste of the academic challenges and independence to come in college.
  5. Commit. I’m a big fan of school year clubs and events, but an important – and fun! – part of growing up is developing long-term pursuits. By “long-term,” I mean two years or longer of engaging in: an academic interest (like journalism or math club); a personal passion (like music or sports); work experience (like internships or jobs); and public service (like scouting or local volunteering). Summer is a perfect to time to start. You don’t have to join a formal organization; you can explore your own interests. Just be sure an adult works with you, like a teacher, boss, pastor or program director. Their guidance will help you grow, and they’ll be well-equipped to write recommendations for you later. “Big Picture” Plus: Long-term commitments test you, stretch you and give you a valuable measuring stick of personal growth.
  6. Get fit. If you’re thirteen or older, it is time to be personally accountable for your general fitness. Forget that a “pooch,” “muffin top” or a full-on gut is not your idea of cute – it is truly dangerous. There will never be an easier time in your life to get in shape, schedule- or metabolism-wise, than right now. Decide this summer that you are going to work out every day and eat responsibly. Not because it’s fun or easy, but because it is the best thing to do for your body and your brain. Okay, and because you want to look good when you show up on campus this fall. Whatever gets you MOVING! “Big Picture” Plus: Becoming and staying fit is a life-changing step towards deciding to do things you don’t want to do – and coming out a winner in the process.
  7. Complete a college application. Do not let the first time you see a college application be the fall semester you are expecting to complete a dozen of them! Download the Common App or Universal App, or get a copy of a state school application from the library. Then sit with family or friends and fill one out. Take notes of any questions (trust me, you will have some), and call the admissions office and get the answers. Yes, they will answer your questions! Practice writing at least one essay response, as well – and ask a tutor, parent or teacher to review it. Yes, they will help you! “Big Picture” Plus: Filling out practice apps over the summer will flatten that part of the college-bound learning curve when the heat is on senior year.

All right, stop worrying that this sounds like a lot of work! Instead, really envision reading on your front porch, shooting serious hoops every day with your friends, and scheduling one day a week to work with a conservation group to beautify your town. Then imagine telling your roommate all about it freshman year in college. That’s a big picture you’ll want to frame.